Maybe you read this as a positive, but I am expressing reservations about this fact. I don’t personally see this as a good development. Wembanyama is considered the can’t miss prospect in the 2023 NBA Draft. He was listed at 7-2 but has recently been reported that he is now measuring 7-4 in his bare feet. Back when players measured in shoes that might have been listed as 7-5+.
While it is true that height is the biggest factor in how good a player can be, I do believe there is a point of diminishing return where more height after a certain point can become a negative. I think the history shows that after 7-0 those extra inches can become more of a hindrance than an aid for most players. For one with more height, a player’s skill usually diminishes, so while you may gain a little on defensive potential and dunking the taller you are up to a point. I think it becomes minor though, for instance, Taco Fall can dunk without leaving his feet and he not jumping 3 feet in the air to dunk so it doesn’t matter. He just dunks it like you’d dunk a goal hanging on the door over a kid. Same for his blocks.
At 7-2+ there seems to be a threshold where it is no longer useful for the skill and lateral movement. It’s an overall negative to your coordination, and athletic ability is diminished some by more height at any size the bigger you get. What are 2 more inches going to for him positive, when he already had elite defensive size and a Victor Wembanyama wingspan is nearly 8 feet long? I think for everything it may help there are aspects it hurts in his game too and the things he most needs to improve on with the kind of player he currently is are what is diminished.
Probably the most damning aspect is that height seems to contribute to more injuries the taller you are. This has been true throughout history, but as the game has changed the focus in many ways has moved more towards the perimeter many centers now have to guard the perimeter which isn’t a real benefit to be 7-4. You also already had to consider how skinny players like Wembanyama would hold up when he faces some of the 275+ old-school players like Embid or Jokic. There aren’t as many back-to-the-basket players trying to post up, but the ones that still do it are elite at it like Embid and can pound you.
Being 7-4 plus skinny probably compounds those concerns and makes it harder to gain leverage as everyone will have more strength relative to height. I think being 7-4 also could be bad just being able to stay on the court when teams alternatively go small with a PJ Tucker type at the center. It becomes more difficult to try to guard players with SF skills and size, pulling them out to the perimeter, especially that who is still way stronger and know how to use leverage in the post. Watching the video Wembanyama is very good at moving and guarding on the perimeter, but he will likely never be as quick or light as he currently is as he ages and puts on weight to compete more in the post.
Now that Wembanyama is above 7-2, let’s take a look at all the players in NBA history above 7-2.
|7 ft 7 in (2.31 m)||315 lb (143 kg)||Gheorghe Mureșan|
|7 ft 7 in (2.31 m)[note 1]||200 lb (91 kg)||Manute Bol|
|7 ft 6 in (2.29 m)||311 lb (141 kg)||Tacko Fall|
|7 ft 6 in (2.29 m)||302 lb (137 kg)||Slavko Vraneš|
|7 ft 6 in (2.29 m)||275 lb (125 kg)||Shawn Bradley|
|7 ft 6 in (2.29 m)||310 lb (141 kg)||Yao Ming*|
|7 ft 5 in (2.26 m)||217 lb (98 kg)||Chuck Nevitt|
|7 ft 5 in (2.26 m)||305 lb (138 kg)||Pavel Podkolzin|
|7 ft 5 in (2.26 m)||359 lb (163 kg)||Sim Bhullar|
|7 ft 4 in (2.24 m)||290 lb (132 kg)||Mark Eaton|
|7 ft 4 in (2.24 m)||250 lb (113 kg)||Rik Smits|
|7 ft 4 in (2.24 m)||235 lb (107 kg)||Ralph Sampson*|
|7 ft 4 in (2.24 m)||290 lb (132 kg)||Boban Marjanović|
|7 ft 4 in (2.24 m)||325 lb (147 kg)||Priest Lauderdale|
|7 ft 3.5 in (2.22 m)||290 lb (132 kg)||Peter John Ramos|
|7 ft 3 in (2.21 m)||263 lb (119 kg)||Randy Breuer|
|7 ft 3 in (2.21 m)||260 lb (118 kg)||Žydrūnas Ilgauskas|
|7 ft 3 in (2.21 m)||292 lb (132 kg)||Arvydas Sabonis|
|7 ft 3 in (2.21 m)||290 lb (132 kg)||Hasheem Thabeet|
|7 ft 3 in (2.21 m)||235 lb (107 kg)||Swede Halbrook|
|7 ft 3 in (2.21 m)||212 lb (96 kg)||Keith Closs|
|7 ft 3 in (2.21 m)||305 lb (138 kg)||Ha Seung-Jin|
|7 ft 3 in (2.21 m)||250 lb (113 kg)||Aleksandar Radojević|
|7 ft 3 in (2.21 m)||265 lb (120 kg)||Walter Tavares|
|7 ft 3 in (2.21 m)||256 lb (116 kg)||Tibor Pleiß|
|7 ft 3 in (2.21 m)||240 lb (109 kg)||Kristaps Porziņģis|
There are certainly some very good players on this list and some others that had varying degrees of success in their careers. Even some like Muresan posted one pretty incredible season relative to his expectations. One common theme though nearly all of these players is injuries. I think it would be easier to name the players on the list whose injuries didn’t derail their career, and that’s probably more because they didn’t play many years or if they didn’t play much like Boban.
Of the good players that had long healthy career, Mark Eaton was the most healthy. He’s also a little unique in the fact he didn’t even start playing basketball until later in life, didn’t play much in college, and didn’t enter the league until he was 26 years old. He was a car mechanic before that. I think that probably actually is a reason for his longevity and less wear and tear at a younger age. When there is that much evidence of excessive injury I think it’s worth noticing. I believe that being lighter could help by not putting more weight on the lower extremities, but that’s not the reality in practice. In theory, should help, but then you have examples like Ralph Sampson and Porziņģis.
When a player is sitting at 7-2 like Kareem I think you can just wipe your hands off the concerns a little more. It’s likely most will anyway and write off the additional inches or as a positive. That’s certainly reasonable. It’s also reasonable to think at 18 he might grow another 2 inches too before he’s done. It also doesn’t account for the way he plays vs some of these other players like Kareem who were light. Kareem was from a different era altogether where the guards were not allowed to handle the ball like they are today and there wasn’t even a 3-point line or when there was no one taking them. He didn’t have to move or guard on the perimeter on defense and put that kind of stress on his legs. He could stand under the basket with his hands up essentially and cause problems even if he was pushed around. On offense, he had a devastating skill relative to the time with his hook shot.
I am impressed that Wembanyama makes his free throws at his age. I think that is a good sign that he may be able to develop a 3-pointer at some point which is nonexistent now. The problem though is as he has already grown over the last 3 years the trajectory of his free throw shooting has regressed.
Is that just small sample noise or is it from growing this past year as he did and losing some coordination? Possibly, that’s not to say he can’t get it back or even improve as he grows into his body but it’s something to consider because it’s obvious being tall usually hurts free throw shooting and shooting in general. Sometimes players also never get it back. Lebron for example shot better from the line as a high school freshman at 79.7% than he ever has since.
There is no doubt when you watch highlights of Wembanyama he’s a pretty amazing prospect at his size, and relative level of coordination but that doesn’t make him an amazing player right now. The stats pretty much say the opposite sorry to say. For example, you can see a high level of skill in his ball handling but what is he actually doing with it positively as a sub .500 true shooter? He takes threes off the dribble which looks impressive but they don’t actually go in. His assist rates are non existent. It’s all based on unrealized potential. He is young, he will get better sure, but most prospects talked about like he is you saw way more tangible evidence of actual positive things on the court.
Probably the worst part was the significantly negative net rating he had last year. He wasn’t anchoring a good defense when he was on the court and the team offense was atrocious.
I think people that are calling him the best prospect since Lebron need to slow that down. Sure he was playing at a high level of basketball but he didn’t exactly set the world on fire. We’ve seen plenty of other prospects at 18 years old in the same league look far better in the actual tangible stats. He’s already a flawed player with a sub .500 true shooting, you wonder how he is going to get his offense some or guard on the perimeter when he gains weight and ages and doesn’t move like a skinny 18-year-old. His rankings are nearly all projecting what he can be one day, and if you are projecting, I think you have to consider the history of all the other players at this 7-4 as well. That’s my point as someone who already had some questions about his actual skill level and how he scores based on what he did last year. The highlights look amazing, yes, but the stats see all the possessions. We will be following along to see how his progress track, especially the progress of the sub 28% three point shooting.