Victor Wembanyama is being hyped as one of the best NBA prospects in the modern history of the game. The 18-year-old French big man is the front-runner to be the No. 1 overall pick in a loaded 2023 NBA Draft that also includes explosive G League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson and Overtime Elite’s freakish athletic wings Amen and Ausar Thompson. Wembanyama has been on NBA radars since before Luka Doncic was drafted in 2018, and it’s not an exaggeration to say multiple franchises have been preparing for his entry into the draft for years.
Wembanyama’s combination of length, skill, coordination, and athleticism feels downright historic. He’s listed at 7’3 and that might be conservative. He’s shown incredible shot-blocking instincts on defense, and can slam home any lob on offense. He’s already making threes from the logo. He’s a willing and able passer, and seems to play with a high motor. Read our detailed breakdown of what makes Wembanyama so special. While nothing is a certainty when projecting the best 18-year-olds to the NBA, there’s no doubt that Wembanyama’s tools make him a truly historic prospect.
There is really only one big if when discussing Wembanyama: his health. He has struggled to stay on the court to this point in his young career, suffering a variety of injuries over the last few years that has to be at least a little concerning to the teams expected to pick near the top of next year’s draft. Wembanyama played 33 of 76 possible games this past season for ASVEL Villeurbanne, per ESPN, and missed the playoffs with an undisclosed muscle injury.
Wembanyama was supposed to make his debut for the French national team in the upcoming EuroBasket tournament alongside Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier, and others, but he still isn’t healthy enough to play. Wembanyama will miss EuroBasket, and hope to return for his new team Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 for the 2022-23 season.
Wembanyama’s injury history will be under a microscope as the 2023 NBA Draft approaches. Here’s what he’s dealt with so far.
June 2022: Wembanyama ruled out for the season with psoas injury
As Wembanyama’s ASVEL Villeurbanne team was preparing for the Finals, the young big man was taken out of the lineup with an undisclosed muscle injury. The French press has said it’s a psoas injury.
The psoas (pronounced with a silent P) runs from your back to your leg, and is the muscle allows that a person to pull their knee up to their chest. Here’s a better explanation of the muscle and what it does from Athlete Acceleration:
Structurally, the psoas attaches to the thoracic and lumbar portions of the spine at the levels of T12 and L1-5 respectively and extends inferiorly to insert into the lesser trochanter of the femur. The psoas creates anterior compression of the spine and thereby functions as an important anterior stabilizer of the spine during any weight bearing activity. Acting as a dynamic stabilizer of the hip, the psoas is important in maintaining proper joint integrity of the hip during functional movements. It functions to maintain the lordotic curve in the lumbar spine and assists in creating a neutral alignment of the pelvis (1). In the upright posture, contraction of the psoas contributions to an anterior tilt of the pelvis which some experts suggest is the optimal pelvic position during sprinting (2). As part of the flexor chain, the psoas aids the knee drive phase of the sprint cycle and assists deceleration of the leg at the end of hip extension.
A psoas will limit how a person can run, and can ultimately lead to lower back pain. This isn’t too dissimilar from a hip flexor. It would be reckless to speculate on just how worrisome this injury is, but given Wembanyama’s size and the history of big men with back problems, it certainly seems like a good thing that he’s taking a cautious approach and sitting out EuroBasket.
Dec. 2021: Wembanyama misses nearly two months with shoulder contusion
Wembanyama suffered a bone contusion in his right shoulder blade during the EuroLeague game against Zenit Saint Petersburg on Dec. 15, 2021. He didn’t play again until he returned against Panathinaikos on Feb. 11, 2022.
Nov. 2021: Wembanyama fractures finger, misses nearly one month
Wembanyama was out from Nov. 6, 2021 to Dec. 2 to with a fractured finger. Here’s a photo he posted comparing his hands to Michael Jordan’s from when he was 17 years old. It’s clear he has very long and skinny fingers.
Dec. 2020: Wembanyama suffers stress fracture in fibula
Wembanyama was out from Dec. 12, 2020 to March 13, 2021 after suffering a stress fracture in his fibula when playing for Espoirs Nanterre.
From Bill Walton to Arvydas Sabonis to Yao Ming to Greg Oden, there’s a long history of prodigious big men whose careers were altered irrevocably because of injury issues. While Wembanyama has missed a lot of games in his career so far, it’s important to remember that he’s still so young and has been competing against grown men in professional leagues from an early age.
None of Wembanyama’s qualification as extremely worrisome yet, but his ability to remain durable is the biggest question about his NBA future. He’s dealt with a lot of injuries so far, but to this point he’s still clearly the favorite to go No. 1 overall in the 2023 NBA Draft.