With Metropolitans 92’s offense stuck in the mud Sunday, Victor Wembanyama was asked to create his own shot one-on-one versus a switch from well beyond the 3-point line in a late-clock situation — totally normal stuff for a 7-foot-5, 19-year-old playing a road game against a Euroleague squad.
When his first move was cut off, Wembanyama was forced to rise up for a difficult step-back 3-pointer off a series of crossovers and hesitation moves to beat the shot-clock with 1.8 seconds left, an impressive enough feat in its own right.
What happened next nearly broke the internet. Recognizing immediately upon landing, off-balance on his left foot, that his high-arching pull-up was well off, Wembanyama was able to plant, survey the situation and sprint toward the paint with three choppy strides knowing exactly where his missed shot would land before anyone else in the building could comprehend what was about to happen.
Showing his unprecedented combination of mobility, instincts, timing, quickness getting off his feet, coordination and grace, Wembanyama used all of his 8-foot wingspan to hammer home his miss with one hand from a ridiculous vantage point several feet beyond the restricted area, despite being simultaneously clobbered in the face by Yoan Makoundou’s right arm.
“I’m still in a state of disbelief to be honest,” one Eastern Conference scout said. “We all know how special Victor is, but to have that type of reaction time and processing speed to recognize exactly where his miss would end up basically as soon as the ball came out of his hand, and then go get the loose ball and hammer it back in one fluid motion, that just shows you how easy the game comes for him and why he has a chance to be one of the best players we’ve ever seen.
“That same skill he showed on that play is also what’s going to make him an incredible passer and one of the best defenders in the league from a very early age — because he can anticipate what’s going to happen on the floor before anyone else and be in the right spot to block a shot or force a miss.”
Wembanyama proceeded to jog back up the floor to get back on defense like nothing special had just happened, despite the fact he had just completed a play very few players had ever even thought of, let alone been able to successfully execute.
“The craziest thing to me is how effortless this looked for him — we’re talking about putting back your own miss off a step-back 3. … Who even thinks about that?” one Western Conference executive said. “I was mesmerized just by the way he was handling the ball against a 5-11 guy and how fluidly he got into this step back. I certainly wasn’t prepared for what happened next. … He didn’t even really have control of the ball, but his hands are so big he just guided the putback through the rim. From a biomechanics standpoint, that should all be impossible. We haven’t even talked about the way he mapped out the court in real time instantaneously to even give himself a chance to put himself in position to make that play. The whole thing is unreal, and scary.”
One Eastern Conference executive compared Wembanyama’s play to that of former Illinois guard Roger Powell, who completed a putback dunk off of a 3-pointer in a men’s NCAA Final Four game against Louisville in 2005.
“It was a comparable play — he missed a straightaway 3, knew it was off immediately and went and put back the dunk,” the executive said. “The difference is he shot it from the top of the key, so straight on, got a good bounce off the front iron and then the glass which gave him enough time to follow it back with two hands, sort of below the rim. I went and rewatched that and although it was an incredible play at the time, it wasn’t even 1% as impressive as what Victor did from a mobility and fluidity standpoint. … Imagine Victor’s putback dunk happening in the Final Four? It’s all anyone would be talking about for months.”
Though no one knows how difficult pulling off that play is more than Powell, the player affectionately known by Fighting Illini fans as “The Reverend” laughed at the comparison and praised Wembanayma.
“Someone tagged me on that play on Twitter. It’s funny to even put me in the same conversation as that dude,” said Powell, who is now an assistant coach at Gonzaga. “My dunk wasn’t as impressive, but his wasn’t a Final Four game, so it’s different. Victor’s was off the bounce, making moves off a step-back 3. That’s crazy. Mine was a catch and shoot. Just having the body control to execute that being that big tells you how special he is. He is 7-foot-a thousand. It’s not as hard as me at 6-foot-6, but the timing, and the fact that he did it off a step-back 3 was pretty cool.”
It’s often said that the future No. 1 pick does something new and previously unseen virtually every time he steps on the court, but even he outdid himself this time, leaving some lamenting what might have been.
“Honestly, I wish we wouldn’t have won so many games this year,” the Western Conference executive said. “We’re going to all regret not tanking every game to get this dude.”