Comparing Kai and Wembanyama

MICHAEL ANGELO B. ASIS

2022-10-08T07:00:00.0000000Z

2022-10-08T07:00:00.0000000Z

The Manila Times

https://digitaledition.manilatimes.net/article/282033331091530

Sports

HERE’S another tough name that is making its way to public consciousness. Victor Wembanyama. He is 7’4”, two inches taller than Kai Sotto, and is projected to be the consensus first overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. Finally getting on the radar of the general basketball public, Wembanyana’s professional French team, Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92, recently played two exhibition games against G-League Ignite, the same team Kai Sotto joined two seasons ago. Side note: In the European Leagues, they have players turning pro as early as 15 years old. Tony Parker was famous for this, as was Luka Doncic. Playing against grown professionals at an early age forces you to mature early, as you can see with Parker and Doncic. They were never actually “rookies” when they first entered the NBA as they contributed right away. In the Philippines, even the best players languish in the college league. Sure, it makes the UAAP a great, exciting product, but in terms of individual growth, players like Carl Tamayo and Michael Phillips, among others, are pro-ready, and that’s why Dwight Ramos didn’t even need to play in that league anymore. He outgrew the UAAP, and even the PBA. The alien Rudy Gobert was already given the “Stifle Tower” tag being a great defensive French center. LeBron James described Wembanyama as an “alien.” Simply because of his otherworldly skills. Praises have been heaped from every direction, and the French wunderkind is now a prime target. But since he is 7’4” (looks like 7’5”), it’s inevitable that we would compare him to our own wunderkind, Kai Sotto. It’s a hard, humbling experience that Sotto was not picked in the 2022 NBA Rookie Draft, when Chet Holmgren, a similarly built player, went second overall. Now, here’s another lean, tall prospect who has been hyped even more. Two games are a small sample size, but we can see where Wembanyama’s game stands. Two words to describe it are “fluid” and “smooth.” The 18-year old Frenchman has a clear understanding of how the game is played today, and he’s not shoehorned into playing center because of his height. Wembanyama has a respectable handle for a player. Not just for a big man, but any player in general. Standards are lowered for big men, but Wemby doesn’t need that consideration. He plays more like a small forward, and he even has a shake and bake fadeaway jumper in his bag of tricks. With an 8-foot wingspan, this is simply unblockable. That means double teams would not work on shutting him down. The criticism is that the kid relies on threes too much. But that is the game in the NBA today and that is where Kai Sotto could have improved his market value if he had better strokes from beyond the arc. Wembanyama did not have high rebounds in the first game, and it highlighted how he may be too skinny for the NBA. But the team is not relying on him for that. The Mets 92 is not asking him to bang bodies, he’ll just get high rebounds and clog the passing lanes. The difference with Kai We’ve never seen a player like Kai, as our previous seven-footer was Ej Feihl. Kai has crushed our big-man stereotype, but the NBA big man standard is still steps ahead of what Kai is now. That’s the difference — Wembanyama at 7’4 is NOT limited to a big man game. He is not awkward when he drives, when he makes a fadeaway, when he pulls up for a three. Kai is a big man, so he needs to get physical, and fill out. Wembanyama, like Kevin Durant, doesn’t need to fill out. KD is freaky good at 6’9 and is a cheat code now that he is almost seven feet. This guy is 7’4. The “big man” is no longer about height. Grit, cunning, and physicality is now more important than inches. Wembanyama can fill out, but not much. That’s OK, he doesn’t need to be a big man. Kai is still a big man — he’s not slow and awkward, and he has modern skills. But he doesn’t have the fluidity and smoothness of the French version. Wembanyama is a player, Kai is a big man.

en-ph