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Why Victor Wembanyama Is Unlike Any Draft Prospect in NBA History

4 minute read

Of all the show-stopping things Victor Wembanyama, the French basketball phenom, can do on the basketball court, it’s the one-legged running three-point shots that stand out. Clips of the rangy 7 ft. 4 in. Wembanyama taking off from a distance, leaping over the three-point line, and sinking threes went viral this season. He’s scarily effective. You can almost imagine Wembanyama, 19, cutting half the distance off the attempt, he’s so long. You can almost imagine him taking off from the three-point line, extending his endless arms, and dunking the ball.

Tonight, at 8 p.m. EST, the NBA will hold its annual draft lottery in Chicago; the league’s trajectory could change with the bounce of a ping-pong ball. Wembanyama will be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft in late June—there’s little need to hedge this inevitability with a “likely” or “probably.” Wembanyama himself isn’t. “Ten days before knowing my future team,” Wembenyama wrote on Twitter in French on May 6. “It’s really a crazy thing.”

During tonight’s proceedings, one of 14 teams will win the right to select Wembanyama. The league’s three worst teams this season, the Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets, and San Antonio Spurs, all have the best chances of winning the Wemby sweepstakes; each team has a 14% probability of landing the top draft pick. Detroit finished the season 2-23. Houston was horrible all season. Teams were barely concealing their intentions, tanking away the season, it seemed, for the chance to let Wembanyama save them.

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No player in NBA history has ever scored 30 points, made seven three-pointers, and blocked five shots in a game. After LeBron James caught Wembanyama score 37 points, block five shots, and make seven three-pointers in an exhibition game in Las Vegas in October, he called him an “alien.”

“No one has ever seen anyone as tall but as fluid and graceful on the floor as he is,” James said. “He’s for sure a generational talent.”

Stephen Curry compared him to a video-game player. “Every point guard that wants to be 7-foot,” Curry said. “Cheat-code type vibes.”

This season Wembanyama played for ​​Metropolitans 92, in France’s top pro league. He’s leading that league in points, rebounds, and blocks, averaging 21.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 3.6 blocks per game. If Wembanyama had joined the NBA this season, he and Boban Marjanovic would have been the tallest active NBA players. Only seven players in NBA history 7 ft. 4 in. or taller have played more than 400 games. (Wembanyama is listed at 7 ft. 4 in. here. Other outlets have also listed him as 7 ft. 5 in. and 7 ft. 3 in.) None of them–Mark Eaton, Rik Smits, Shawn Bradley, Manute Bol, Yao Ming, Ralph Sampson, and Marjanovic—possessed Wembenyama’s guard-like dribbling and shooting skills.

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Wembanyama needs to add some muscle to his frail frame in order to withstand the rigors of the NBA. Pundits, however, said the same thing about Kevin Durant, who is 6 ft. 10 in., when he came out of Texas after his freshman year. Wembanyama could be a taller version of Durant, already one of the NBA’s all-time electrifying scorers. He’ll block plenty of shots and improve a team’s fortunes on both ends of the court.

Simply put, Wembanyama is the NBA’s most important prospect since LeBron James, in 2003. James famously lived up to all the hype. Given what we’ve seen so far, there’s no reason to expect anything less from Wembanyama. Watch the ping-pong balls very closely this evening. With one lucky bounce, a $10 billion business will shift and a team like Detroit could become a contender.

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Write to Sean Gregory at sean.gregory@time.com