Victor Wembanyama should be an All-Defensive Team lock: Why Spurs rookie is already a top 10 defender in NBA

Making an All-Defensive team is one of the toughest things to do in the NBA. There are only 10 spots and two teams. No rookie has ever made the First Team. Only five (David Robinson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Manute Bol) have made the Second Team.

Victor Wembanyama should be the sixth.

Victor Wembanyama

Wembanyama would have extremely stiff competition at center in a normal year. Rudy Gobert, Bam Adebayo, Anthony Davis and Jarrett Allen have all put forth tremendous defensive seasons. But the award is going positionless this year, and voters can have as many big men as they want on their ballots.

Wemby should probably get in anyway — he or Gobert have been the best defensive centers in the league. Given the new positionless nature of the award, Wemby should be a lock.

Why Victor Wembanyama should be an All-Defensive Team lock

Wemby’s defensive stats are among the best in the league

Let’s start with rim protection, where Wembanyama’s 8-foot wingspan makes him the best in the league. His 3.5 blocks per game is No. 1 by a gigantic margin (Walker Kessler is second, at 2.5 per game) and is the highest total since Hassan Whiteside put up 3.7 per game eight years ago.

Blocks aren’t the only area where Wembanyama’s defense shines. He also uses his long reach to rip the ball away for steals. He’s the first player to average 3.5 blocks and 1.3 steals since Ben Wallace in 2001-02.

Blocks and steals are the easiest indicators of impactful defense, but how does Wembanyama rate in advanced stats? Those universally paint him as an elite defender.

Where Wemby ranks in advanced stats (min. 500 minutes)


Defensive EPM

Defensive LEBRON

Defensive RAPTOR

Forget the All-Defensive Team — Wemby has a pretty strong case for Defensive Player of the Year. That is Gobert’s award to lose, but Wemby knows his time is coming.

“I know that Rudy has a very good chance of winning it this year, and it would be deserved,” Wembanyama told BasketNews. “Let him win it now because after that it’s no longer his turn.”

Wemby has the intimidation factor

Stats are one thing, but is Wembanyama actually affecting shots? According to some of the best players in the league, the answer is undoubtedly yes.

“He does bait you a lot. He does things like a Defensive Player of the Year would,” Kyrie Irving said of Wembanyama after getting blocked by him in March.

“He has the timing of a guard,” Irving added.

O.G. Anunoby, who has been an elite finisher at the rim this year, tried to challenge Wembanyama one-on-one earlier in the season. It went about as well as you’d expect.

Anunoby simply laughed and shook his head when later asked about the play.

“He’s too tall,” Anunoby said. “He’s way too tall.”

In the rare instances where opponents do manage to get a shot off without Wemby getting a piece of the ball, he is still forcing a ton of misses. Opponents shoot 10.4 percent worse at the rim with him defending, ranking in the 94th percentile of players, per Crafted NBA.

Players have been visibly afraid to shoot with Wembanyama down there, playing hot potato with the ball when they get close to the basket.

The memo is out: Don’t challenge him at the rim.

Wemby shouldn’t be punished for the Spurs’ defensive issues

There’s no statistical case for leaving Wembanyama off the team, aside from the Spurs’ awful team defense. They’re ranked 23rd on that end of the floor.

Context is important here. Wemby was drafted onto the worst defense in NBA history. They made their talent even worse by trading away their best defender, big man Jakob Poeltl, at last year’s deadline.

Wemby has taken that situation and done about as much as any other player possibly could. When he is on the court, the Spurs guard like a top-12 defense. When he’s off it, they are worse than the worst defense in league history.

It’s not Wemby’s fault that he’s only been allowed to play 29 minutes per game, or that he’s had to cover for atrocious defenders like Doug McDermott and Keldon Johnson. The Spurs would easily be the worst defense in the league again without him.

Wemby has easily been a top-10 defender based on stats and film. He should be recognized as such at the end of the year.

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