Derrick Rose was teammates with the ‘Unicorn’ version of Kristaps Porzingis, when the Latvian was supposed to redefine the basketball capabilities of a person well over 7-feet tall.
Now Rose sees something more advanced and revolutionary in a different player, Victor Wembanyama, the consensus No. 1 pick next year and probably the most anticipated draft pick since LeBron James.
Rose likened the 7-5 Wembanyama to a taller Kevin Durant.
“He moves different. Even from [Porzingis],” Rose said. “Like how [Durant] was the model for 6-foot-10 guys, he’s like the new model for guys over 7-2. Like the way he’s moving — he’s moving like he’s a KD type of guy. You’ve never seen a guy move that light being that big. And skilled. And his feel for the game. I never saw it before.”
The 7-5 Victor Wembanyama is considered the consensus No. 1 pick next year in the NBA draft. (John Locher/AP)
Wembanyama hit the mainstream’s radar this week by dropping 37 points for his French professional team at a showcase near Vegas. He followed that up two days later with 36 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks. Rose, a former teenage prodigy himself, became the latest NBA star to heap praise on the Frenchman, with LeBron earlier calling Wembanyama “an alien.”
“I think he has the attitude. His energy is kind of different,” Rose said. “For him to come here and not shy away from the moments. And you can look at who is playing against, but it don’t matter. He’s not shying away. That’s what I look at it. It shows he has heart. You look up and he has 40 or 50 points on you. And plays defense. And wants to be great. It’s a feel. I think that’s what a lot of people call the ‘it’ factor. You don’t know what it is. But it’s something. Something about him outside of his game. It’s something deep where you can tell he wants to be great.”
The Knicks own their first-round draft pick for 2023 but are probably too good for the top of the lottery. Since the NBA revamped the lottery odds in 2019 to dissuade tanking, there’s at least a small chance that back-end lottery teams can land the No. 1 pick (this year, for instance, they had the 11th-worst record and a 2% chance of the top pick).
These aren’t things typically contemplated during training camp. But Wembanyama is forcing the conversation. According to one GM who spoke with ESPN, “we are going to see a race to the bottom like we’ve never seen.”
League commissioner Adam Silver even chimed in.
“I know that many of our NBA teams are salivating at the notion that potentially through our lottery, they can get him,” Silver said, “so they should all still compete very hard next season.”
Knicks forward RJ Barrett, who was the top-ranked prospect of his high school class, responded to a question about Wembanyama by whistling in amazement.
“That’s unreal. It’s like 2K [the video game], you make this giant guy and you want him to be shooting and all that stuff, and he’s doing it in real life,” Barrett said. “So it’s crazy. He’s definitely very talented. It’s unreal.”