As you may have heard, Victor Wembanyama is the most hyped NBA prospect since LeBron James. His preseason highlights are sending the hoops world into a frenzy, and frankly we haven’t seen anything like the 7-foot-4 Frenchman, who can move, handle, shoot and … well, do just everything. No pressure, kid.
The 19-year-old will make his regular-season debut Wednesday at home against Dallas, with Hall of Fame coach Gregg Popovich tasked with developing the sensation into one of the greatest players of all time … or not.
Here’s a look at how some of the most hyped players in recent NBA history — who were all obviously drafted No. 1 overall — fared in their regular-season debuts:
Age: 22 Ht./Wt.: 7-6, 310
Debut: Oct. 30, 2002, at Indiana (Pacers 91, Rockets 82)
The numbers: 0 points (0-of-1), 2 rebounds, 2 turnovers, 3 fouls in 10:36 minutes
The Rockets really eased Yao into the Association. The global sensation didn’t reach 20 minutes until his third game, but the promise was always there: Yao scored 20 in his eighth game and went for 30 and 16 in Game 10. Foot injuries derailed Yao’s career, but he was an eight-time All-Star who grew the game internationally and averaged 19 points and 9.2 rebounds for his career.
Age: 18 Ht./Wt.: 6-9, 250
Debut: Oct. 29, 2003, at Sacramento (Kings 106, Cavaliers 92)
The numbers: 25 points (12-of-20), 9 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals in 42:50 minutes
Oh look, it’s still one of the greatest players in the game today. What more can you say about the 19-time All-Star, four-time MVP and four-time champion? He’s arguably the most hyped player of all time and was a dominant superstar from Day 1 … right out of high school.
Age: 20 Ht./Wt.: 7-0, 250
Debut: Oct. 28, 2008, at Sacramento (Lakers 96, Trail Blazers 76)
The numbers: 0 points (0-of-4), 5 rebounds, 1 block, 2 turnovers in 12:51 minutes
Oden was drafted in 2007 ahead of a little-known player by the name of Kevin Durant, but he did not make his debut until the 2008-09 season because of microfracture surgery on his right knee. He left his debut with a foot injury and missed Portland’s next six games and that sadly sums up his injury-riddled career. Oden played in three seasons, totaled 105 regular-season games and underwent three microfracture procedures. He had career averages of eight points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 19.3 minutes per game and never played in the NBA again after age 26.
Age: 20 Ht./Wt.: 6-3, 200
Debut: Oct. 28, 2008, vs. Milwaukee (Bulls 108, Bucks 95)
The numbers: 11 points (3-of-9), 9 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 4 turnovers in 32:12 minutes
Rose was a Day 1 starter who was ready for the NBA after leading Memphis to the national title game in his lone college season. (That still happened, right?) Rose scored 26 in his third career game and took off from there. He was a dynamic athlete who was a questionable league MVP in the 2010-11 season (oh, hindsight), but whose career was derailed by an ACL tear in the 2012 playoffs. Rose is entering his 16th season, now with the Memphis Grizzlies, but is little more than a journeyman reserve.
Age: 19 Ht./Wt.: 6-10, 253
Debut: Oct. 31, 2012, vs. San Antonio (Spurs 99, Hornets 95)
The numbers: 21 points (6-of-12, 9-of-9 FTs), 7 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block in 29:04 minutes
Davis was excellent in his debut and has remained an elite player throughout his career. His issues? He has struggled as a franchise player, being more suited as a dominant No. 2 option, and he can’t escape the injury bugaboo. After his excellent debut, Davis missed 14 of his next 18 games because of injuries and that pretty much sums up the cadence of his NBA career. But hey, if you encounter a global pandemic and get four months of rest before the playoffs, Davis can be a world-beater and NBA champion — as long as he’s paired with a top-five player of all time.
Age: 19 Ht./Wt.: 6-6, 284
Debut: Jan. 22, 2020, vs. San Antonio (Spurs 121, Pelicans 117)
The numbers: 22 points (8-of-11, 4-of-4 3-pointers), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 turnovers in 18:18 minutes
New Orleans basketball and injuries, a pairing as iconic as red beans and rice. Williamson missed the Pelicans’ first 44 games of his rookie season because of a meniscus injury in his right knee and that has been the story of his career. Williamson was brilliant and efficient in his debut and only got better from there, scoring 20 or more points in 14 of his next 16 games and topping 25 points seven times in that span. With the Pels out of contention, Williamson was shut down at the end of his rookie season with knee soreness. And of course, you know the rest. Zion is phenomenal with historic efficiency when he’s healthy, but he never is. Entering his fifth NBA season he has played 114 regular-season games, missing the 2021-22 season because of a fracture in his right foot and playing just 29 games last season because of a hamstring injury.
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