San Antonio Spurs rookie phenom Victor Wembanyama is no stranger to navigating ridiculous, borderline hyperbolic expectations. Not since LeBron James walked into the NBA as an 18-year-old over two decades has a player came into the league with so much pressure to be great right away, and as was the case with LeBron, early returns have been more than promising for Wemby. When LeBron James was just 20 years old, he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated with a simple two-word title underneath his photo: “Best Ever?” That was nearly twenty years ago though and magazines are now a relic of the past. When someone wants to make a bold claim about a young player's potential in 2024, they'll do so while on a podcast.

“I had somebody with another front office tell me they think he’s going to be the best defensive player of all time, and very confidently declare that and that’s in addition to the fact that this guy's got unlimited potential offensively,” ESPN's Tim McMahon shared with Brian Windhorst on The Hoop Collective Podcast.

Good lord that is a whole heck of a lot of pressure to put on the shoulders of a 20-year-old who has played only 52 career games in the NBA. It's crazy to think that a member of an NBA front office would put those sort of expectations on a rookie. But you know what else is crazy? As premature as that may seem to be, everything we've seen from Victor Wembanyama in 52 career games indicates that “best defensive player of all-time” may not be a bar that's too high for him to clear.

Through 52 games, Wembanyama is 3.3 blocks and 1.3 steals per game. To hijack a phrase from Bill Simmons, Wemby's 4.6 stocks (steals + blocks) per game are best in the NBA this year, and even superior to what Hakeem Olajuwon averaged during his rookie season and in the final seven seasons of his career. And with each passing game, Wemby appears to only be getting better. Over the last ten games, Wemby is averaging 21 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 5.8 stocks per game, including two games with at least ten combined stocks, a rarely-seen 5×5 game, plus a 10-block triple-double.

Even the most passionate optimists likely wouldn't have expected Wemby to produce at this level so quickly, and it's not just the eye-popping numbers that have made his rookie season so impressive. Next time you watch a Spurs game, do yourself a favor and go out of your way to pay attention to Wemby on every single defensive possession. Take note of how much ground he covers. How many driving lanes he closes off because he's able to be everywhere at once. How many shots he effects and how many passes and ball-handlers he disrupts. How many blocks he has when it looks like the offensive player has a wide-open lay-in or plenty of time and space to get his jumper off.

I was one of those passionate optimists, and it's all been more awe-inspiring to watch than I imagined it would be.