When deciding where to place trust in the NBA this season, think big. I’m talking bigger than the frame and hype of Victor Wembanyama.

The San Antonio Spurs rookie phenomenon, a mythical figure come to life, is as much an amplifier as he is a game-changer. The fascination with his NBA arrival sheds light on a new era that has yet to be fully articulated.

Before Wembanyama develops enough to take over the league, he must find comfort in it. His adjustment could be a quick one, and the reason for that — besides the 8-foot wingspan, extraterrestrial skills and the fluidity with which he moves — explains why the game is in good health.

There were times in NBA history when the league wouldn’t have been able to maximize the sui generis talent of Wembanyama. This era is different. It is an open-ended and imaginative period for coaches and executives. Quietly, the sport is about a decade into an age in which versatile size has become the most coveted and nourished commodity.

We spent so much time eulogizing the traditional low-post big man, leaving insufficient room to explore all the possibilities of evolutionary adaptation.

Now, all of a sudden, the Point God era has deferred to the unicorns. The past five MVP awards have gone to players 6 feet, 11 inches or taller. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic have received the honor twice apiece, and Joel Embiid took it last season. In addition, the Los Angeles Lakers won a championship in 2020 after acquiring Anthony Davis, an ideal interior complement to LeBron James when healthy. And if you go back to the 2013-14 season, when Kevin Durant won his only regular season MVP with the Oklahoma City Thunder, you can trace his championship-level impact as a player rumored to be even taller than his listed 6-10 and blessed with talent to play anywhere on the floor.


If you want to win for a long time, you had better find one of these rare giants. For certain, it remains a more democratic time with equal opportunity for players of various shapes and sizes to carry franchises. But we’re getting back to a classic hoops question: When the tallest man on the court is the best player, how do you handle that kind of dominance?

Over the past 20 years, the very best tall basketball players have mutated into video-game creations. Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki are long-retired forefathers with plaques in the Hall of Fame. They rose to fame as anomalous superstars and exited amid the transformation.

Wembanyama enters a league that already has learned from pioneering unicorns, fought battles over tradition and seen perceptions changed. The top title favorites — Boston, Denver and Milwaukee — play with starting lineups that feature old-school size without sacrificing skill and versatility.

Golden State is the only small-ball team with a reasonable chance to win it all. But while the Warriors aren’t all that different from the undersized squad that won the 2022 Finals, their task seems much greater now. They’ve gone from the “light-years ahead” example that owner Joe Lacob celebrated to a graying dynasty with personnel vulnerable to mismatches instead of the visionary group adept at creating them.

During Durant’s three years there, the Warriors were impossible to handle because you didn’t consider any of their lineups small or big. They were skilled or superskilled. Teams had to counteract them. Now, they’re the ones in a constant state of adjustment. When they find the right combination, they can still play a soulful brand of basketball. But as the league gets bigger and the Warriors struggle to acquire difference-making size, their challenges continue to mount.

Because Stephen Curry leads them, the Warriors might be able to squeeze another championship through their window. But with Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee and Jokic in Denver, the Bucks and Nuggets have the best opportunity to own the next few seasons. It would disappointing if at least one of them fails to add another title.


Their dominance speaks to the league’s diversity in the post. The Greek Freak is as prolific as Shaquille O’Neal was at scoring in the paint, but he does so off the dribble instead of post-ups. With Damian Lillard now at his side, the Bucks have a chance to create a potent pick-and-roll combination that could streamline Antetokounmpo’s playmaking responsibilities and create easier — and perhaps more traditional — scoring opportunities for the big man.

Jokic is a 284-pound point guard who operates in the low post, mid-post or high post. He can play an inverted two-man game with Jamal Murray, an ideal lead-guard partner with the way he moves without the ball. Jokic is both new and retro, and he has proved to be tough and durable. He may be the most formidable offensive engine in the game.

Now here comes Wembanyama, a positionless 7-foot-4 marvel whose game is a patchwork quilt of basketball history.

If you isolate any single aspect of his game, you’ve seen something similar. But never has a player, with his height and length, wrapped all of those skills into one package. On the inside, he’s a little bit of almost every agile big man to play the game. But the outer layer is all Wemby, and if he stays healthy, he will be the NBA standard soon. And once every team must go through him and the Spurs, this evolutionary wave goes to another level.

For now, he’s a fascinating 19-year-old who’s still raw despite his professional international resume.

As he showed in his debut against the Dallas Mavericks, he will have mesmerizing spurts, but he also will commit silly fouls and other mistakes while learning the NBA game. Because the Spurs still have a young and unfinished roster, his teammates won’t always be able to accentuate his talent. But coach Gregg Popovich is an innovator who will experiment and adapt in addition to harping on fundamental concepts.

At some point, the public will have Wembanyama fatigue, but all this attention sure beats lamenting the extinction of plodding 7-footers who double park in the lane. The new era of versatile size didn’t just arrive. It has been here, and in the time it takes for Wemby to figure out the league, there’s ample space to appreciate everything that led to this moment.

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