2023 NBA Draft prospect Victor Wembanyama lost a game last night, but he is winning the buzz wars. The spindly 7-foot-2 (or 3?) … center? point-pivot? wing-warrior? … led all scorers in a nationally televised exhibition between Wemby’s French squad and the G-League Ignite stars (led by another top draft prospect) and set Twitter aflame with his insane mixture of crazy handles, dizzying post moves, speed and freakish (I mean that in the nicest possible way) physique.
The dude looks like a marionette out there. He looks like an unholy basketball fusion of Giannis Antetokoumpo and Manute Bol. I sincerely hope he stays healthy and has a long, fruitful career in the league, because players like him make the game interesting, move the league forward. He’s a positionless world-beater in the body of a deer-human demi-god, showing us things nobody else has ever done on a basketball court. That’s exciting!
It got me thinking: When Victor joins the league next year, he will instantly be the lankiest star in a league that has a fair number of pretty lanky stars. A lot of the lanky fellows in the league aren’t that great, they’re just kind of too skinny for their position, but in this wide-open NBA, lanky dudes have never had a better opportunity to be great. Could a starting five made up of only the stringiest beans in the association be great? Who are the All-Lank All-Stars in the league right now, before our new lengthy king joins the fray?
Point guard: Tyrese Haliburton
The best part of watching a lanky gentleman who also has incredible athleticism is seeing them run, because they don’t run like most humans. Their legs seem to come out of their neck and their steps seem more like leaps. Their arms seem like lassos spinning to and fro, occasionally corralling the basketball in the direction this whirling dervish of bones and flesh is moving. Haliburton — who I still have a hard time thinking of as a PG, but that’s where he spends most of his time on the floor — is one of the more controlled examples of a lanky runner in the league, but he still can take your breath away with a lengthy-limbed fast break. I am not sure how most PGs guard this guy, who they say is 6-foot-5 but sometimes looks more like 6-foot-9 when long-stepping past smaller guards.
Shooting guard: Dejounte Murrray
Dejounte is actually an inch shorter than Haliburton, but his lank is just as glorious. He doesn’t seem to tower as much over his opponents as Haliburton does (certainly the function of matching up against guys closer to his height at the two), but he still has an uncanny ability to go Stretch Armstrong when needed and curl one of his long limbs around a defender to get a step to the basket for a smooth lankmeister layup or dunk. And his long arms and legs let him be more effective on defense than he would otherwise be, as well. The fans of his new team in Atlanta are going to reap the whirlwind (in a good way).
Small forward: Kevin Durant
The Durantula is arguably the GOAT of skinny stars, an absolute supernova of scoring prowess barely harnessed by a galactic cloud of spinning arms and legs. The knock on Durant when he was drafted second overall (one of the all-time draft what-ifs) was that he was, you guessed it, too slight for the league. He’d played a lot of four in college, but was shunted down to the two for his first year or two in the league. He never bulked up much, but in his own uniquely lanky way, he put on enough sinewy beef to withstand the rigors of the league (for the most part; he’s obviously had a few injuries in his career) and excel. He’s a champion, he’s a scoring king, he’s an All-Star in every sense of the word. Oh, and he can play four positions. Oh, and he’s still doing it in his mid-30s, somehow.
Power forward: Giannis Antetokoumpo
Like Durant, the NBA intelligentsia looked at scrawny young Giannis and figured he would be a fragile boi, not fit for success in the rough-and-tumble American basketball league. In retrospect that sounds especially funny because Giannis arrived right at the start of the positionless “unicorn” revolution of the NBA, a revolution he helped usher in. Sure, he looked a little like a literal scared deer at the start of his career with the Bucks, but right away he started to unleash the incredible stretchy feats of basketball mastery that would come to define “The Greek Freak” and his game. Like Durant, he was first miscast as a guard, and his lack of outside shot quickly limited his effectiveness there. Like Durant, he put on enough beef to move gradually closer to the basket and become a more formidable force flying through the lane with one of his patented Eurostep finishes that somehow start at the three-point line (and are NOT traveling violations, he’s just actually that lengthy). Oh, and like Durant did, he is developing an outside game, which allows him to effectively play at least four positions.
Center: Myles Turner
No disrespect to Myles (a second All-Lank Pacer!), but this is the spot Wembayana is likely gunning for when he gets to the league. There aren’t a ton of lanky true fives, and Myles himself spent a fair amount of the last couple of seasons trying to adjust to the four (when Demontas Sabonis was still laying claim to the starting center spot for the Pacers), but he is the best example of how a skinny five usually works: pogo-sticking around, terrorizing opponents with chase-down blocks from across the key, stretching impossibly long arms for sky-high rebounds, and generally causing havoc with their length rather than banging bodies and intimidating with size like beefier boys — your Goberts and your Jokices — do.