Posted on: May 17, 2023, 10:59h.
Last updated on: May 17, 2023, 10:59h.
The San Antonio Spurs are expected to draft French hoops prodigy Victor Wembanyama after they were awarded the #1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft Lottery.
Scouts initially compared Wembanyama to Hall of Fame center Tim Duncan, but after Americans got their first glimpse of the 7-foot-5 Wembanyama, he also drew comparisons to Kevin Durant from the Phoenix Suns.
The French giant plays like a wing with deft ball-handling skills and a silky-smooth 3-point shot. The Spurs hope Wembanyama can help them turn around the franchise.
Duncan, the former #1 pick in the 1997 NBA Draft out of Wake Forest, led the Spurs to five NBA championships under head coach Gregg Popovich.
Wembanyama has yet to suit up for the Spurs, and he has huge shoes to fill while getting mentioned in the same breath as Duncan and Durant.
Wembanyama: Once in a Lifetime
The Spurs dominated the Western Conference between 1999 and 2014 thanks to Duncan. They won five NBA championships and were a runner-up once.
The Spurs fell on hard times in recent years, and missed the NBA playoffs in each of the last four seasons. During a stretch between 1968 and 2019, the Spurs failed to qualify for the postseason only five times, and never more than once in a row.
Scouts predict that Wembanyama will become the NBA’s next big superstar as a once in a generation player. He’s the NBA’s most coveted #1 draft pick since LeBron James. He’s considered the best big man prospect since Duncan, and possibly the highest-ranked prospect from Europe.
“People talk about generational talent, and they only think on-court skill, but it’s bigger than that,” said Spurs general manager Brian Wright. “His ability to be a great teammate, his ability to think the game, unique challenges, you see him doing things that you wouldn’t even have guessed someone could do. His approach, his professionalism.”
“It’s going to be unbelievable,” Spurs owner Peter J. Holt told reporters last night. “Our future was already bright. Now, it’s going to be through the moon.”
Great Tank War for Wembanyama
The NBA attempted to deter tanking by flattening out the odds for the #1 pick so the top three teams would only have an 14% chance to hit the lottery. The fourth-worst team had a 12.5% chance, while the fifth-worst team had a 10.5% chance.
Three teams outright tanked in the 2022-23 season for the right to draft the coveted Wembanyama. The Detroit Pistons (17-65), San Antonio Spurs (22-60), Houston Rockets (22-60) posted the worst records in the NBA this season to put themselves in the best position to win the lottery.
Bettors faded the listless trio since the start of the season. The Spurs were 33-49 against the spread as the second-worst betting team in the NBA. The dismal Rockets were 33-45-4 ATS as the third-worst betting team, and Pistons were 34-44-4 ATS as the fifth-worst betting squad.
Two other teams soft-tanked, or pivoted to tanking, later in the season including Charlotte Hornets and Portland Trail Blazers.
The Hornets (27-55) were decimated with injures earlier in the season. The Hornets finished this difficult season the fourth-worst record, but were awarded the #2 pick in the lottery.
The Trail Blazers (33-49) were on the playoff bubble for most of the season, yet ended the season with a 2-15 stretch. They were awarded the #3 pick in the lottery with the fifth-worst record.
Even though the Pistons finished the season with the NBA’s worst record and won only 17 games, they only secured #5 pick overall. The 22-win Rockets were awarded the #4 pick.
Pops Final Mission: Develop Wembanyama
The Spurs secured the #1 pick two other times in the lottery era. Both of their selections became future Hall of Fame members.
They Spurs selected center David Robinson from Navy in the 1997 NBA Draft. Robinson played his entire 14-year career with the Spurs. He was named to 10 NBA All-Star teams, won the NBA MVP in 1995, and earned Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1992. He led them two NBA championships in the 1998-99 and 2002-03 seasons.
The Spurs struck gold with Duncan in 1997. Duncan played his entire career in San Antonio, which spanned 19 seasons. Duncan won the 1998 NBA Rookie of the Year. The two-time MVP was named to 15 NBA All-Star Teams. Duncan was a part of five championship teams, and he won the NBA Finals MVP in 1999, 2003, and 2005.
Popovich is the longest tenured coach in the NBA, and has been the head coach of the Spurs since the start of the 1996-97 season. He dismissed retirement rumors the last couple of years. Even though Popovich might be in the twilight of his coaching career, the former graduate of the Air Force Academy, is aware that his final mission is the development of Wembanyama.
Popovich will teach the young Wembanyama how to be a professional, show him what it takes to win a championship, and a how to become a leader on and off the court.
We’re surrounded by amazing people that try to be of service and help others and build things that are great,” added Holt.
The Spurs also have several complimentary role players — shooting guard Devin Vassell and small forward Keldon Johnson — to assist in Wembanyama’s development and transition to the NBA during his rookie season.