Every year, the 14 worst-performing NBA franchises eagerly await ping-pong balls to be drawn from the league’s lottery machine to see where they will be picking in the upcoming draft after missing the playoffs that year. It’s pretty much the highest-stakes bingo you can find. This year’s lottery will take on even greater importance given that the prize awaiting the winner is 19-year-old French phenom Victor Wembanyama, a generational prospect whose hype is reaching Saint Vincent-Saint Mary’s Lebron James levels.
Per Draft Express co-founder and ESPN draft analyst Jonathan Givony, Wembanyama measures at 7-foot-4 with an 8-foot wingspan. Pair those measurables with a silky unblockable jump shot, defensive instincts well beyond his years and you’ve got a basketball player even a lab couldn’t produce.
While we won’t know who wins the Wemby sweepstakes until the lottery takes place in May, there is one organization in the basement of the league that nobody wants to see take home the number one pick: the San Antonio Spurs.
San Antonio last sat atop the draft order in 1997, when injuries to Center David Robinson and Forward Sean Elliott hampered their season and left them with a 20-62 record. That year, another generational prospect sat head and shoulders above all others on draft boards: Tim Duncan. That is 15-time All-Star, 15-time All-NBA, two-time MVP, five-time NBA Champion, three-time Finals MVP Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan.
For multiple decades now, San Antonio has proved itself to be one of the league’s steadiest organizations. Coach Gregg Popovich and his staff take pride in nurturing young players and facilitating their development while also serving as a popular destination for veterans to improve their value.
Their last few major exports are all perfect examples of their organizational competence. Jakob Poetl arrived as a promising young center and left as one of the league’s best rim protectors with a value worth a first-round pick and two second-rounders. Dejounte Murray was a late first-round draft pick who became an All-Star and premier perimeter, proving worthy of a monster haul of picks from the Atlanta Hawks.
Finally, DeMar DeRozan came to San Antonio from Toronto with a growing reputation as the face of inefficiency and left having undergone a remarkable career renaissance, reclaiming both All-Star and All-NBA statuses.
San Antonio would provide the ideal environment for Victor Wembanyama to grow from a generational prospect into a superstar and potentially launch another Spurs dynasty.
What of the rest?
The other three teams with the best odds to land the top pick are the Detroit Pistons, the Houston Rockets, and the Charlotte Hornets.
Detroit is my second favorite destination for Wembanyama. If the Pistons could pair Victor with another number-one overall pick in Cade Cunningham along with promising young pieces Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duran, they would instantly have as good a young core as any in the league.
My one concern with Detroit is their overcrowded frontcourt behind Duran. Between Marvin Bagley, and the newly acquired James Wiseman, Detroit has a lot of big guys without a lot of spacing.
If Charlotte and Houston got Wembanyama their fan bases would rightfully be excited, but fans hoping to see Wembanyama flourish in the NBA would have concerns about him reaching his potential in those environments.
As bright as Lamelo Ball’s star is, it can’t shine over the Hornets’ off-the-court issues that include two players getting arrested. Charlotte’s void in leadership makes it an unattractive generation for prospects of any shape or size.
Houston meanwhile has some real talent on the roster in Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, and last year’s number three overall pick Jabari Smith Jr. Wembanyama has the defensive potential to cover for those three guys’ collective weaknesses and could be a great connector on offense as well.
The problem is that head coach Stephen Silas has struggled to mold the talent into anything resembling an NBA team. Wembanyama’s best fit can’t be an organization that has proven itself to be inept at developing talent.
Wembanyama to the Spurs would give San Antonio a franchise cornerstone to shape their roster around going forward. His hypothetical arrival would allow the likes of Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, and Jeremy Sochan to slide into more natural roles around Wembanyama.
Plus, the Pop factor. The legendary coach could help get Wembanyama settled into the NBA and coach him until he retires. Perhaps if Wemby lives up to the hype then his arrival would allow Pop to ride off into the sunset as an NBA champion after a few seasons.
At the very least, he could pass the keys to the next guy with the car having received a brand-new V8 engine.