Spurs have secured the first pick of the 2023 draft and will almost surely use it on the enticing big man, who could change the course of their rebuild.
The tanking worked. Spurs won the draft lottery and secured the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft and will have the opportunity to pick Victor Wembanyama, the consensus top prospect in his class and arguably the past 20 years.
The basketball gods have once again smiled on San Antonio by giving the team the third chance to sign a franchise-altering big man with the No. 1 overall pick, after David Robinson and Tim Duncan. It’s safe to say that unless something shocking happens, the French phenom will be their pick. Now, it remains to be seen what the addition of Wembanyama could mean for the future of the franchise.
Reconstruction could speed up considerably
There’s been a huge amount of hype around Wembanyama, and it all seems justified. From physical tools to skills, the big man seems to have everything it takes to be a superstar. He’s also played professionally overseas, so adapting to the league should be more seamless than what other prospects will have to go through. Still, expecting him to make a difference right off the bat might be asking too much.
However, his presence could still change the timeline of the reconstruction. Even if Wembanyama doesn’t do enough to lift Spurs from the basement with his game as a rookie, if he shows enough promise as a potential cornerstone – and he arguably already has, even without saving a single minute in the NBA – he could get the front office to speed things up. Assuming the decision makers believe they have their man, they might be willing to change their strategy. They’re unlikely to go straight into winning mode now, but they could focus their efforts in free agency on getting pieces with whatever cap space the team will have instead of renting it out for future assets. Spurs still have all their future picks, after all, and a few more, so get, say, a 2027 conditional first round instead of someone who can either help Wembanyama’s development now or help him once he starts to show dominance maybe not so attractive.
There are, of course, downsides to this potential game plan. One of the reasons the Cavaliers couldn’t win with a young LeBron James is that instead of being patient and asking him for more help in the lottery (Luke Jackson doesn’t count, for reasons obvious), they tried to make the playoffs as soon as possible. as possible by adding some veterans. Something similar happened in New Orleans with Anthony Davis. Spurs are in a slightly different boat as they already have some young talent on the roster, but they could always use another high pick that gives them another potential cornerstone instead of relying on Devin Vassel, Keldon Johnson or one. 2022 recruits to become a legitimate second option. And there aren’t too many extra choices.
It shouldn’t take long to figure out which direction Spurs are trying to take as soon as free agency arrives. If they are still in asset acquisition mode, we can expect another season of tanking. If they try to add talent, they might just be willing to bet that Victor will reach his full potential and someone else will burst.
Pop will have a tough decision to make regarding his starting lineup
Again, unless something completely unexpected happens, Spurs will choose Wembanyama, who is a big man. The big question is whether they see him as an oversized center or power forward right away, at least for now. Since he still needs to gain muscle to hang on to the biggest bigs in the NBA, and his health is of the utmost importance, it seems like he’d be in a better position to spend his time at the power forward while that a stronger stout handles the wear-and-tear that comes with playing indoors. If so, which of Keldon Johnson or Jeremy Sochan sits down to make room for Victor in the starting lineup?
Given the faith the coaching staff had in Sochan’s ability to protect perimeter players last season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them move him to the small forward slot. His lack of range wouldn’t be a huge problem as long as Wembanyama can provide some spacing with his always-inconsistent outside shot, and Sochan could punish the smaller wings in the post. These two young players developing the chemistry together as the likely striker and center of the future would be invaluable. That said, the adjustment with Johnson is more homogeneous in the short term. Keldon is a more resourceful goalscorer than Sochan and could relieve Victor’s pressure to be a star option night and night early in his career. It could also be easier for the French big man to play alongside two more traditional wings in a more conventional formation than having to share the floor with a center and another inside player as a rookie.
There are many potential solutions that could keep the three Keldon Johnson, Sochan and Victor in the starting lineup, unconventional, such as going without a playmaker and playing Devin Vassell, Johnson, Sochan, Wembanyama and Zach Collins, to the more traditional as if Victor was starting his career as a center. The easiest path, however, would seem to be to simply try to turn Johnson into a sixth man, at least until Wembanyama is ready to play at center, assuming that’s the long-term plan. It might be difficult to convince Johnson, after a season in which he scored 20 points per game, to give up his starting spot for a team that will likely still lose a lot, but if he sees the vision of a future in which he could be a major contributor, he might be willing to switch as long as he still gets his minutes.
Not knowing where to start because there are plenty of talented young players around is the best kind of problem a coach of a rebuilding team could have, but it will be interesting to see which way Gregg Popovich leans. as it could reveal a lot about how he plans to build Spurs’ next big team.