I don’t dive too deep into draft coverage — watching and following the players already in the NBA takes up all my time, and I can’t fathom watching tape on hundreds more draft hopefuls. (Here’s HoopSocial’s latest Big Board if you want to see who our draft expert, Jordan Ennis, likes best.)
So I know nothing about the incoming draft class beyond what headlines tell me, but even I’m pretty excited about the upcoming NBA Lottery. The winner receives the most hyped prospect since LeBron James: Victor Wembanyama.
Everybody with a passing interest in basketball has heard the name by now, and scouting reports on Vic are a dime a dozen. So here’s the short version of the tall tales: he’s a 7’4” praying mantis with off-the-dribble magic. He defends like a longer Jaren Jackson Jr. but moves and shoots like Kevin Durant.
Much of this is projection, of course, and there are certainly concerns. Despite incredible fluidity and a nice shooting form, Vic hasn’t consistently shot well from the outside. In addition, his body type raises durability concerns, and some believe he’d struggle on offense with the physicality of stronger, quicker power forwards in the NBA.
But then you see clips of him tip-dunking his own three-point miss or blocking someone’s jump shot from halfway across the court, and you start to understand the appeal.
It’s not just about basketball. There is a financial windfall waiting, as well. An anonymous team president told ESPN infomongrel Adrian Wojnarowski that adding Victor Wembanyama could increase a franchise’s valuation by a cool $500 million overnight. Is that exaggeration? Perhaps not; Forbes’ franchise valuations have estimated club values jumping by the hundreds of millions before, and they weren’t adding the most anticipated name of the last two decades.
Wembanyama will be a stretch-four power forward to start but will likely play a healthy dose of center, as well. His offensive flexibility should make him a good fit on almost any roster. I’m not qualified to project how Wembanyama will play as a rookie, although, like many top rookies, I’m confident we’ll see flashes of brilliance marred by streaky shooting. Bold prognostication, I know!
Instead of a breakdown of Vic, then, I’d rather look at which teams are in most need of his services. Sure, they all WANT Wembanyama — Rockets owner Tillman Fertitta implored his team’s fans to “Pray for Victor” in a hilarious Mardi Gras interview— but for some squads, he’s a luxury, not a necessity.
Here are the current chances for each team to garner the rights to Wembanyama:
1. Detroit Pistons — 14%
2. Houston Rockets — 14%
3. San Antonio Spurs — 14%
4. Charlotte Hornets — 12.5%
5. Portland Trail Blazers — 10.5%
6. Orlando Magic —9.0%
7. Indiana Pacers — 6.8%
8. Washington Wizards — 6.7%
9. Utah Jazz — 4.5%
10. Dallas Mavericks — 3.0% (pick conveys to New York if it’s worse than 10th)
11. Chicago Bulls — 1.8% (pick conveys to Orlando if it’s worse than 4th)
12. Oklahoma City Thunder — 1.7%
13. Toronto Raptors — 1.0%
14. New Orleans Pelicans — 0.5%
That’s useful context to have. But disregarding the odds, who are the top-five franchises most in need of Vic’s talents?
5) Chicago Bulls
Chicago started as a feel-good story two regular seasons ago when they briefly crested the Eastern Conference. Then Lonzo Ball hurt his knee, and they’ve never looked the same.
Now, they are a .500-ish team without the means for substantial improvement…unless they win the lottery. With a first-round pick that’s top-four protected this year, Chicago desperately needs some lottery luck to give them an infusion of potential.
Center Nikola Vucevic is an unrestricted free agent, but it seems likely the Bulls re-sign him. DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine are both very good but not quite the superstar-level players that drive playoff winning.
With a team core that seems locked into place for at least one more season, the Bulls are stuck on the dreaded treadmill of meh-ness. A lottery win gives this franchise both direction and hope, two things in short supply these days.
Wembanyama’s theoretical skillset would let the Bulls go in any direction they want. Blow it up and try to rebuild around Vic? DeRozan and LaVine are sure to have value on the market, given a weak free-agent class. Run it back? LaVine should still be in his prime when Vic begins entering his. In the short term, Wembanyama would be a strong fit next to DeMar DeRozan, too, although the Bulls would need to figure out what they’re doing with incumbent power forward Patrick Williams. I suspect they would love to have that problem.
4) Washington Wizards
Washington is in a similar position to Chicago, but their roster could undergo some dramatic changes if they win the lottery. With his supermax contract and no-trade clause, Bradley Beal will be in Washington as long as he wants to be. The team also seems likely to try to re-sign Kristaps Porzingis (assuming he opts out) and Kyle Kuzma, which would lock them into a mediocre Big 3.
Wembanyama’s arrival could blow that plan up like some Mentos in a Diet Coke.
Winning the lottery would allow Washington to sell off Porzingis, an injury-prone but valuable player with many of the same skills. They may feel comfortable letting Kuzma go (or sign-and-trading him) to try and get younger.
Beal is sticking around, but he’d be an ideal partner for a young Vic — the number-one option who can reduce the initial offensive burden on Wembanyama as he gets his feet wet.
The Wizards have some fun young pieces, but none project to rise above the level of role player. And they don’t have a tentpole star outside of Beal, who is aging. Wembanyama would assume that mantle and ignite a long-dormant fan base.
3) Portland Trail Blazers
Unlike Washington and Chicago, Portland is trying to build a true-blue contender around Damian Lillard as soon as possible. Despite turning 33, Lillard had arguably the best season of his career last season, but the Blazers could not even make the play-in tournament (thanks in no small part to some brutal down-the-stretch tankery).
Portland shouldn’t expect Wembanyama to come in and make a significant scoring impact, but points were rarely Portland’s problem. Instead, they’d love to utilize his pterodactyl-like eight-foot wingspan to help improve the defensive side.
Rookie big men are rarely defensive assets, but we just saw Walker Kessler come in as a rookie for Utah and put up a dominant season patrolling the middle. Wembanyama isn’t the same kind of player, but Portland needs defensive playmaking (they finished below average in both forced turnover rate and block rate), and Vic should at least be able to get his hands on a lot of balls. If center Jusuf Nurkic stays healthy, it’s easy to imagine Wembanyama in a Giannis-style weakside roamer role, free to patrol the paint and murder unwary basketballs.
Even if Wembanyama isn’t able to immediately contribute to winning, he will create a natural succession plan for the Blazers. As Lillard ages, he can pass the torch to Wemby. It creates clarity for a future that’s currently murkier than the Willamette River.
2) Dallas Mavericks
After trading the few remaining things that weren’t bolted to the floor for Kyrie Irving, the Dallas Mavericks still fear the prospect of All-Universe point forward Luka Doncic demanding a trade.
Dallas has just the tenth-best odds at the #1 pick, but getting lucky with the ping-pong balls would change EVERYTHING.
Getting Wembanyama isn’t just about Wembanyama, the player, for Dallas. It would give them some breathing room with Doncic, who would likely be intrigued at the idea of teaming up with the French wunderkind. It may be catnip for Kyrie Irving to re-sign with Dallas, too (although whether that’s a good thing or not is debatable).
The Mavericks already have a framework and a support system for international superstars. Dirk Nowitzki played there for 20 years, and Luka has resided in Dallas for five. The team knows how to market and cater to foreign stars.
The on-court fit between Luka and Wembanyama should be terrific, as well. Vic is comfortable on the perimeter but is also an insane lob threat, and Luka will gorge himself on alley-oop assists. Vic’s length will theoretically help cover up some of the defensive mistakes that Luka inevitably makes, as well.
The only reason Dallas isn’t number one: all of the hypothetical Luka discontent is just smoky speculation at this point. There could well be a fire, but we haven’t seen it yet. Even if Dallas doesn’t win the lottery, they still enter the season with one of the best players in the league for at least one more year and possibly more. It’s hard to feel that bad for a team that just made the Western Conference Finals a calendar year ago.
Dallas seems like it might be the best fit for Wembanyama, all things considered… but there’s one franchise that needs him even more.
1) Charlotte Hornets
Wembanyama is the cure for almost everything ailing the Hornets. Charlotte is young and bad, but Wemby immediately creates cohesion on the roster, the rug that brings the room together. They already have league-best uniforms, iconic colors and court designs, a rising star in point guard LaMelo Ball, and a beloved broadcast crew. Adding Wembanyama to the mix would make the Hornets the most exciting and fun team in the league overnight.
Ball was having a fantastic year before his injury, and like Luka, he’d love to have an offensive running mate as versatile as Wembanyama. The Hornets already have a promising young defensive anchor in Mark Williams, who can bang with the big bodies in the middle, freeing Wembanyama up to roam as a help-side menace (imagine trying to score in the paint against two dudes who can dunk without jumping). And the Hornets have some talented veterans like Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier to help space the floor.
Charlotte has had nothing but bad news for the last year. There was the coaching search debacle, the injuries, and the ugly Miles Bridges situation. This team, more than any other, desperately needs something good to happen to them.
More specifically, the Hornets need Victor Wembanyama.