Imagining Victor Wembanyama on Every 2023 NBA Lottery Team
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In one sense, we’re late to the party. Every NBA team with even the slimmest chance of drafting generational prospect Victor Wembanyama has already been imagining what life would be like with the 7’4″ Frenchman on the roster.
It’s impossible for those franchises to dream too big.
Wembanyama brings a skill package previously unseen in a player his size. Guard-like handles and self-sufficient shot creation beyond the arc don’t belong in a player taller than Kristaps Porziņģis. Wemby’s possession of both put him in the rare position of having no real historical comps, giving whichever franchise is lucky enough to land him the blankest of canvases. The idea of planning around a shooting guard who happens to be able to grab the rim from his tiptoes is almost too much to process.
The certainties are even more tantalizing than the unknowns. Whatever Wembanyama becomes offensively, his length and mobility are all but certain to make him one of the most disruptive defensive forces in the league.
Only one team can win the lottery, but it’s absolutely worth wondering what Wembanyama might contribute to all of his possible landing spots.
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Draft Lottery Odds: 14.0 percent chance at No. 1
Biggest Draft Need: Interior upgrades
Slotting this high in the lottery means the Detroit Pistons have too many needs to number. But with the game slowing down for Jaden Ivey toward the end of his rookie season and Cade Cunningham already showing playmaking potential prior to the injury that cost him most of 2022-23, Wembanyama’s biggest impact would be as an interior stabilizer.
His 3.1 blocks per game and preposterous wingspan should make him one of the league’s most intimidating interior defenders from the moment he first steps on the floor. That’ll be big for the Pistons, who ranked in the bottom 10 in both opponent attempt frequency and accuracy at the rim. They also blocked just 3.8 shots per game, 27th in the league.
Though Detroit is already overstuffed with centers (Jalen Duren, James Wiseman and Isaiah Stewart), all that size failed to deter opposing offenses around the basket. Even worse, the Pistons struggled mightily to finish their own looks at close range.
Wembanyama’s quick feet and length should address those shortcomings, with the added potential of his offensive spacing making life easier for the Pistons’ up-and-coming guards. If his three-point shooting (30.4 percent for Boulogne-Levallois in France’s Pro A league) continues to lag, the Pistons may not get the extra breathing room they want for their offense. But the defensive upgrade will be well worth it while they wait for Wembanyama to develop the other aspects of his game.
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Draft Lottery Odds: 14.0 percent chance at No. 1
Biggest Draft Need: Floor general
In truth, the Houston Rockets’ biggest draft need is more abstract than any singular item. They must get someone who arms them with guiding principles, both on and off the court, almost regardless of what archetype they typify.
Victor Wembanyama does that. Whether he can come in and provide immediate structure to an offense largely without one is a different story.
Though he can generate his own shot at every level, he isn’t (yet) considered a methodical table-setter for others. In some ways, he may overlap with Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr., as a score-first transcendent with secondary playmaking chops who gets miscast as a primary steward for others.
This is far from a bad thing. The Rockets have oodles of cap space and Alperen Şengün to address their playmaking-hub void. And Wembanyama has the bandwidth to initiate pick-and-rolls as both the ball-handler and screener. That opens up all sorts of tantalizing half-court options.
The long-term defensive fit is even more divine. Wembanyama has the size, length and mobility to guard almost anyone while disrupting life around rim. Houston can run him up front next to Jabari Smith Jr. and indulge ultra-switchability or roll super big with him, Smith and Şengün all at once as part of lineups in which Tari Eason or Green is the smallest player on the court.
San Antonio Spurs
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Draft Lottery Odds: 14.0 percent chance at No. 1
Biggest Draft Need: An actual cornerstone
The Pistons have Cunningham and Ivey; the Rockets have Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun; the Charlotte Hornets have LaMelo Ball. Even if you’re a little iffy on the Rockets’ young talent and love Devin Vassell more than most, the San Antonio Spurs are still the rebuilder with the least *potential* superstar talent on hand.
Wembanyama would take care of that, and it’d be hard to come up with a better developmental landing spot than the one that’d put him under the tutelage of Gregg Popovich, who presided over the maturation of Tim Duncan, Wembanyama countryman Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard.
If Zach Collins really is “the guy at the 5” for San Antonio, that’d slot Wembanyama alongside him and Keldon Johnson up front. Vassell would man the 2, and Jeremy Sochan could continue his experimental stint as a de facto point guard (please try this, Pop!) in the unlikely event Tre Jones gets away in restricted free agency. It’s far from a given that San Antonio would go full Raptors and ditch positions, so it’s more likely Wembanyama will take Collins’ spot in the middle and a true point guard will make sure the offense doesn’t come all the way unglued.
The Spurs came frighteningly close to Bobcatting (finishing last in both offense and defense) this past season, so whatever contributions Wembanyama makes as a finisher, interior defender and floor-spacer will be valuable by default. But the greatest benefit of his presence in San Antonio will be his status as the kind of unquestioned high-ceiling talent the roster currently lacks.
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Draft Lottery Odds: 12.5 percent chance at No. 1
Biggest Draft Need: Perimeter creator
The Charlotte Hornets have a viable floor general in LaMelo Ball yet need someone who streamlines his existence while successfully navigating the minutes they log without him. No one on the roster meets this criteria.
Gordon Hayward comes closest, and he played like gangbusters post-All-Star break. He’s also 33 and missed no fewer than 20 games in each of the past four seasons. Terry Rozier is overtaxed in an on-ball role.
P.J. Washington is much of the same, though he offers plenty of outside-in creation and some polished decision-making at the elbows. Miles Bridges, a free agent, will likely return to the team after serving the balance of a 30-game suspension for pleading no contest to felony domestic violence charges. He remains too much of a north-south player to occupy the No. 2 creator’s spot.
Victor Wembanyama could instantly assume that mantle. His passing outside the pick-and-roll has to develop, but his every-level scoring comes packaged with directionality. He doesn’t need a head start in transition to break down opponents and has the handle and footwork to attack laterally.
Charlotte’s defense picked up under head coach Steve Clifford. Wembanyama furthers that rise. His wingspan and fluid movements let him work alongside Washington, Bridges and Mark Williams all at once if the Hornets so choose, and the shot disruption he offers at the rim will juice up smaller combos with Washington as his frontcourt partner.
Portland Trail Blazers
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Draft Lottery Odds: 10.5 percent chance at No. 1
Biggest Draft Need: A Damian Lillard appeaser
Damian Lillard’s loyalty seems to know no bounds, but maybe we wouldn’t have to keep questioning its limits if the Portland Trail Blazers could give him the supporting cast necessary to chase a championship in the only jersey he’s ever worn.
That’s a lot to ask of a teenager, but if Wembanyama really is the generational prospect most believe him to be, he could quiet the annoyingly persistent speculation about Lillard becoming the next superstar to request a trade.
His presence could restore Lillard’s faith in the franchise’s short and long-term future (and the latter matters because Dame is under contract through 2027) while also addressing many of the reasons Portland has failed to contend for several seasons.
Jusuf Nurkić’s lack of defensive mobility stands as one of those reasons, as has a general lack of size in support of the Blazers’ diminutive backcourt. Wembanyama’s ability to alter shots at the rim and farther out on the floor could cover for Lillard and Anfernee Simons’ suspect work at the point of attack.
If Jerami Grant returns on a new contract and Shaedon Sharpe proves his late-season surge is for real, Wembanyama could combine with those two to give Portland’s best lineups more dynamic athleticism than any in memory. He and Sharpe, in particular, would allow the Blazers to take over games with speed and bounce alone.
Nurkić is under contract for three more years and $54.4 million, and he doesn’t project to have positive trade value for the remainder of his deal. If he slots into a backup role as Wembanyama takes over the starting center spot, it’d be a substantial waste of resources.
Portland should still bench him to activate the tantalizing five-out lineups it could field with Wembanyama in the middle and a combination of Lillard, Simons, Sharpe and Grant joining him on the perimeter.
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Draft Lottery Odds: 9.0 percent chance at No. 1
Biggest Draft Need: Shooting
Victor Wembanyama’s career 30.7 percent clip from three doesn’t technically address the Orlando Magic’s largest offensive void. That’s fine. There’s evidence this could change over time. His outside volume is valuable on its own (5.1 attempts per game), and he converted 83.4 percent of his free throws this past season.
Playing a less central role could help his outside efficiency. He will have plenty of opportunities to screen-and-pop in two-man sets with Paolo Banchero, Markelle Fultz and Franz Wagner.
Orlando should also be able to carve out juuust enough spacing to maximize the 19-year-old’s dives and drives. Wagner, Cole Anthony, Gary Harris and Wendell Carter Jr. all space the floor reasonably to exceptionally well at their positions. Jalen Suggs improved his catch-and-fire stroke. And Banchero drilled more than 40 percent of his triples over his final 15 appearances.
Whatever clunkiness the Magic traverse on offense will be offset by pure defensive terror. They finished 11th in points allowed per possession by controlling the glass, forcing turnovers without fouling and busting their butts in transition. Fultz and Suggs provide them with plenty of options to pester the point-of-attack, and their largesse frontline limits high-quality looks at the cup.
Adding Wembanyama alleviates their biggest defensive weakness: actual rim disruption. Orlando didn’t let opponents reach the hoop often but surrendered a bottom-three clip whenever they did. Wembanyama’s rotations and 3.1 blocks per game instantly nip that in the bud.
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Draft Lottery Odds: 6.8 percent chance at No. 1
Biggest Draft Need: Defense and rebounding
Tyrese Haliburton’s basketball brain moves a mile a minute, and Wembanyama’s arms are a mile long. But the appeal of Wemby joining the Indiana Pacers extends beyond those convenient similarities.
Indy ranked 26th in defensive efficiency and 30th in opponent offensive rebound rate, shortcomings that owed in part to lineup configurations that skewed small. Of The Pacers’ top dozen players in total minutes this past season, Myles Turner was the only one to stand taller than 6’10”. And while Turner is a stellar shot-blocker, he’s graded out as a below-average defensive rebounder in most seasons of his career.
Aaron Nesmith, whose hustle and activity were integral to keying Indy’s transition attack, spent 74 percent of his minutes at power forward. He’s listed as 6’5″.
Slot Wembanyama into the 4 spot alongside Turner, and suddenly the Pacers would have the size they lacked a year ago. Indiana shouldn’t mess with a successful pace-pushing offensive identity at the cost of adding height and ranginess, and Wembanyama’s open-floor speed means they won’t have to.
One of Wembanyama’s most intriguing qualities is the way he’s projected to give teams legitimate big-man interior defense in conjunction with the speed and skill of a guard. That combo will play well anywhere, but the Pacers are among the teams that would benefit from it most.
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Draft Lottery Odds: 6.7 percent chance at No. 1
Biggest Draft Need: Floor general
Victor Wembanyama probably cannot come in and run the entire Washington Wizards offense. Something tells me they’ll get over it—largely because he’s potentially generational, but also because he plugs another hole on the perimeter.
Deni Avdija, Corey Kispert and Kyle Kuzma (player option) are all wings with severe limitations on at least one end of the floor. Bradley Beal, Johnny Davis and Delon Wright, meanwhile, don’t really count as wings. Washington’s roster construction was responsible for it testing out a somewhat intriguing, mostly restrictive Kristaps Porziņģis-Daniel Gafford frontcourt.
Plopping Wembanyama into the rotation immediately gives it a more cohesive shape. At 7’4″ with infinite length, he has the portability to be a hybrid 2-3-4 at both ends. A Wemby-Kuz-KP frontline is especially intriguing. Two of those bigger bodies can switch across multiple spots (Wemby and Kuz), and two can also protect the paint with absurd stinginess (Wemby and KP).
Half-court spacing could be tough in certain cases. Kuzma saw his perimeter efficiency dip this year, and Avdija remains volume-averse. The Wizards will need Porziņģis, who also has a player option this offseason, to replicate this past year’s outside scorcher to adequately widen the lanes.
That’s likely a minor concern. Wembanyama will jack enough threes for defenses to guard him, and the idea of his running dual-skyscraper pick-and-rolls alongside Porziņģis with Beal, Kispert and either Kuz or Monte Morris dotting the arc around them is really, actually making me drool.
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Draft Lottery Odds: 4.5 percent chance at No. 1
Biggest Draft Need: Size! More size!
With rookie defensive ace Walker Kessler and breakout star Lauri Markkanen both listed at 7’0″, you’d think the Utah Jazz would be all set on the height front. You’d be wrong.
Why not test the limits of collective frontcourt wingspan by adding 7’4″ Wembanyama to the mix, opening up exciting and previously unexplored options in defensive strategy? Sure, zone defenses are still mostly viewed as a change-of-pace tool at the NBA level, but what if that’s only because no team has ever had enough extreme size at its disposal to make them more of a default setting?
Kessler is already one of the league’s best rim protectors, and Markkanen started at small forward alongside Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ sixth-ranked defense in 2021-22. It’s difficult to imagine Wembanyama doing anything but adding value to a unit that already features those two.
And even if the Jazz don’t want to basically invent new basket-obscuring zone configurations in favor of conventional sets, they could weaponize Wembanyama as a rover off of non-threatening corner shooters in the Robert Williams III and Jaren Jackson Jr. molds.
Just imagine an opposing pick-and-roll duo trying to contend with Kessler in drop coverage, with Wembanyama waiting to swoop in from the corner to help.
Offensively, too, the Jazz could concoct some intriguing innovations. It’d be impossible for opponents to switch any big-small screen involving Wembanyama as either the ball-handler or the screener, which would open up unguardable pick-and-pop options. A 6’7″ wing trying to close out on a Wembanyama three might not even get within two feet of his ridiculously high release point.
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Draft Lottery Odds: 3.0 percent chance at No. 1
Biggest Draft Need: Defense, defense, defense
Landing Victor Wembanyama doesn’t offset the void left by trading Dorian Finney-Smith. For all of his positional range, the Dallas Mavericks shouldn’t take a 7’4″ rookie with a developing body and throw him on the opposition’s best player. They’ll need to make a trade and/or pilfer the mini-mid-level market to restore the perimeter-stopping power they lost in the Kyrie Irving deal.
Still, Wembanyama should be able to pitch in around the rim, where the Mavs are also exceedingly vulnerable. After the Kyrie trade, they ranked 18th in the share of opponent shots that came at the rim, and the 70.3 percent clip they forfeited at the iron checked in at 28th.
While Wembanyama doesn’t have the brawny girth to protect the hoop in the vein of Joel Embiid, he has the length, speed and coordination to deter and disrupt close-range opportunities like a Nic Claxton-Anthony Davis humanoid meld. The number of blocks Dallas racks up from beyond the arc is also bound to exponentially increase.
Anyone hoping to see Wembanyama have carte blanche over the offense won’t yearn to watch him on the Mavericks. Re-signing Kyrie would nudge him to third in the pecking order, miles behind both Irving and Luka Dončić.
That’s not the end of the world. It might even be preferential. Wembanyama would get to hone his play-finishing skills while capitalizing on more favorable matchups and higher-quality looks.
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Draft Lottery Odds: 1.8 percent chance at No. 1
Biggest Draft Need: Offensive modernization
This pick belongs to the Orlando Magic unless it falls in the top four, which only has an 8.5 percent chance of happening. If the Chicago Bulls luck out in the biggest possible way and vault to No. 1, they could reform their offensive identity around Wembanyama’s unusual blend of skills.
The Bulls ranked 24th in offensive efficiency this past season, despite starting three players—DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nicola Vucević—whose main contributions come on that end of the floor. Chicago’s dearth of scoring punch didn’t stem so much from lack of talent as a failure in strategy. The Bulls played old-school, mid-range basketball—a style that suited DeRozan just fine but ultimately put them too far behind in the “three is more than two” calculus virtually every other team in the league has embraced for years.
Sometimes, Wemby can get you attempts from three-point range and at the basket in a two-second span.
Yeah, that’ll work.
Oklahoma City Thunder
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Draft Lottery Odds: 1.7 percent chance at No. 1
Biggest Draft Need: Tall-bodied floor-spacer
Imagine the ramifications of the Oklahoma City Thunder rolling out Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Jalen Williams, Chet Holmgren and Victor Wembanyama to begin next season. Rival executives would call for investigations into the draft-lottery process. Enemy offenses would quake before opening tips. People in the business of fake SGA trades would need to find a new slant.
Pinpointing weaknesses within that Core Five isn’t difficult. OKC would still lack functional shooting. Giddey beefed up his confidence and form, and Williams canned 35.6 percent of his triples as a rookie. Nobody on this roster aside from Isaiah Joe, though, is particularly high volume from beyond the arc. The Thunder offense would need Wembanyama and Holmgren to be willing and accurate shooters right away.
This group also continues to lack frontline strength. Lu Dort-at-the-3 minutes can help, but both Holmgren and Wembanyama are more rail than not. They will struggle, collectively, to match up versus certain guys.
Big whoop. Oklahoma City ran into similar issues this season and spit out an almost league-average defense that is one rim protector away from substantively leveling up. Wemby and Chet give the Thunder two.
OKC might actually offer an ideal environment for Wembanyama to develop on offense, too. Other teams can promise better spacing, but he would get to straddle the line between No. 2 and No. 3 while playing off the All-NBA attention SGA draws from opposing defenses.
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Draft Lottery Odds: 1.0 percent chance at No. 1
Biggest Draft Need: Defensive resistance
The San Antonio Spurs were the only team to allow a higher opponent effective field-goal percentage than the Toronto Raptors last season. As a general matter, proximity to the 22-60 Spurs in any statistical category is a bad sign, but there’s good news: Wembanyama might be the most dynamic shot-alterer we’ve ever seen.
If anyone can drive down the efficiency of an opposing offense, it’s a guy who is able to take one step from the elbow and, depending on which direction he’s moving, block either a three…
…or a layup.
Range like that could totally overhaul Toronto’s defensive scheme, allowing the league leaders in turnovers forced to be even more aggressive hunting steals. Gambles aren’t nearly as risky when Wembanyama can cover enough ground to snuff out any advantage the offense gains by defenders lunging out of position.
Jakob Poeltl is likely to return as Toronto’s starting center, but one would think the prospect of drafting Wembanyama would force a reconsideration of that plan. Even if the Raptors may not operate the same way without Nick Nurse at the helm, Wembanyama could allow a franchise that likes to be on the tactical vanguard to keep experimenting. Instead of adopting a more conservative and conventional approach as they look to get back to the playoffs, the Raptors could get more aggressive and positionless with Wemby as their ultra-mobile centerpiece.
New Orleans Pelicans
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Draft Lottery Odds: 0.5 percent chance at No. 1
Biggest Draft Need: High-volume shooting/rim protection that complements Zion Williamson
Zion has always been best suited playing alongside a frontcourt partner who protects the hoop and stretches defenses around his rim pressure. Victor Wembanyama is basically that dude right now. His three-point accuracy isn’t there just yet, but he’s higher-volume from distance than Jonas Valanciunas or Larry Nance Jr. and could see his efficiency surge on more catch-and-shoots.
New Orleans will still run into some defensive pickles. Valanciunas is at least thick enough to tussle with burly 5s inside the arc. The Pelicans would need Zion to take on more of those reps rather than stash him away on stationary shooters.
Then again, they could just look to dispense with convention and use Wembanyama as the de facto 3 next to Zion, Valanciunas or Nance, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum. Whether that arrangement offers enough shooting comes down almost entirely to Wemby’s own marksmanship.
Trey Murphy may be mission critical to Wembanyama lineups, at least in the interim. The Pelicans need to surround him with shooters, particularly if they’re going to saddle him with more of a fire-away-or-drive role rather than apportion tons of on-ball looks his way. He could struggle to find his rhythm when playing beside all of Zion, Ingram and McCollum.
These are good—great—questions and problems to have. Especially when the injury-prone track records of Zion and Ingram may take care of possible offensive awkwardness anyway.