The finest NBA prospect since LeBron James in 2003 may be Victor Wembanyama. If that is the case, shouldn’t we anticipate a large number of clubs forfeiting the 2022–23 season to land the 18–year–old seven-footer?
Even though he stunned Scoot Henderson and the G League Ignite last week in Las Vegas by dominating the court (and the league as a whole), the answer might not be the easy “YES” you might anticipate.
“He’s unreal, man,” an NBA executive said. “The way he moves. I’ve watched highlights of him all summer but seeing him move in person was like, ‘What the [expletive]?'”
In two games versus the Ignite, Wembanyama, the French forward/center for the Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans, scored 37 and 36 points. Meanwhile, sources across the league, who were already enamored, were utterly floored. Moreover, Wembanyama is expected to develop into a franchise pillar like Tim Duncan or James, according to sources throughout the league.
Isn’t it sufficient justification to begin tanking on Day 1? It should be, but there might not be as many teams prepared to muck it up as there should be.
‘Locks’ to Tank
The pursuit of the league’s lowest records already appears to be the focus of three teams. Meanwhile, Dejounte Murray was acquired by the Atlanta Hawks from the San Antonio Spurs. Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were both let go by the Utah Jazz. Moreover, the third year of the Houston Rockets’ reconstruction is about to begin.
Meanwhile, talented players are on each club, but the Spurs and Jazz have pushed past them. The Rockets have a lengthy list of promising young players, but they might not be noticeably better than the group that finished last season with a league-worst 20 wins.
Moreover, it’s not good that the lowest three clubs only have a 14% chance of getting the first choice or an 86% probability of missing out on Wembanyama. However, Henderson has very good potential, but he isn’t the kind of player who will let the season end in October, at least not for most NBA teams.
Afraid to Commit
However, it would be interesting to see if any of the other 27 franchises compete with the three for Victor. The odds of winning the first selection in fourth place in the lottery are 12.5 percent. Moreover, that decreases to 10.5 percent at the fifth position, and the chances against are 91% by position six. However, losing frequently over six months in the NBA can be a terrible experience for the players, supporters, and staff.
What franchise is prepared to take that route, then?
“[Oklahoma City Thunder executive Sam] Presti has come this far. He’s not going to stop now,” a competing executive said. “The injury to Chet [Holmgren] makes it easier. He’ll try to land twin towers with Wembanyama.”
On one hand, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is recovering from a damaged knee, while the Thunder lost Holmgren for the season due to a foot ailment. On the other hand, Oklahoma City has a wealth of promising young players, but they could try to finish roughly where they did last year.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
Despite not much improvement from a season ago, a surprising number of teams do not appear to be tanking.
“Although many bottom-feeding teams will be tempted to ‘Wither for Wembanyama’ and institutionally tank this season, such a strategy would be much more harmful than helpful for the [Orlando] Magic,” Mike Bianchi wrote. “Losing is the worst teaching tool possible for a team that desperately needs to learn how to win.”
Sure, but how many teams have succeeded this century without players like Stephen Curry, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, or Duncan? The correct number is six, and those teams included Chauncey Billups, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, and Dirk Nowitzki.
The closest thing the Magic might have to such a player is a Billups-caliber All-Star, but the club doesn’t initially seem eager to bottom out. Not everyone is like them.
“[Executive] Mitch [Kupchak] isn’t much of a tanker. He believes you have to build slow and methodically,” the executive said. “Besides, [the Charlotte Hornets] believe they’re making the playoffs.”
The ankle injury suffered by rising sensation LaMelo Ball may aid the cause. Miles Bridges, one of the Hornets’ top prospects, was recently released due to an alleged accusation of domestic abuse. Credit to the team on principle, but why has Charlotte not tried to get go of veterans like Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier, Mason Plumlee, and Kelly Oubre Jr.?
Another squad that is unwilling to improve is the Indiana Pacers. The front office of the team is rather transparent about their order.
“[Owner] Herb Simon won’t let them have a tank,” the executive said.
Meanwhile, the veteran players like Myles Turner and Buddy Hield have not been traded by Indiana. The New York Knicks, Washington Wizards, or Pistons have a chance of overtaking the Hornets for the No. 10 play-in position. The addition of experienced shooter Bojan Bogdanovic in a recent trade by the Detroit Pistons doesn’t give the impression that they are tanking.
The Sacramento Kings, what about them?
“Monte [McNair] needs to make the playoffs to keep his job,” the executive said. “There’s some talent on that roster, but Wembanyama would revitalize that franchise. They’re not going to tank.”
Given the quality (De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis, etc.) and the new coach (Mike Brown), the Kings are just too excellent to be a bottom club. They might or might not get to the postseason, but many other teams are far worse.
“Once teams get a real sense of how bad they are, they’ll shut down their best players, trade or buy out their veterans, and games are going to get ugly,” an agent said. “Right now, everyone is 0-0.”
Numerous teams will undoubtedly make that effort, but it won’t happen for at least 20 or 30 games into the season. By that time, it could be too late to secure a bottom-four lottery spot, and with it, most likely, the opportunity to sign Wembanyama, who seems to be a cornerstone talent.