The front office of the San Antonio Spurs is well-known throughout NBA circles for their meticulousness. Stories are told about how the Spurs keep open files for every professional basketball player dating back 30-plus years and how the franchise has a constantly updated list of potential replacements for each individual in the organization.
Due to their meticulous nature, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the Spurs have held internal discussions to gameplan about scenarios in which San Antonio is lucky enough to draft Victor Wembanyama, the 18-year-old French phenom who many scouts believe is the best prospect to come down the pike in more than a decade.
However, after recently talking to a Spurs insider, I was surprised to learn how much the topic of drafting Wembanyama has dominated internal conversations and the impact it has already had on roster moves.
Victor Wembanyama, the Unquestionable
“Of course, that’s not a question,” the insider told me when I inquired whether Wembanyama is the top player on San Antonio’s big board for the 2023 NBA Draft.
He went on to talk about “due diligence” but it’s clear that the Spurs already know who their selection would be if the lottery balls bounce fortuitously in May.
Unfortunately for the Spurs and their fanbase, the key word in the above sentence is “fortuitously.” For even if San Antonio extends their current losing streak to span the rest of the season, the odds that the Spurs will land the first pick of the 2023 draft will never be better than 14%. In an effort to curtail tanking, the NBA has flattened the lottery odds in recent years for the teams at the bottom of the standings.
To compare, even though the Spurs had the third-worst record in the league back in 1997, their odds of landing the first pick and the right to draft Tim Duncan was a relatively robust, and apropos, 21%.
The Tim Duncan Blueprint
Even though the Spurs will only have, at best, a one-in-seven chance of drafting Wembanyama, those slim odds haven’t stopped the Spurs from dreaming. According to the insider, the Spurs have spent more time scouting Wembanyama than any player in the draft — and he said that won’t change.
Why the focus on Wembanyama? The Spurs insider explained to me that the franchise is simply following the same model that worked so well with Duncan. By the time the Spurs were officially awarded the first pick in the 1997 draft, the front office in general and Gregg Popovich specifically knew everything there was to know about Duncan.
“[The front office] understood what made him tick and that understanding helped Timmy and Pop hit the ground running.”
Defining Victor Wembanyama
Watch a highlight reel of Wembanyama and it quickly becomes clear that the teenager is skilled to the nth degree, especially for a player his size. But, in NBA terms, what exactly is he?
“He’s a 7-foot-5 guard,” the Spurs insider told me. “He can create offense — you can play through him. He can also move his feet and block shots like a young Ralph Sampson or a young [David Robinson].”
He continued: “You play him at the four early on. Down the line, you leave the door open to him playing outside or him becoming a center. But, to give him space to grow and protect his body, he’s a four to begin with.”
Vic-Related Roster Moves
While he didn’t directly answer the question, the Spurs insider hinted that part of the reasoning behind the Dejounte Murray trade in the offseason was the looming prize of Wembanyama in the 2023 draft.
Interestingly, there’s an even more direct connection between Jakob Poeltl and Wembanyama.
“Jak is the type of center you want next to Vic. He’s unselfish, he can defend inside and out, and he can shoulder the load in the middle,” the Spurs insider explained.
Dating back to last season, the Spurs have fielded offers for Poeltl on the trade market — but the insider says the Spurs are reluctant to trade Poeltl due to his potential fit next to Wembanyama.
San Antonio’s current starting power forward is rookie Jeremy Sochan. The insider doesn’t believe drafting Wembanyama would negatively impact Sochan’s future with the team.
“You play them together. They’re both smart. They’d figure it out. Jeremy would just play on the ball more.”
This season, Sochan has spent time at point guard. When asked if Sochan could possibly start at point guard in the future, the source didn’t discount the possibility.
The Reopening of a Window
The Spurs insider didn’t want to discuss how long he thought it’d take for the Spurs to become championship contenders once again if the franchise is fortunate enough to draft Wembanyama. He wouldn’t say if he thought the Spurs would enter a win-now mode right away. But he did affirm that the organization hopes Pop would continue to coach the team if the Spurs win the draft lottery.
“Yes. One, two, five more years,” he said with a laugh. “But he’ll decide that like he always does.”
It’ll be months before the Spurs learn their lottery fate. In the meantime, the front office will continue to plan and dare to dream about a future starring one Victor Wembanyama.