HENDERSON, Nev. (BVM) – With preseason activity ramping up, you would think eyes around the league would be focused on New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson, who made his return to an NBA court for the first time in over 16 months. Tuesday’s basketball action, however, had observers pinned on potential No. 1 overall draft prospect Victor Wembanyama, who made his United States debut in a matchup against potential No. 2 prospect Scoot Henderson.
Wembanyama did little to discard the notion that he would be the top player taken in 2023 NBA Draft, as the 7-foot-4 forward showcased his freakish scoring ability and 8-foot wingspan by dropping 37 points, five blocks and four rebounds. If that wasn’t enough, he delivered maybe the most mic-droppable quote before his matchup against Henderson even began.
“He’s really a great player,” Wembanyama said. “If I was never born, I think he would deserve the first spot.”
7’4” 18-year-old Victor Wembanyama
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) October 5, 2022
With the draft still more than eight months away, Wembanyama will likely have his every play this season nitpicked by evaluators as they try to figure out how the upcoming order should play out. But, it’s clear early on that the generational talent might put commissioner Adam Silver’s distaste for tanking to the ultimate test.
Here’s the teams that could find themselves in the conversation for the French star’s talents before next June’s draft.
5. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons might be hoping they don’t find themselves high enough in the draft to have to ponder the idea of picking Wembanyama, but with the new NBA lottery setup, anything can happen. With a solid foundational core that could set up the Detroit backcourt for years to come, adding some size and shooting alongside both Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey would make for arguably the best fit of any team that will be within the lottery.
Following the acquisitions of Marvin Bagley III, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Nerlens Noel – along with the draft selection of Jalen Duren – the Pistons have given themselves some options at the four and five positions moving forward. Pairing Wembanyama beside a physical center like Isaiah Stewart could be exactly what a player with Wembanyama’s frame might need as it allows him to move away from guarding some of the more sizable players in the league.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
Finding themselves back near the top of the draft seems like a real possibility for the Thunder following the injury to Chet Holmgren this offseason. Pairing the two lengthy big men would instantly make the Thunder one of the most interesting teams in the NBA as Holmgren still appears to have one of the highest ceilings in the league. With another year for Josh Giddey and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to build up their chemistry in the backcourt, Oklahoma City seems primed to showcase one of the true up-and-coming cores.
General manager Sam Presti hasn’t been afraid to bet on upside in the past and the addition of another high-ceiling player would continue to add to an already talented squad. With the expectation that the Thunder will be around the top five of next year’s draft lottery, the fit between Holmgren and Wembanyama would draw a ton of questions. Presti’s resume taking the best player available, however, wouldn’t seem to be halted by Wembanyama’s fit.
3. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers look to be at the start of a transition year with the availability, and future, of both Myles Turner and Buddy Hield up in the air. With Tyrese Haliburton as one of the only known commodities that will likely stick with the team going forward, Indiana has the opportunity, no matter where they land, to go with the best player available. With solid young talent like Bennedict Mathurin and Chris Duarte, stockpiling talented, young players needs to be the sole goal of the team moving forward.
Wembanyama would add to a growing youth movement in Indiana and would pair the French star with a great pick-and-roll coordinator in Haliburton. Wembanyama’s spacing could also pair well with the team’s two young guards who are looking to show that they can play off each other. The addition of the 7-foot-4 forward would give Indiana the kind of talent the organization has never had and could give them their best player since Paul George.
2. Houston Rockets
The Rockets are taking on the right method of attack since trading away James Harden over a year ago, with top-3 selections in back-to-back drafts. The team’s very young nucleus will likely have Houston back near the top of the lottery again when all things are final in 2023. Adding a wing like Jabari Smith gives the team some options moving forward and seeing how the incoming rookie plays next to Jalen Green will be the main focus of the upcoming season.
Wembanyama would create an interesting rotation for the Rockets who would likely take on more of a center role with Smith at forward. Houston is in need of more talent and although Alperen Sengun has shown flashes as both a defender and passer, Wembanyama would be a clear upgrade. The trio of Wembanyama, Green and Smith would be one of the most dynamic young groups in the NBA and would put the Rockets right back on path moving forward.
1. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs seem to have the early lead in the tank for Wembanyama after trading away Dejounte Murray this offseason to the Atlanta Hawks. With a roster that is void of star talent, Wembanyama would give the kind of upside the organization once received in Tim Duncan. Gregg Popovich has been blessed with big man play throughout his career and would be an almost perfect fit for the proclaimed generational talent. Popovich also has a pretty good repertoire with French stars.
With San Antonio labeled as the early favorite for the No. 1 pick, this season will be about finding what they have in some of their other younger players. With Murray gone, replacing his production at the point guard position will be nearly impossible. Josh Primo will likely get the first crack at the opportunity while Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson round out the shooting guard and small forward positions. Jeremy Sochan is an intriguing piece going forward and could be part of the team’s next group, but with that said, the addition of Wembanyama would give the Spurs the true “blue chip” player they are currently in need of.