Coveted Victor Wembanyama brings tension to NBA draft lottery

Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

Fortunes can turn on the bounce of the lottery ball at the 2023 NBA Draft lottery on Tuesday, the chance for the 14 non-playoff teams to win the No. 1 pick and land French phenom Victor Wembanyama.

Of the lottery entries, three teams who finished the regular season with winning percentages below 27 percent hold the highest probability for the No. 1 pick when the drawing takes place Tuesday in Chicago at 8 p.m. ET.

The Detroit Pistons were the NBA’s worst team with 17 wins and are guaranteed a top-five pick.

Houston and San Antonio had identical 22-60 records and, along with Detroit, are given a 14 percent probability to win the No. 1 pick.

Wembanyama will arrive in the NBA as the most anticipated prospect since LeBron James (No. 1, Cleveland, 2003). He’s arguably the most unique prospect the league has ever seen at 7-feet-5 with guard skills and agility. His wingspan is eight feet.

The NBA took notice a few years ago and, after he dropped 37 points and seven 3-pointers in a showcase event with other G League talent in Las Vegas last summer, the league purchased streaming rights to Wembanyama’s regular-season games.

He moved out of home at the age of 14 to prepare for a professional basketball career. Today, he has a personal trainer manually logging his sleep hours.

Even James knows a “unicorn” when he sees one.

“Everybody’s been a unicorn over the last few years, but he is more like an alien,” James said. “No one has ever seen anyone as tall as he is but as fluid and as graceful as he is out on the floor. At 7-4, 7-5, 7-3, whatever the case may be, his ability to put the ball on the floor, shoot stepback jumpers out of the post, stepback 3s, catch-and-shoot 3s, block shots, he’s for sure a generational talent.”

The Pistons won the lottery in 2021 and selected Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham, and Detroit picked fifth overall in 2022 (Jaden Ivey).

Any team that doesn’t win the rights to Wembanyama still has options, especially among wing players. G League point guard Scoot Henderson, Alabama forward Brandon Miller and Villanova small forward Cam Whitmore are among the prospects likely to be in the running for the No. 2 pick.

Houston has been runner-up in the lottery before. Not since 2002 have the lottery balls bounced the Rockets’ way. That was the last time Houston had the No. 1 pick, selecting Chinese center Yao Ming. Houston just missed in 2021. The Rockets landed the No. 2 pick and selected guard Jalen Green out of the G League and have used five first-round picks in the past two drafts. That includes No. 3 overall pick Jabari Smith Jr. (Auburn) last June.

Wake Forest center Tim Duncan was the prize the last time the Spurs picked first overall in 1997. San Antonio went into that lottery draw with a 21.6 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick.

Lottery rules shifted starting with the 2019 draft in response to allegations of teams tanking to improve their draft chances.

Behind San Antonio, the Charlotte Hornets have the fourth-greatest probability, at 12.5 percent, to win the lottery. Charlotte had the No. 1 pick in 1991 and drafted UNLV’s Larry Johnson.

The lottery system provides the Portland Trail Blazers a 10.5 percent chance at No. 1, followed by 2022 lotto winners Orlando (9.0), Indiana (6.8), Washington (6.7) and Utah (4.5).

Despite paying a fine for resting healthy players with a chance to make the play-in tournament, the Dallas Mavericks keep their first-round pick and a 3 percent chance to win the lottery.

–Field Level Media

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