The Victor Wembanyama NBA Draft Lottery: Expectations, Pressure and Market Reaction

The Victor Wembanyama NBA Draft Lottery: Expectations, Pressure and Market Reaction article feature image
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Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images. Pictured: Victor Wembanyama.

The course of NBA history shifts on Tuesday.

That sounds preposterously dramatic … except Victor Wembanyama is just that exceptional as to bend the preposterous into the pragmatic.

Tuesday afternoon, in a locked room with no cell phone access, numbers will be drawn from a machine corresponding to the team that will obtain the rights to the No. 1 overall pick in June's NBA Draft. On that summer night, a team official will call the league office, say the words "Victor Wembanyama," and nothing about that franchise will be the same again.

There are all sorts of ways Wembanyama can fail to become The Next Big Thing. Injuries. Attitude. Poor development from the team that drafts him. A simple case of him not getting there.

But the most likely scenario is that Wembanyama is a franchise-changer. No player is a can't miss. But if any player were a can't miss, it would be Wembanyama.

The Trajectory

I asked Jeff Sherman of SuperBook Sports what winning the Wembanyama lottery would do to a team's win total in the market. He made it clear it's too big of a moving target. Landing on a roster with coaching and talent has an exponential effect compared to a team starting completely from scratch.

So then I asked him what's the most it would move a win total. Sherman said that landing Wembanyama could move a team's win total projections next season by as many as five wins from where it currently stands.

To be clear, that's an absolutely massive shift. It doesn't sound like much, but that's the gap between the Mavericks, who were within range of the play-in tournament before they decided to bow out, and the Blazers, who were pretty much toast by the All-Star break.

Does Wembanyama drastically alter the Spurs' win total? No, which is why there still might be value on the over if the Spurs land him as the next great big man for Gregg Popovich to coach. Likewise, adding him to a team like Houston might generate too much of a bump and provide a chance to fade.

But the point here is not about betting hypothetical win totals.

It's about how much oddsmakers believe Wembanyama can shift things in real, tangible ways.

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The Construct

"You're obviously thrilled, right until the panic sets in," one longtime executive told me this week about what it's like for a front office if they land Wembanyama.

(The executive's team is not in this year's lottery.)

"As soon as you land a talent like that, it used to be, 'Well, we'll see where we're at and take it slow, and in a few years when he's ready, we'll make the leap,'" said the executive. "Now, the idea is you have to start winning right away because of the superstar clock that's always on you."

The executive explained that unlike when the Thunder drafted Kevin Durant — and then stayed bad enough to land Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Jeff Green in subsequent drafts — there's now an expectation to build a "winning roster" around players who aren't yet ready, on or off the court.

"You're just getting to be a professional, navigating all that, and you're also supposed to carry a playoff team," said the executive.

That executive cited the Mavericks as an example of what happens when the superstar (Luka Doncic) is good enough to raise you up to near-contention status immediately, and how you can then get suckered into thinking you're further along than you are.

Another noted that the Pelicans had the same problem with Anthony Davis.

"AD was the best prospect I'd seen since LeBron [James], and right away, you could tell the Pelicans felt like they had to put a playoff team around him when Davis wasn't ready for it."

There are exceptions to this. Tim Duncan came to the NBA, and, well, the Spurs won. A lot. Every year.

But did you know James missed the playoffs his first two seasons? At the time, that was considered normal, and not a failure.

In an era where superstars ask out constantly in pursuit of a situation they feel is best for them, there's immense pressure to build contenders with players who are too young to buy alcohol.

Who knows if Wembanyama is wired to demand input or just wants to be a part of things. The ESPN profile published this week by Brian Windhorst suggests that part of his decision to join the club he played for this season was for "input."

But it's also clear he wants to be truly great, and that goes a long way.

Still, whichever team drafts Wembanyama needs to understand the goal of being prepared to win multiple championships when the price is right, not making the playoffs in two years.

Ripple Effects

The outcome of Tuesday will filter down. If Wembanyama lands in Houston, San Antonio's future gets dimmer — not just by missing out on Wemby, but by also having him in the division. If the Hornets win the lottery, Wembanyama could own the Southeast Division for a decade, provided the Heat ever relinquish their hold.

Another executive remarked that if, and he stressed if, Wembanyama is everything evaluators say he is, then it puts more pressure on the stars of today to get theirs.

"Being great and winning a championship are almost entirely different deals," he said.  "But everyone knew from Day 1 with LeBron he was gonna get there — it was a matter of when, even if some of us lost the faith at times."

Ultimately, the NBA Draft Lottery result is just luck. But what teams do with the luck they're given will decide what the story of Victor Wembanyama is in the NBA. There's not just pressure to build correctly around him and keep him satisfied. There's also a responsibility to not be the reason a potentially all-time great player fails to live up to expectations.

Welcome to the Wembanyama era. Tread carefully.

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Doug Ziefel
Jul 13, 2024 UTC