The 2023 NBA Draft will always be remembered for Victor Wembanyama. Now, we know where he will begin his NBA story.
The San Antonio Spurs were the big winners Tuesday night, securing the No. 1 pick and the right to select the most hyped basketball prospect since at least LeBron James in 2003. The Detroit Pistons were the big losers, falling all the way to No. 5 after finishing the season with the league’s worst record.
While it might not seem like it, given that this is just the third time since 2005 that they have entered the lottery without a pick still to be determined, the night could have real repercussions on the Minnesota Timberwolves. Here are three Wolves-centric takeaways from a potentially historic night.
Wemby in the West
If your team didn’t have a real chance at the No. 1 pick, chances are you were hoping it would end up in the opposite conference. San Antonio’s fortune could mean misfortune for everyone else in the Western Conference, and that obviously includes the Wolves.
Wembanyama will continue a lineage of big man No. 1 picks in Spurs history, following in the footsteps of David Robinson and Tim Duncan. For however long he remains in San Antonio, Gregg Popovich will mentor the Frenchman; it doesn’t get much better than learning from the guy who helped those bigs become champions.
San Antonio is undoubtedly one of the best locations Wembanyama could have hoped for in terms of maximizing his potential and turning him into a winner. He has the steady, team-first mindset that the Spurs require and is just the latest French product to come under Pop’s wing (see: Tony Parker, Boris Diaw).
They still need to find a go-to perimeter initiator to take offensive pressure off Wembanyama, although there might be one coming available that wants to play with him (more on that in a moment). Just don’t be surprised if this kickstarts another era of success in San Antonio. There might be another Western force for Minnesota to overcome in a few years.
Northwest Division check-in
At least the Wolves won’t have to deal with Wembanyama four times every season to start his career. There are a few storylines coming out of the night for Minnesota’s divisional foes, though.
The Portland Trail Blazers got a good boost by jumping from fifth in the lottery odds to third in the draft order. This is the kind of valuable asset Portland has been begging for in recent years, and regardless of the timeline they want to commit to, it’s not good for a team in the Wolves’ division to get a win like that.
On the brighter side, neither the Utah Jazz (No. 9) nor Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 12) moved up the board into an area where they could count on getting a difference-maker. Both of those teams are much further along than the Blazers (and Oklahoma City adds Chet Holmgren to the equation next season), so big jumps for them would have been even more concerning.
Big move opportunity?
In the immortal words of Michael Keaton, “You wanna get nuts? Come on, let’s get nuts.”
We all know where the Spurs are going with the No. 1 pick. The draft really starts at No. 2 and No. 3, with the Charlotte Hornets and the Blazers, respectively.
Scoot Henderson, star guard for the G league Ignite, has long been considered the second-best player in the class, but his hold on that consensus loosened a bit the last few months. Some reports indicated that teams might prefer Alabama wing Brandon Miller to Henderson.
The Hornets already have an All-Star point guard in LaMelo Ball, a need on the wing and a recent history of preferring productive college players in the draft. It seems plausible that they could prefer Miller.
Then you get to Portland. If ever there were a year to make a definitive decision between building for the present around Damian Lillard and looking to the future, it is now. They can move No. 3 for an instant contributor or use the pick on a young piece (and possibly acquire more by moving Lillard).
The biggest long-term question the Wolves must answer is who will play point guard alongside Anthony Edwards after Mike Conley. Let’s say Charlotte locks in on Miller and Portland wants to give it one last run with Lillard; in that case, Karl-Anthony Towns may be the best player available on the trade market. His contract and 2022-23 season won’t help his value, but he’s still a chip that can get that conversation going.
Of course, this cryptic tweet from Lillard following Tuesday night’s proceedings makes one wonder if Lillard is long for Portland. Maybe he’ll play with Wembanyama after all and Portland will move on to a new era.
If so… https://t.co/MiztFAPR5X— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) May 17, 2023
If either of those picks are on the market (and Henderson is available, if we’re talking about No. 3), Minnesota must look into it and heavily consider parting with legitimate pieces. Henderson and Edwards would be the foundation of a potentially dominant offense in a few seasons, and moving Towns for a dynamic guard makes the roster less lopsided in the short-term while aligning more clearly with Edwards’ timeline.