We can say with certainty what will happen with the top pick in the NBA Draft once the league holds its annual lottery tonight: Someone is going to get Victor Wembanyama, the 7-foot-4 French big man with an 8-foot wingspan and an already growing legend around him.
What we can’t say is what ripples will be left behind in the wake of the Wembanyama tsunami. As one GM told Heavy Sports: “I’m as interested in what comes after the lottery as the lottery itself. This could be a tidal wave after it gets decided.”
That’s because whichever team wins the Wembanyama lottery will suddenly find itself with the need to remake its roster around the new guy.
It’s not necessarily the case that Wembanyama’s future team will immediately put all its big men on the trading block. But the expectation, for certain teams, is that they will trade centers now rather than wait until the season gets going.
“You get Victor, you are going to want to move quickly to make room for him,” one GM told Heavy Sports. “That’s not everyone’s philosophy but it is probably what is best. You don’t want to limit Victor by putting him with someone who is going to be in his way. And you don’t want to kill trade value by keeping a guy and proving you can’t actually use him.”
What Would the Pistons do With Jalen Duren?
There are a handful of teams that are ready-made for the addition of Wembanyama. The Spurs, with a 14% chance of winning the lottery, are first among them. Charlotte, at 12.5%, would easily slide Nick Richards into a backup role behind Wembanyama. Some of the longshots, too, (Toronto, Dallas, Chicago) have starters at center who will be free agents.
But the Pistons, with four centers (Jalen Duren, James Wiseman, Isaiah Stewart and Marvin Bagley III) 24 years old or younger, would have to make room. Stewart and Bagley are capable of playing power forward, and Wiseman has scant trade value at this point.
Duren, though, would be especially coveted on the trade market. He was the No. 13 pick in last year’s draft, and at age 19, already is an elite rebounder and dunker, with potential to be a big-time paint protector. He averaged 9.1 points and 8.9 rebounds in 24.9 minutes as a rookie.
“They probably could get a Top 10 pick for him this year,” one Eastern Conference executive said. “He has a lot of Robert Williams qualities, and he is like Williams because it might take a little time to polish. You can’t really play him and Wemby together, so he’d have to go. It would be crazy to see the market on him, he is still mostly upside.”
The Rockets could be in a similar situation with 20-year-old sophomore center Alperen Sengun, who potentially could play power forward in a lineup with Wembanyama, though the Rockets also have last year’s No. 2 pick, Jabari Smith Jr. on hand. A power forward/center rotation of Wembanyama, Sengun and Smith is conceivable.
“I doubt they’d trade Sengun right out of the gate if they win the (lottery), but if they did, there were be a good market for him,” the GM said. “If they bring in some veterans, though, and start trying to win now they could easily move Sengun.”
Teams Eyeing Veterans Myles Turner, Wendell Carter Jr.
For teams that will not be in the running for the top pick in the 2023 draft, the hope is that someone with a veteran center will win the lottery, and create an opportunity for a contender to pluck a good big man via trade.
Myles Turner in Indiana, where the Pacers have a 6.8% chance of winning the rights to pick Wembanyama, is tops among the options. Turner has been a much-discussed trade chip over the past two seasons and signed a two-year extension worth $60 million in January (the new deal pays him $41 million over the next two years).
“There has been so much talk around Turner,” the GM said. “They know what they can get for him. They tried to play him with (Domantas) Sabonis and it just became so clear he is a center and needs to play center. So if he (Wembanyama) comes in, they will probably get Turner out sooner than later. And Turner just had a great year (18.0 points, 2.3 blocks and 37.3% shooting) so it is a good time to move him.”
In Orlando (9.0% chance of winning), Carter has had some struggles staying healthy but has been impressive on both sides of the. The Magic could use Carter as a backup to both Wembanyama and reigning Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero, but he’d have ample trade value if the Magic sought to move him.
“They need some veteran depth, and he is the kind of guy who could help them get it,” the executive said. “If he could stay healthy, teams would be knocking their door down for Carter.”
And there are others who could come available on the market if the lottery works out right. Portland has Jusuf Nurkic, and the Pelicans have Jonas Valanciunas. The Wizards have Kristaps Porzingis and Daniel Gafford. Should they win the top pick, the Thunder (Chet Holmgren) and Jazz (Walker Kessler) would have major decisions to make about valuable young bigs.
On Tuesday night, one team will change its future, win the lottery and will, next month, pick Wembanyama. But there will be plenty of ripples to watch for the other 29 teams, too.