Beginning of the Victor Wembanyama era. What to expect from the best prospect since LeBron

In the 50 years of the San Antonio Spurs’ existence, there have been amazing moments of serendipity that surpass understanding.

Winning this season’s draft lottery and, with it, the right to make 7-foot-4 French teenager Victor Wembanyama the No.1 overall pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft is merely the latest.

If “Wemby” lives up to the hype surrounding his mere presence at Barclay’s Center for his handshake with Commissioner Adam Silver and donning of his silver and black Spurs cap, it could be the luckiest Spurs draft day ever.

David Robinson- Tim Duncan- Victor Wembanyama. That is the lineage of Spurs basketball and #1 draft picks.

“Certainly, there is enough that’s happened in this organization that it makes one wonder why we’ve been the recipients of so much serendipity, for sure,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, the NBA’s longest-tenured and winningest coach, said after the foregone conclusion of Wembanyama’s selection was made official. “Of course, there’s no answer to that. I would just relate to you that we’ve mentioned many times in the past couple of decades-and-a-half when things weren’t going well and somebody showed some sympathy and empathy we would just laugh and go, ‘Why? Why do we deserve that?’

“With the draft picks that we’ve been able to have, any adversity that comes our way probably equals the equation a little bit. So, with every situation like this with Victor, you have to stop and think about the fact that in the downtimes, you didn’t feel sorry for yourself.

“In this life there are ups and downs, and – it’s trite – but do not take yourself too seriously with the good stuff, and the bad stuff, just carry on and do your job and hope for the best.”

For the past four painful, losing Spurs seasons, hoping for the best meant being lucky when Wembanyama finally was available.

“So, we’re thrilled that we’re able to bring Victor on board,” Popovich said. “He’s obviously a heck of a talent, a very mature young man. Just like with every draft pick, whether it’s the first pick or the 27th pick, or the 38th pick, we have a responsibility (with) each and every one to try to create an environment where they can reach the best success possible for them.”

The Spurs have not won the most draft lotteries. They’ve won three.

But no team has had the luck of winning so often when generational big men were available – 1987, when they got 7-foot-1 center David Robinson; 1997, when they got 6-11 Tim Duncan; and Thursday night, when they got Wembanyama.

Unlike Robinson and Duncan, Wembanyama didn’t play college basketball in the United States. But Spurs general manager Brian Wright acknowledged the team had been scouting him since first hearing of Wembanyama while he was just 15, which helps to explain how the Spurs managed to live with the decisions they had to make to put themselves in position for this year’s lottery.

All the scouting in the world, though, guarantees little.

At the end of the day whether a talent transitions and blossoms at the NBA level is just chance. But when a talent checks all the boxes and then some, that player generally becomes an all-time great.

In their first year of being in the NBA’s draft lottery – when the teams with the seven worst records all had the same chance at the No. 1 overall pick – an envelope containing the team’s logo was picked first. With it came the right to draft Robinson.

In his first full year, Robinson helped the Spurs to the single greatest year to year improvement: 21-61 campaign in 1988-89 to a 56-26 record in 1989-90.

Fast-forward to the 1996-97 season, when injuries, particularly to Robinson, resulted in a 20-62 record and another shot at the lottery and its top player, Duncan.

Getting Duncan paid nearly immediate dividends. The first of the team’s five NBA titles came in his second season, and he was MVP of the 1999 NBA Finals.

Now it is Wemby’s turn.

Wembanyama is the best draft prospect to enter the NBA since LeBron James. It’s that simple. Wembanyama is the epitome of a franchise changer. He led the French League in rebounds and blocks and was second in points. It’s hard to overemphasize how amazing Wembanyama’s long-term potential is on both ends of the floor.

He will immediately be the biggest, longest player in the NBA, which allows him to change the geometry of the court defensively. Wembanyama has great instincts and recovery ability on that end. But he also is a legitimate shot creator at center who can score off the bounce with creativity and hit shots with ease off of pull-ups or drives to the rim. He’s a terrific finisher inside because of his length and touch and is already starting to experiment with shots that could make him special, such as turnaround pull-ups, fake-spin shimmies and floater 3s.

Wembanyama is a historic prospect, one well within the tapestry of past elite center prospects such as Bill Walton, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Ralph Sampson, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and Anthony Davis.

Wembanyama fits every single team. He is the fit. He’s the player you build around. San Antonio has found some strong players in the latter half of the lottery and the back portion of the first round, but the Spurs don’t have a star yet.

Wembanyama slides everyone down a peg into more suitable roles. Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson can be young, high-level wings who don’t get the top defensive assignments. Wembanyama will be a tremendous fit next to Jeremy Sochan in the frontcourt with Sochan as an all-around gap-filler who was productive as a teenage rookie. He’ll be able to be brought along slowly as a scorer as he continues to rework his shot.

The Spurs got to transition beautifully from the Robinson era into the Duncan era and now perfectly slide into the Wembanyama era.

Wembanyama has long been considered one of the best prospects in his age group. Wembanyama emerged as an elite prospect for NBA teams at the U16 European Championships in 2019, where he averaged nine points, 10 rebounds and five blocks per game as a 15-year-old.

As the hype around Wembanyama built over the last year ahead of the draft, the NBA put together a showcase game for Wembanyama and No. 3 pick Scoot Henderson in September 2022. After two games between Metropolitans 92 and Henderson’s G League Ignite, Wembanyama left scouts salivating and in awe, scoring 37 points in the first game and then scoring 36 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in the second.

To assume those stateliness will be the norm is a bit excessive year one. But Wemby finds himself in the best possible situation.

Learning from Popovich, with open lines of communication to Tim Duncan, and David Robinson. Not to mention his fellow French man and former Spur Tony Parker.

Throw in the laid back aura of that city and the level headed organization, Wemby will be very comfortable in San Antonio.

He can just focus on basketball, and trust Popovich won’t let him steer off that path.

It should be fun watching the Wemby era.

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