Andrew Lopez and Kevin Pelton | ESPNReading: 10 minutes
The San Antonio Spurs have been in this situation before.
In 1987, they won the draft lottery with a 28-54 record and earned the right to select David Robinson, a 7-foot-1 generation big man from the Naval Academy.
Ten years later, after a 20-62 season, they won the draft lottery again and had the right to select Tim Duncan, a 6-foot-11 first-generation big man from Wake Forest. Tall.
Two-time inductee, two-time Hall of Famer, five-time NBA champion.
Robinson did not make his NBA debut until 1989 due to two years of service in the Navy. Before his arrival, the Spurs had a 21-61 season record. Led by Robinson, rookie Sean Elliott (the third overall pick in the 1989 draft) and then-head coach Larry Brown, the Spurs won 56 games in the 1988-89 season and were first in the Western Conference. Ranked second in the tournament and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. .
The Spurs that Duncan joined won at least 55 games for three consecutive seasons, but in the 1996-97 season, Robinson missed most of the season due to a back injury and the number of wins fell to 20 games. In 1997-98, with Robinson and Duncan healthy and Gregg Popovich in his first full season as head coach, the Spurs won 56 games and advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
Both Robinson and Duncan were All-Stars and were named Rookie of the Year in their respective first seasons: Robinson averaged 24.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game, while Duncan averaged 21.1 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game. 2.5 blocks.
Now, Victor Wembanyama, a 7-foot-3 1/2-inch next-generation big man from France, arrives in San Antonio as the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft with a 22-60 record. The perfect environment for San Antonio’s first two No. 1 picks with high expectations. Robinson and Duncan respectively led the three largest upgrades in NBA history (2007-08 Boston Celtics, +42 wins after acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen; 1997-98 Spurs , +36 wins) Duncan’s first winning season; 1989-90 Spurs, David Robinson’s first winning season 35 games. ) So join Umbanyama for a Game of Thrones tour. February stars heading to Indianapolis to win the Wilt Chamberlain Trophy as Rookie of the Year and a trip to the second round of the Spurs playoffs, right?
It’s not that simple, and neither Umbayama nor Tottenham hope for such immediate success.
“It makes sense to me not to (skip) any steps because it’s so easy to make a mistake like that,” Wembunyama told reporters on draft night. “I’m glad I have people around me who can help me not make that mistake.”
Why the Spurs won’t be able to compete for the playoffs this season…
Apart from bringing in Wemban Yama, Spurs have done almost nothing to improve their squad this summer. Therefore, in preliminary projections for the upcoming 2023-24 season, the Spurs have the lowest win projection of any team, with an average win projection of 25.9 games.
While it may seem shocking that the Spurs added Wembunama and improved on last season’s 22 wins by less than four wins, it’s worth noting that the Spurs are actually better in 2022-23 than The team’s record shows that it is worse. The Spurs are averaging 10.1 points less per game, worse than the Detroit Pistons (8.2 points per game), who have the league’s worst record at 17-65.
In fact, the Spurs’ 22 wins tie them with the 2020-21 Oklahoma City Thunder for the most by a team in NBA history averaging double-digit losses. Before the Thunder, only the 1990-91 Denver Nuggets had achieved 20 wins with such a clear record.
If we view the Spurs as an 18-win team (their projected record last year) rather than a 22-win team (their actual record), they’re expected to improve by about 8 wins. The San Antonio Spurs used their cap space to facilitate a three-team trade, reacquiring the expiring contracts of forwards Reggie Bullock and Cedi Osman, who are useful but likely will not be ranked behind current starter Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell before.
Meanwhile, the Spurs have done nothing to improve their biggest weakness: point guard depth. According to NBA Advanced Stats, the Spurs have outscored 11.8 points per 100 possessions with starter Tre Jones coming off the bench, and are 2-14 in the 16 games Jones has missed. However, the Spurs saved the team money by acquiring veteran guard Cameron Payne from the Phoenix Suns in a separate trade, before choosing to waive veteran guard Cameron Payne and retain the combo guard. Devonte’ Graham and natural guard Blake Wesley serve as backups.
Of course, there is logic to this. Between Wembanyama and three players drafted in the 2022 first round (Wesley, Jeremy Sochon and Malachi Branham), San Antonio is building around four players who are 20 or younger. The Spurs have the youngest projected rotation in the NBA based on subjective projections of playing time.
The upside could be another lottery pick, the ninth overall pick in 2022, along with Wembanyama and Sochan. And the San Antonio Spurs have more tools to improve their roster going forward. Including team options, the Spurs have 10 players under contract for next season with a total salary of about $80 million, giving the Spurs the ability to extend forward Devin Vassell’s contract before restricted free agency and Still has maximum cap space.
Going forward, as the Spurs start to see their picks arrive later in the first round, they will acquire more picks from other teams. While some picks are protected but may not be extended, the Spurs have already accumulated five other first-round picks through trades as well as 2026 (Atlanta Hawks), 2028 (Boston), as long as the Celtics don’t have the No. 1 pick ) and 2030 (Dallas Mavericks).
In particular, the 2030 deal acquired from the Mavericks, which included Bullock’s contract as part of a Grant Williams sign-and-trade deal, symbolized the Spurs’ apparent patience. The deal could ultimately fall through, but San Antonio scheduled it for after Luka Doncic’s current contract ends, which is when Wembunyama, who turns 26 in 2030, should be at his peak.
…and why it’s all part of the plan
Because he played four years of college basketball and then two more years in the Navy, Robinson was 24 years and 90 days old when he made his NBA debut. Duncan spent four years at Wake Forest University and was 21 years and 189 days old.
Meanwhile, Wembanyama will be 19 years and 294 days old when he makes his debut, in a much younger squad than the one Robinson and Duncan join.
Young people will play a key role in San Antonio’s slow and steady approach to improvement.
On draft night, Popovich was asked about managing expectations heading into the season (those of Wembanyama and the team).
“It’s about not skipping steps, I always say that. Every level from A to B, C to D. One of them is the O’s and X’s of the game. Obviously the rules are a little bit different than FIBA’s. We June On the 22nd, Popovich said about Wembanya, “We have to get used to this. “
“He’s going to have a target on his back because of all the hype. So, first of all, it’s not just O and James) or Tim or Kobe (Bryant) or anybody else. He’s Victor and that’s who we are Hopefully that’s what he does.”
Like Wembanya, James was hailed as a generational superstar when he entered the league in 2003. But James didn’t lead the last-place Cleveland Cavaliers into the playoffs until his third season in the league.
In fact, only one No. 1 pick has made the playoffs since 2009: Markelle Fultz of the Philadelphia 76ers in 2017-18 (Fultz battled injuries that season and played just one game). A team that finally got out of trouble played 14 games). “Process” reconstruction). Half of the teams with the No. 1 pick since 2000 have needed at least three seasons to return to the playoffs.
“I think when we went through the draft a few years ago, we were looking to find guys that were very versatile and could play with different types of players, different offensive systems and styles, and obviously that was great for us and what we do. It’s some basic stuff.” Spurs general manager Brian Wright said on draft night. “It’s unselfishness, physicality, ball movement and trying to play smart basketball. We think we have a young group of players that can Do that and obviously it adds to the talent.” Like Victor just adds to that. “
While the San Antonio Spurs competed in both the NBA’s California Classic Summer League and Las Vegas Summer League in Sacramento, Wembunama did not. Looking ahead to the new season and getting acclimated, the Spurs kept him in San Antonio to work out with players like Johnson, Sochamp and Vassell who were not on the summer league team.
“I feel like in order to play an 82-game season, I have to do a lot of training and get my energy level up,” Wembanyama said June 30 in San Antonio.
When he arrived in Las Vegas, Wembunyama had only played in two games, partly because he had just come off a full season that ended a few weeks before the draft, but also because he had more opportunities to work with his teammates. , he will spend more time working with his teammates. On the field during the regular season. It’s all part of a slow process that Spurs and Wembunyama will hope will pay off in the long term.
“There are guys who have been trying for years to win a championship, to win a ring, and they didn’t,” Wembunyama told reporters on draft night. “I don’t want to be one of them. It’s going to be…my goal is going to be to get closer and closer to the ring and learn how to do that.”