The upcoming Draft Lottery stands to reshape the future of at least one team — maybe even this team! — thanks to one of the most hyped prospects in a generation as the top prize in Victor Wembanyama. It also leaves a high chance for disappointment for anyone invested in the outcome, especially given the uncertainty of real upside outside of the top two.
Since most fans are headed towards some form of despair, and because conspiracy theories are normal these days, here we submit a justification for each team winning the Wembanyama Sweepstakes, ranked by narrative heft and believability.
14. Washington breaks the wheel (6.7% odds of 1st overall pick)
The Wizards are the check engine light in my car — mildly dysfunctional, a little concerning, definitely not getting addressed anytime soon. They’ve struggled perennially in developing talent and building a decent roster around their main franchise piece, so there’s no reason for the forces at be to nudge a prospect like Wembanyama their way. If they win the lottery, throw away the tinfoil and invest in some new headwear. It was just pure dumb fate.
13. The Raptors get a free roll (1% odds)
A Toronto win would be too radical, too statistically improbable, and it would bail them out of what seems to be a fun thought exercise this offseason in how to move out of a disappointing season, consolidate assets and get back to where Masai Ujiri wants to be.
12. They needed this: Charlotte edition (6.8% odds)
11. They needed this: Indiana edition (12.5% odds)
There is no Charlotte Agenda. The Hornets are only not last on this list because there is some marketing appeal in pairing an alien with LaMelo Ball, and because winning might make Michael Jordan reconsider selling his share of the team.
The Pacers haven’t drafted in the top 3 since Rik Smits in 1988. The Metropolitans 92 jerseys share similar colors to Indiana’s. A lottery win would give Indiana a nucleus of Tyrese Haliburton, Bennedict Mathurin and Wemby and may even incite more good-for-thems than groans and eye rolls. They’re not the longest odds to win it, and I don’t think anyone will be accusing the league of rigging things in favor of Indiana.
10. The Jazz backfill their French center opening (4.5% odds)
Danny Ainge pulled the ultimate fleece 6 years ago in Boston, turning the first overall pick originally owned by the Nets to then trade back to third, via Philadelphia, and still snag the best player in the draft in Jayson Tatum, all while having just come off a 53-win season. After cleaning house in Utah last summer and pointing the nose of the organization back towards the lottery, he’d become the main character of the offseason if they come out of it by replacing Rudy Gobert with Wembanyama a year later.
9. The Pistons become the new Thunder (14%)
They may get anointed as such with whatever top 5 pick they get, given the amount of young lottery talent the Pistons have already stacked up. With OKC graduating to a new tier on the league’s totem pole, Detroit could be the next young, untested group to get hyperbolic about.
8. A league-sanctioned return to Houston for the Beard (14% odds)
There have been rumblings of a possible Houston return for James Harden. I assume that kind of move becomes less likely if he manages to push Philly to the NBA Finals but, because he’s James Harden, we may not need to entertain that scenario too much. Winning the Wemby sweepstakes could either give Harden a new kind of star big to pair up with, or allow Houston to move the pick for a king’s ransom of win-now pieces.
7. The Thunder tank becomes a death machine (1.7% odds)
OKC’s version of The Process probably felt longer than it was: they tried in earnest through 2019 and used the next season as a brilliant hedge, managing to tank by both trading for and then trading away Chris Paul before pointing their nose straight down. The ensuing tank, uncompromising and a little unsavory, came to a halt this year, thanks to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s leap, good drafting, and the team collectively keeping its foot on the pedal until the end. Was it a coincidence that SGA played 68 games in 2022-23 after totaling 91 the two previous seasons, or quid pro quo with a league that had seen enough and was willing to make a deal? I’m just asking questions.
6. Portland gets its lifeline (10.5% odds)
The Blazers are still trying to make it work with Damian Lillard as he enters his year 33 season. Brandon Roy representing the organization at the lottery would add to the feel-good factor of them landing the first overall pick, and a win would give Portland a handful of paths to maximizing Lillard’s remaining window.
5. New Orleans is forced to figure this all out (0.5% odds)
I don’t know what a team with Zion and Wemby looks like, but I wouldn’t mind finding out. What I do know is the league will be tired of scheduling national TV games for New Orleans only to get burned by Williamson’s unavailability, and having both on the same roster should make things a bit safer to promise some level of spectacle. The city’s historical connection to France is also something that league marketing could lean into. New Orleans winning is a total longshot that should rightfully be called out. Pull the wool from over your eyes, sheeple.
4. Someone’s already printing Wemby City T-shirts (1.8% odds)
The Chicago Bulls also have pretty long odds of keeping this pick (it goes to Orlando if it falls outside the top 10), and even longer odds to win the right to select Wemby. There’s a big market angle here, of course, and the Bulls have maybe earned themselves some good karma by refusing to bottom out and tank, but don’t overlook the appeal of a bad pun.
3. The league stacks Orlando’s frontcourt, for now (9% odds)
Because of the core they’ve built around the likes of Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner, and the possibility of owning two lottery picks in this draft, the Magic don’t necessarily need to win this year’s lottery to feel good about their future. After winning the 2022 lottery, this will seem like the league stacking things for Orlando, but [tapping head] it will actually be a long play in laundering another elite big to the Lakers a few years down the road.
2. The Spurs finally get a generational big man (14% odds)
The Spurs have as good a shot as anyone to be the last placard standing, but that still shakes out as an 86% chance they don’t get Victor. There’s enough historical poetry in Gregg Popovich working with one last generational 7(-plus) footer that San Antonio winning would almost feel too right. The Photoshops (and San Antonio murals) of Wemby in black and silver don’t strain the eye or the imagination, and that’s partially because it’s as ideal a culture fit as you might find for him, with the narrative material off the floor and a roster of solid, young complementary pieces waiting for a true star to orbit around on the floor. The haters will hate, not that you should care.
1. The Luka Script (3% odds)
Team-building is hard, but the Mavs have done impressive work in actively squandering Luka Doncic’s brilliance until now, trading, signing, and rebuffing their way into a corner. While Doncic is still only 24 and seemingly content in Dallas, every star has a breaking point and, well, have you seen this roster? Kyrie Irving may stay or go in free agency, no one’s sure which outcome is less desirable, and the Mavs’ 2023 first-rounder is owed to New York unless Dallas defies its 13.9% odds and jumps into the top 4. The path to contention is fraught without a lucky shortcut or two.
Holding onto the pick would be one of those shortcuts, no matter where it falls in the top 4. But because of what it would mean for Doncic and Dallas, and for the amount of times you’ll have to see Mark Cuban’s dead-eyed grin in the ensuing months and years, the Mavs miraculously pairing Doncic with an almost-perfect complement in Wembanyama is likely the single biggest shift next week’s lottery could produce.