Draft day is tomorrow, and Spurs fans are in a frenzy. Who can blame us!!? All eyes are on Victor Wembanyama, the most hyped NBA draft prospect since LeBron James. Expectations for next season lie in a spectrum where the most optimistic are anticipating a playoff run, while the most pessimistic expect the Spurs to continue rebuilding, perhaps even tanking for another lottery pick in the 2024-25 season.
Below I have displayed the past five number one draft picks, comparing their team’s record of their rookie season with the previous season.
As you can see, while the top draft picks have put up some quality stats, their team’s win-loss record remained relatively the same. Orlando is a bit of an outlier as they improved by 12 wins from the previous season, but they still missed out on the playoffs by a few games. Also to note, of the past five seasons, only Orlando’s Paolo Banchero won the Rookie of the Year among number one draft picks. The last number one pick before Banchero to win the rookie of the year was Ben Simmons back in 2017–18.
Since the Spurs will most likely be picking Wembanyama in the upcoming draft, I also took a look at the rookie seasons of several notable international players, specifically those who, like Wembanyama, did not play college call here in the States. (That excludes players like Simmons, Pascal Siakam, Domantas Sabonis, and Joel Embiid).
In the 2018–19 season, Doncic led the Mavs to a 9-win improvement from the previous season and also picked up the rookie of the year award. Also of note, in the Knicks 2014-2015 season, Carmello Anthony only played 40 games, and key players J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert were traded to the Cleveland Cavalierss midseason, which resulted in the Knicks worst season in their history. The Knicks most likely would have won around 30 games if Anthony had not been injured, so there were some seriously mitigating circumstances with the Knicks’ 17-win improvement in the 2015-16 season.
Just to throw this in here…
LeBron James led the Cavs to an 18-win improvement from their 2002-03 season and Michael Jordan led the Bulls to an 11-win improvement from their 1983-84 season, and they ended up being two of the GOATs.
Based on this info, Spurs fans should somewhat lower their high expectations for Wembanyama and not expect extreme outliars like they got in Davind Robinson and Tim Duncan’s rookie years. Even with a Rookie of the Year type of season for Wemby, reasonable expectations would give the Spurs around a 10-win improvement from previous season. Still sub .500 and not quite in the playoff mix, but on the right path.
Not throwing any water on the fire so to speak, just keeping things in perspective, and even if the Spurs don’t explode back up the standings in the short term, the long-term expectations are what really matter, and they’re much higher.