It didn’t take long for Adam Silver to take the stage after the Spurs went on the clock with the first overall pick. While other teams took what felt like hours to select (certainly more than the allotted five minutes), San Antonio took mere minutes to call in the pick to the league, and let the world know they would be taking Victor Wembanyama. One way or the other, this decision will define the franchise for the next several years.
Wembanyama was emotional when he sat down with ESPN’s Monica McNutt. All of his hard work had led him to accomplish his goal of becoming the number one pick. In a spurt of euphoria he shouted: “I’m a damn Spur!” Indeed you are, Victor.
It was pandemonium in New York as everyone soaked in the historic moment. As Wembanyama left the green room and headed back stage to prep for his press conference, he ran into a friendly face.
"What's up, teammate?!"— NBA (@NBA) June 23, 2023
New teammates Jeremy Sochan and Victor Wembanyama get acquainted at the #NBADraft presented by State Farm.
More from media correspondent Jeremy Sochan: https://t.co/FGbzPuuMcr pic.twitter.com/Yh9UcDS7Je
The bond between Jeremy Sochan and Wembanyama is going to be an important one. There has been plenty of talk around the twosome’s history playing each other overseas. Now they will form one of the best young defensive duos in the NBA.
Back in San Antonio, fans were having a great time at the AT&T Center. Coach Gregg Popovich was also having a ball in the press room, even if he didn’t outwardly express it.
“I’m very excited,” he told reporters. “You don’t want me to jump up and down, do you? Put on a show? I’d do a somersault, but I’d be out for three months.”
Popovich praised Wembanyama’s ability to handle the pressure that comes with being called the best basketball prospect since LeBron James. He said that the 7-foot-5 big man has a great disposition and a good combination of intellectual ability and emotional intelligence. Wemby showed it in his media availability after being selected.
Sitting on an ESPN panel with JJ Redick, Malika Andrews, Andraya Carter and Jay Bilas, Wemby handled some tough questions about his game. Especially when it came to his frame, which has been a major concern for evaluators leading up to the draft.
“I don’t need to bulk up, I need to get stronger,” he told the panel.
Wembanyama explained that his focus is on being stable on the floor. He wants to stay healthy and hold his ground on the floor. Some young tall players look like they aren’t in full control of their body on the floor due to a lack of maturity and strength. Wembanyama breaks the mold and knows exactly what he is talking about when it comes to his body.
Eating some San Antonio protein might help those muscle fibers grow, too. When asked what he was excited for in San Antonio, he told reporters two things – breakfast tacos and dinner with Pop.
He’s not the only French rookie who will be sitting down with their new head coach. The Spurs selected Sidy Cissoko with the 44th pick in the draft. The 19-year-old had a productive season with the G League Ignite, averaging 12.8 points, 3.5 assists, 1.2 steals and a block per game while shooting 46% from the field and 30% from three. Cissoko was believed to be a first round talent by some evaluators. For San Antonio to grab that kind of talent in the middle of the second round is a good result.
Cissoko fits what the Spurs seem to be valuing in their build around Wembanyama. He’s a versatile player who can defend multiple positions and do a lot of things offensively. He’s an underrated passer, strong defender and developing three point shooter. Add in his background as a well-traveled player who faced pro competition in Europe as well as the G League, and you can start to see the similarities with the rest of the roster.
“In Europe, he played a lot on the ball as a big point guard,” Spurs General Manager, Brian Wright said of Cissoko. “Over the course of the year you saw him get comfortable without the ball and operating as a wing. We were ecstatic that we was there.”
Some fans were upset at the lack of trades from PATFO on draft night. After rumors of the Spurs looking to acquire a second first-round pick, expectations were high. Wright confirmed that there were talks to get another pick, but ultimately nothing came to fruition (even though plenty of other teams made deals). San Antonio did make a deal, but it was in the opposite direction many anticipated. They sent the 33rd overall pick to Minnesota, for a 2026 and 2028 second round selections. With that pick, the Timberwolves selected another G League Ignite talent in Leonard Miller, a 6-foot-11 forward with a strong combination of size and skill.
Miller is a good prospect but a shaky fit with the Spurs. He’s a strong finisher at the rim on drives, but may be too perimeter oriented as a big man for what San Antonio is building around Wemby. There were other talented players on the board at 33 that the Spurs had been linked to, including Jordan Walsh, Amari Bailey, Rayan Rupert and Hunter Tyson. While grabbing one of those players alongside Cissoko would have been nice, the team is already running out of roster spots, so they decided to prioritize future assets over young players who may not have too many opportunities on the NBA team.
Once the draft concluded, they picked up two more players in Texas star Sir’Jabari Rice and Alabama big man Charles Bediako. Rice joins the team on a two-way contract, while Bediako earned an exhibit-10/training camp invite. Rice brings off-ball shooting and defense from the two-guard position, while Bediako is a shot-blocking center. The two will likely join Wembanyama and Cissoko on the Spurs’ summer league team that is beginning to look like a must-watch roster.
Ultimately the Spurs picked up one future star in Wembanyama and three players that are near perfect fits around him if they meet their potential. Rice and Cissoko bring perimeter defense on the wings and the ability to create off of the catch. If Cissoko becomes an above average three-point shooter, he should have a long, successful NBA career. Bediako was one of the best rim protectors in the SEC last season, and while raw, could develop into an interior defensive force. That would allow Wembanyama to play more as a help side shot blocker and guard more perimeter forwards.
It’s clear that San Antonio is taking a patient approach to building around Wemby. They made calculated decisions to accumulate assets and draft guys that fit their system and culture. Getting the franchise altering player was the big win, but the work doesn’t stop there. Now comes the challenge every rebuilding team faces when selecting first overall: building a team that makes their new star happy.
After the draft Wembanyama, went on Scott Van Pelt’s show, where the broadcaster asked him how patient he would be on winning a championship.
“I’m usually less patient than people want me to (be),” the new Spur said. “It leads to surprises sometimes. What I told you may happen sooner than expected.”
San Antonio will have their work cut out for them in order to get their star what he desires, but they’re on the right track.