With the San Antonio Spurs set to pick Victor Wembanyama first in this year's draft, expectations among fans are sky high. While the Spurs will soon draft arguably the greatest draft prospect ever, they will also bring back many of the same players from this year's team that lost 58 games.
That doesn't mean next year's team can't make a big leap with Wembanyama, but that likely won't be their goal. San Antonio will still be in rebuild mode next season, though with a potential superstar in place, they will probably spend next season evaluating what they have and how it fits around their new centerpiece.
Even then, depending on how good Wembanyama is right out of the gate and how much Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson improve over the summer, the Spurs could still compete for the play-in tournament.
Can the Spurs make the play-in tournament next season?
The Spurs ability to make the play-in tournament will depend on several factors. The first is: how much does Wembanyama play? If he plays around 70 games and is as good as we hope, that may be enough for the Spurs to be at or above .500 in those games. That may allow San Antonio to bank around 35–38 wins.
Another factor is: how good will the West be? Teams like Portland, New Orleans, Dallas, Oklahoma City, and even the Houston Rockets all figure to be better next season, raising the floor of the Western Conference. Meanwhile, aside from Memphis, which could be without Ja Morant for a chunk of next season, and the Los Angeles Lakers if LeBron James retires, the teams that made the playoffs in the West last season should be at least as good.
Neither of those things bodes well for the Spurs since it means more competition for the play-in tournament. On the other hand, if at least 12 of the other teams in the conference are competitive, that should lower the ceiling of the West and keep the Spurs in the hunt. With the 10th seed for this season's play-in tournament winning 42 games, it seems realistic to expect that it will be in the 43–45 win range next season.
Is Wembanyama worth 23 wins as a rookie? Possibly, but the Spurs will likely limit both his minutes and the number of games played to ensure he is able to make it through the long season. My best guess is that the Spurs will win 41 games next season, putting them within three games of the play-in.
Finishing 11th or 12th in the West might be disappointing to some fans, but that would mean the Spurs still made big strides. Better yet, they would also have not one but potentially two lottery picks in the 2024 NBA draft thanks to Toronto. That would give San Antonio a chance to make an even bigger leap in the 2024–25 season, possibly even making the playoffs outright.