NBA Draft: How often does the No.1 pick lead his team to the playoffs as a rookie?

Levallois Met 92 v Strasbourg - LNB Pro A
Levallois Met 92 v Strasbourg - LNB Pro A / Aurelien Meunier/GettyImages

Victor Wembanyama has yet to set foot in the NBA, but there already lofty expectations for the once-in-a-lifetime prospect. He is fresh off an unprecedented season in which he carried Metropolitans 92 to the LNB Pro A Finals and led the league in points, rebounds, blocks, minutes, and that success has diehard fans, respected analysts, and national talking heads predicting the Spurs will be right back in the playoff picture with the 7-foot-5 teenager at the helm.

There is no doubt San Antonio will select Wembanyama with the number one overall pick of the 2023 NBA Draft on Thursday night. Although he will provide them with the franchise cornerstone they have sorely lacked since Kawhi Leonard forced his way out of Alamo City a half decade ago, recent reports suggest the front office is looking to take things slow. Even if the Spurs use this year to evaluate their roster, is there a chance they can sneak into the postseason?

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Answering that question means taking a trip down memory lane to count how many first overall picks have led their club to the playoffs as a rookie. Historically speaking, the top spot has yielded the most All-Stars and MVPs, but only a handful of those players have piloted a postseason run in their first go-round over in the league the last 50 years. That list includes Magic Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Chris Webber, Tim Duncan, Derrick Rose, and Ben Simmons.

John Lucas II, Kent Benson, Mychal Thompson, James Worthy, Andrew Bogut, Andrea Bargnani, Greg Oden, and Markelle Fultz all made the playoffs during their rookie season, but most of them were role players, sixth men, or on losing squads that narrowly clenched the eighth seed with a losing record in a weaker conference. Some of these names went on to become the centerpiece of contenders, but it would be disingenuous to say they singlehandedly transformed a team overnight.

Some of the most talented prospects to grace the association failed to propel decent supports casts to a postseason berth. Generational youngsters like Bill Walton, Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O'Neal, Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Yao Ming, and Anthony Davis fell short of the playoffs in year one, and no one can deny their instant impact and per-game production. Rebuilding is a process that doesn't end with an organization winning the lottery, and it can take multiple seasons to see results.

So where does that leave Wembanyama? The French phenom will join a roster that lost 60 games last season, but there is necessary context for their poor performance. Head Coach Gregg Popovich and his staff fully embraced the youth movement while navigating a plethora of nagging injuries to Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Jeremy Sochan, and Zach Collins. They were better than their record implies, and perhaps adding Victor to the mix will help them push for the play-in tournament.


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