The San Antonio Spurs have the best odds of landing the first overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, and fans are anxiously holding their breath as they wait to learn the fate of their favorite franchise. With roughly three weeks until the annual lottery festivities determine the lucky winner of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes, we took a stab at figuring out what might go down once those ping pong balls finally come to rest.
Our singular spin of the Tankathon lottery simulator wasn't as kind as we hoped, with the Silver and Black slipping to the fifth pick and missing out on Wemby, Scoot Henderson, Brandon Miller, and Amen Thompson. This doomsday scenario would typically make a deflating 60-loss season less tolerable. But thanks to the incredible depth of this top-heavy draft class, San Antonio still walked away with a potential cornerstone.
Ausar Thompson is a less heralded prospect than his twin brother Amen, but it would still be a godsend for the Spurs to secure him on draft night. The 20-year-old is a phenomenal athlete with outstanding burst and vertical explosion that leverages his tools to make productive downhill drives and create wide-open looks for his teammates. He is also one of the best cutters in this class and a budding catch-and-shoot threat.
The 6-foot-7 wing is a remarkable man-to-man defender with a white-hot motor who loves to hound ballhandlers. His length and footspeed make it difficult for opposing guards to create separation, and filling out his slight frame would allow him to cover multiple positions. Thompson is impactful off-ball, offering punctual weakside rim protection and vigilantly patrolling the passing lanes to turn steals into simple fastbreak opportunities.
Though Thompson is undeniably a lottery talent, there are questions about his ideal role in the NBA. Could improved spacing alleviate some of his struggles as an inefficient half-court scorer? Maybe, but the Overtime Elite product must learn to smoothen his pull-up mechanics and continue making progress from three-point land. He could develop into an All-Star if those skills materialize, but he might have a future as a connector even if they don't.
No one should take much stock in the lack of per-game productivity from James Nnaji. The fact the 18-year-old is earning minutes for a EuroLeague dynamo like Barcelona stacked with NBA alums like Nikola Mirotic, Tomas Satoransky, and Nicolas Laprovittola is inherently impressive. Though rim running and traditional roll-man duties are the basis of his limited scoring arsenal, he derives most of his value on the opposite end of the court.
Despite standing 6-foot-10 and weighing 225 pounds, Nnaji has deceptive mobility for someone with such a hulking physique. He slides his feet well enough to switch onto smaller guards and has the muscle to take contact in the post from frontcourt bruisers. The teenage center flashed elite rim-protecting attributes, and his unwavering activity as a helper and off-ball awareness should have the Spurs drooling over his defensive ceiling.
While there is a chance another franchise snatches Nnaji in the first round of the 2023 NBA Draft, San Antonio should not hesitate to select him if he falls into their lap. The front office could stash the Nigerian-born prospect overseas or bring him stateside as soon as possible to have direct control of his development. He would likely spend most of his rookie year in the G League, but exercising patience could yield rewarding long-term results.
Few returning college basketball players raised their draft stock as much as Brandin Podziemski over the last calendar year. The sophomore guard was a breakout star for Santa Clara, displaying superb feel as a pick-and-roll passer while showcasing pull-up ability from almost every inch of the hardwood. He also proved effective as an off-ball shooter, nailing an eye-popping 44% of his 91 catch-and-shoot three-point attempts.
For all his scoring prowess, the 20-year-old swingman had trouble making much of a positive impact on the defensive end. Smaller ballhandlers beat him off the dribble, poor closeouts left him liable to giving up uncontested layups, and stronger guards shed him with physical drives. With that said, he averaged a hair under two steals per game, though that failed to offset the points he relinquished as opposing teams frequently targeted him.
Podziemski has pronounced athletic shortcomings that could heighten his defensive issues and cap his scoring scalability. The savvy Southpaw has the handle, range, and vision to become a spot-up threat who can handle periodic secondary playmaking responsibilities. But he will see a dramatic shift in usage and touches in the NBA. Nevertheless, the Silver and Black could use another reliable backcourt presence to round out their roster.