Spurs poised to pick Wembanyama in NBA draft

Spurs poised to pick Wembanyama in NBA draft

French prodigy most sought-after draft pick since LeBron James 20 years earlier

Metropolitan 92's French power forward Victor Wembanyama is expected to join the San Antonio Spurs after Tuesday's NBA draft lottery. (Photo: AFP)
Metropolitan 92's French power forward Victor Wembanyama is expected to join the San Antonio Spurs after Tuesday's NBA draft lottery. (Photo: AFP)

LOS ANGELES: The San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday were awarded the top pick in next month's NBA draft, leaving them in pole position to land French prodigy Victor Wembanyama.

San Antonio, who finished the regular season bottom of the Western Conference with a 22-60 record, were drawn first in the NBA's lottery to determine who gets the coveted top pick in New York on June 22.

Barring a monumental surprise, the 19-year-old Wembanyama will be the No.1 selection in the draft, which sees the cream of basketball's rookie talent up for grabs.

The 7ft 2in Metropolitans 92 player is seen by many as a transformational talent, a once-in-a-generation player regarded as the most sought-after No.1 draft pick since LeBron James entered the league in 2003.

Wembanyama is now set to follow in the footsteps of French basketball legend Tony Parker, who won four NBA championships with San Antonio between 2003 and 2014.

Tuesday's lottery results also mean Wembanyama is set to begin his NBA career under the tutelage of revered coach Gregg Popovich, a giant of the NBA who has guided San Antonio to five NBA titles.

"I can't really describe it, my heart's beating," Wembanyama told ESPN in an interview from Paris on Tuesday shortly after learning the likely identity of his new team.

"I've got everyone I love around me, it's a really special moment that I'm going to remember for the rest of my life."

Wembanyama added that he intends to make a fast start to his NBA career — telling ESPN he wants to vie for championships.

"I'm a team player, I'm going to make everything to win as many games as I can. I'm trying to win a (championship) ring ASAP, so be ready," Wembanyama said.

Peter Holt, chairman of Spurs Sports and Entertainment, reacted with delight after learning of the team's lottery win.

"I might faint," Holt said. "I'm so excited. The city of San Antonio, our fans, man we have so many people who love the Spurs. We're pumped."

 'Generational talent'

NBA great James has been among Wembanyama's legion of admirers, describing him as less a "unicorn" and "more like an alien."

"No one has ever seen someone as tall as he is and as fluid and as graceful as he is on the floor," James said. "He's for sure a generational talent."

Spurs general manager Brian Wright told ESPN on Tuesday that the lottery results — and Wembanyama's likely arrival in Texas — marked an "incredible day" for the franchise.

"People talk about generational talent, and they only think on-court skill, but it's bigger than that," Wright said.

"His ability to be a great teammate, his ability to think the game, unique challenges, you see him doing things that you wouldn't even have guessed someone could do. His approach, his professionalism.

"When you use the word 'generational' talent, it extends beyond your ability to put the ball in the basket. And he's unique in so many ways."

Under the NBA's lottery format, the 14 teams that failed to reach this season's playoffs were entered in Tuesday's lottery with a chance to land the top pick.

Up until four years ago, the team with the worst regular-season record had the strongest probability of being granted the No.1 draft selection.

However, the lottery rules were tweaked in 2019 to even the odds in an effort to deter teams from deliberately losing or "tanking" to gain the top pick.

In Tuesday's lottery, San Antonio, the Houston Rockets and Detroit Pistons went into the draw with the same elevated 14 percent chance of winning what the US media dubbed the "Wembanyama sweepstakes."

However, the Rockets were shunted down to fourth place, while the Detroit Pistons were bumped into fifth.

The Portland Trail Blazers will receive the third pick in the draft, while the Charlotte Hornets have the second pick.

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