The Spurs take phenom Victor Wembanyama with the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft

Andrew LopezESPNJune 22, 2023, 8:11 PM ET5 minutes of reading

The Spurs draft Victor Wembanyama with the No. 1 overall pick

Victor Wembanyama shakes hands and poses with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver after being selected by the San Antonio Spurs with the No. 1 overall pick.

The Victor Wembanyama era has officially begun in San Antonio, then The Spurs made him the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday’s NBA draft.

Wembanyama, a 7-foot-5 French phenom with an 8-foot wingspan, walked across the stage at the Barclays Center in New York to shake NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s hand and formally mark the start of his new career.

The 19-year-old was in tears when speaking with ESPN’s Monica McNutt shortly after being elected.

“It’s achieving something that I’ve dreamed about all my life,” Wembanyama said. “When I heard that line from Adam Silver, I dreamed about it so much I cried.”

Wembanyama is considered by many to be a generational talent – a player who can defend and play above the rim, but moves with such agility that he can also hit step-up 3-pointers from one leg.

When the Spurs won the right to draft Wembanyama by winning the lottery on May 16, Spurs managing partner Peter J. Holt jumped for joy from his seat on the stage inside Chicago’s McCormick Place Convention Center.

On Thursday night, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich credited Wembanyama’s parents for how they have raised him to handle the immense pressure that has been placed on him thus far.

“He has a great disposition, a good combination of intellectual ability and an emotional intelligence at the same time,” Popovich said. “He understands what the hype is. He understands all the attention he gets, but he still welcomes it, deals with it… So I think he understands that there’s a way to deal with that responsibility and still let people feel somewhat close to him. So he doesn’t need much advice in that area.”

Popovich said Wembanyama will play for the Spurs in summer league, but he did not know to what extent. San Antonio will play in the California Classic in Sacramento on July 3. That event starts four days before the Las Vegas league, in which all NBA teams participate.

“Like I said before, I’ve only talked to him on the phone a couple of times so I got a better sense of where his head is at,” Popovich said. “Talked to his people who have been training him his whole life. They’ve been with our people and we have to make those decisions when we’re all together. But he’ll be there at some point.”

In October, Wembanyama announced his presence on the national stage during two exhibition games in Las Vegas, where his Metropolitans 92 team took on the G League Ignite to showcase both Wembanyama and Ignite guard Scoot Henderson.

Wembanyama had 37 points, 4 rebounds and 5 blocks in the first game and followed that up with 36 points and 11 rebounds in the second game.

During the French LNB Pro A League season, Wembanyama averaged 20.7 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game, leading the league in all three categories. Wembanyama was named the league’s MVP and led the Metropolitans 92 to the French league final that season.

“People talk about generational talent and they only think about skill on the court, but it’s bigger than that,” Spurs general manager Brian Wright said on May 16. “His ability to be a great teammate, his ability to think the game, unique challenges, you see him do things that you didn’t even think anyone could do. His approach, his professionalism. When you use the word generational talent, it’s enough beyond your ability to put the ball in the basket. And he’s unique in so many ways.”

Victor Wembanyama, 19, shakes hands with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected No. 1 overall by the Spurs. Wembanyama is considered by many to be a generational talent.Photo by AP/John Minchillo

This is the third time the Spurs have won the NBA lottery and earned the right to pick No. 1. They beat the other two picks – David Robinson in 1987 and Tim Duncan in 1997, both of whom played their entire careers with the Spurs and are considered among the best big men of all time.

Now Wembanyama begins his career with the coach Robinson left off and Duncan played his entire NBA career under: Popovich, the winningest coach in NBA history.

Popovich said Thursday that Wembanyama wants a target on his back and needs to be himself and not anyone else — not LeBron James, not Kobe Bryant and not Duncan.

“He’s Victor and that’s who we want him to be,” Popovich said.

Under Popovich, the Spurs made 22 consecutive trips to the playoffs from 1998 to 2019, which is tied for the longest such streak in NBA history (matching the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers streak from 1950 to 1971).

However, the past four seasons the team has failed to finish above .500, going 32-39, 33-39, 34-48 and then 22-60 last season. Bottom during the 2022-23 season gave the Spurs a 14.0% chance to land the No. 1 pick.

Wembanyama joins a Spurs side that relied heavily on young players a season ago. The Spurs’ top five scorers in total points were all 25 or younger, and that didn’t include last year’s No. 9 overall pick, Jeremy Sochan, who averaged 11.0 points and 5.3 rebounds in 56 games played.

Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Malaki Branham and Sochan help form the core of what San Antonio has going forward. The Spurs also have 28 draft picks, including 11 first-rounders, over the next six seasons.

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