Analysis: The lure of Wembanyama will see some teams tanking

Oct 13, 2022, 3:00 PM | Updated: Oct 14, 2022, 6:13 am

Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92's Victor Wembanyama plays against the NBA G League Ignite durin...

Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92's Victor Wembanyama plays against the NBA G League Ignite during the second half of an exhibition basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/John Locher)

(AP Photo/John Locher)

Victor Wembanyama already has command of the English language, including some terms that don’t exactly show up in the 18-year-old’s French dictionary.

Among them: tanking.

The worst-kept secret in the NBA this season is that some teams aren’t exactly going to be trying their best to win as many games as possible. Instead, they’ll be using this season to develop their young players, get them some experience, while hoping to be bad enough — and then lucky enough — to win the draft lottery and the chance to select the 7-foot-3 Wembanyama next June.

“Of course, the word and the meaning of the word ‘tanking’ is kind of weird,” Wembanyama said. “And, personally, I would never want to lose. It’s a personal thing. But I really try to stay outside of it and don’t care about it.”

Nor should he. It’s out of his control. He’ll play his season in France and find out in May at the draft lottery who won the No. 1 pick. He may as well call a realtor in whatever city wins at that point, because it’s almost an absolute certainty that he’ll soon need a home there with high doorways and ceilings.

If he wants to start shopping now, these are the places he might want to study up on, based on the odds of making the playoffs posted by FanDuel Sportsbook: Orlando, Detroit, Indiana, Oklahoma City, Utah and San Antonio.

The Spurs might be the sentimental favorite. Wembanyama spent last season playing in France for a team owned by former Spurs guard Tony Parker. San Antonio was bad enough in the 1996-97 season — don’t say tanking to the Spurs — to be able to draft Tim Duncan and go on to win five championships. And this year, well, they’re not going to be good.

“I probably shouldn’t say this, but I’ll say it anyway,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, as he leaned down closer to the microphone for extra emphasis at his team’s media day last month. “Nobody here should go to Vegas with the thought of betting on us to win the championship.”

A few days later, the Spurs — and the rest of the league — were in Las Vegas to watch Wembanyama play a pair of preseason games. He didn’t disappoint, averaging 36.5 points in those contests against the G League Ignite.

Betting on the Spurs would be a mistake. Betting on Wembanyama probably isn’t.

“I think I could be jinxing a player who hasn’t come into the NBA yet by me anointing him as the next great one,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “But he certainly has all the attributes of a true game-changer. … I know that many of our NBA teams are salivating at the notion that potentially through our lottery that they could get him.”

Silver then said those teams “should all still compete very hard next season.” Ha. Well, it’s more like a matter of perspective. Players will play hard; that’s a given. But some teams will simply be trying to win the Daytona 500 while on a 10-speed Schwinn. They’ll be sweaty at the end of the race, but they’re not going to be anywhere near Victory Lane.

There are many teams that would love to luck their way into Wembanyama but aren’t planning to actively try to swing the odds in their favor. There might be more teams that consider themselves to be contenders — either for the playoffs or for a championship — at the start of this season than any other in recent memory.

Yet some teams pretty much already know they’re lottery-bound.

“There’s Wembanyama, whatever the kid’s name is, sweepstakes, and then everyone else is good. … Not that anybody in the NBA would ever tank,” Dallas owner Mark Cuban said earlier this week, according to The Dallas Morning News.

That’s pretty much the deal right now. There’s the haves, the teams that are going to fight for the playoffs. And then there are the have-nots. Or in this case, the want-to-have-Wembanyama group.

Still, if a team somehow goes 0-82, even that wouldn’t overly stack the Wembanyama deck in its favor. That team would have only a 14% chance of winning the lottery, a 52% chance of finishing in the top four, and a 48% chance of finishing in exactly the No. 5 spot.

The three teams with the worst regular season records will all have a 14% chance of winning the lottery. The fourth-worst team will have a 12.5% chance, the fifth-worst team a 10.5% chance. The odds continue getting smaller from there, with the last team in the lottery — one of the teams that loses in the play-in tournament — having a 0.5% chance, or 200-1.

Somebody is going to lose a lot, then get maybe a franchise-changing win, thanks to the order of how four ping-pong balls emerge from a plastic hopper in May at the lottery.

The victor there gets … well, Victor.

For some teams, that’s the dream. So, let the race to the bottom begin.


Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org


More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Ex-Packer Guion gets 1 year for domestic violence assault

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Former Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion was sentenced to one year in jail after pleading no contest in a domestic violence assault at his home last fall. Brown County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Walsh also ordered Guion on Tuesday to serve three years’ probation and complete a domestic […]

7 months ago

Joe Jarzynka...

Associated Press

Durant eager for Suns debut vs. Hornets after knee injury

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Durant has been through quite a bit during his 15-year NBA career — but joining a new team midway through the season is a new one for the 13-time All-Star. The 34-year-old Durant doesn’t seem all that worried. Durant makes his highly anticipated Phoenix Suns debut on Wednesday night against […]

7 months ago

FILE - Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores stands on the sideline during the second half of an N...

Associated Press

Judge: NFL coach can press discrimination claims in court

NEW YORK (AP) — NFL Coach Brian Flores can pursue some of his discrimination claims against the league and its teams in court rather than through arbitration, a judge ruled Wednesday. The written decision by Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan was issued months after lawyers for the league tried to get the lawsuit moved to […]

7 months ago

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Alex Stalock cools off in the first period during an NHL hockey game ...

Associated Press

Kane trade reinforces hard reality of Blackhawks rebuild

CHICAGO (AP) — After days of speculation, the harsh reality of the Chicago Blackhawks’ situation was reinforced by one move in a flurry of transactions ahead of the NHL trade deadline. Showtime is over, at least in Chicago, and a seemingly bright future is, well, way off in the distance. The reverberations of Chicago’s decision […]

7 months ago

FILE -  Yves Jean-Bart, president of the Haitian Football Federation, wearing a protective face mas...

Associated Press

Disgraced ex-Haitian soccer president announces he’s back

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s former soccer federation president whose lifetime ban from sport over sexual abuse allegations was overturned last month announced Wednesday that he is reclaiming his position. Yves Jean-Bart’s defiant announcement could lead to a standoff with FIFA, which already has appointed an emergency management committee to lead the Haitian Football Association […]

7 months ago

FILE - Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers walks off the field after an NFL football game against the ...

Associated Press

Rodgers says decision on future will come ‘soon enough’

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers says he will make a decision on his future “soon enough” as the four-time MVP quarterback ponders whether to play next season and if his future remains with the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers, 39, discussed his future while speaking on an episode of the “Aubrey Marcus Podcast” that […]

7 months ago

Analysis: The lure of Wembanyama will see some teams tanking