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Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes at the NBA’s three-quarter pole

At the NBA’s halfway point, we did an updated check-in on the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes. We had six teams that were presumed to be in the “Brick for Vic” race in the preseason. As a refresher those teams were:

· Houston Rockets

· Detroit Pistons

· San Antonio Spurs

· Charlotte Hornets

· Orlando Magic

· Oklahoma City Thunder

At the halfway-mark, we removed the Indiana Pacers, New Orleans Pelicans (via the Los Angeles Lakers) and the Utah Jazz from the list of teams. That gave us a group of six teams in the race to the bottom for the most ping pong balls in the 2023 NBA Draft Lottery.

As a reminder, teams no longer need to be egregious about tanking their way to the bottom. The lottery odds give each of the three worst teams the same 14% overall chance at the first overall pick.

Unlike previous writings, we can now officially call a handful of the above teams bad. Some have even fallen into the unwatchable category, whether that’s due to injuries, lineup changes or, simply, just being terrible (generally by design).

That means we can update our race a little. Let’s check in on where each team stands in the “Winless for Wemby” competition.

(Note: All records and projections are as of games played through March 7. Projected records are from 538’s RAPTOR model. Remaining scheduled strength is provided by Tankathon. Draft lottery odds available at DraftKings Sportsbook.)

Houston Rockets

Current record: 15-50

Projected record: 19-63

Record since last check-in: 5-20

Remaining schedule strength: .510, 12th in the NBA

Outlook: Nothing has changed here. The Rockets remain bad. If anything, they’ve gotten worse. They traded Eric Gordon, removing the only reliable veteran from the roster. Jalen Green and Kevin Porter both missed time, which created backcourts that were really, really messy. The rest of the roster is young guys just trying to figure it out over the course of a long season.

Houston was always going to be bad this season. They were too young to be anything but. With a pretty difficult schedule remaining, they might not even crack 20 wins. If that comes to pass, it’s fine. The plan was to give the kids a ton of minutes, maintain cap flexibility and to be in the mix for Victor Wembanyama. Mission accomplished on all fronts. Now, about those rumors of a James Harden reunion…

Detroit Pistons

Current record: 15-51

Projected record: 19-63

Record since last check-in: 4-18

Remaining schedule strength: .481, 24th in the NBA

Outlook: Detroit is still right there with Houston for the worst record in the league. As a matter of fact, they are slightly ahead of the Rockets as of this writing. The Pistons have a fairly easy remaining schedule, but that’s not going to matter. There won’t be a lot of winning happening.

Cade Cunningham won’t be back until next year and now Bojan Bogdanovic may join him on the shelf for the rest of the season. Alec Burks is sporadically playing now too. On the fun side, James Wiseman is getting all the minutes he can handle, even if they are sometimes pretty rough. The Pistons are basically waging a Fatal Four-Way steel-cage match in their frontcourt between Wiseman, Marvin Bagley, Isaiah Stewart and Jalen Duren (or will be when the latter two are healthy). You know what would be really fun? Adding a 7-foot 4 wunderkind to the mix. (whispers: That’s true even if Scoot Henderson might fit better for what the Pistons need.)

San Antonio Spurs

Current record: 16-49

Projected record: 20-62

Record since last check-in: 3-21

Remaining schedule strength: .540, 1st in the NBA

Outlook: Whew boy…things took a turn for San Antonio. It’s not they were good last time we looked at the Wembanyama race. They were bad. But since then, the Spurs have been horrific. And it’s been somewhat by design.

A series of nagging injuries kept some of San Antonio’s best players out of the lineup. But, if we’re being completely honest, the Spurs weren’t exactly pushing anyone to play either. Nor should they. Houston has a developing young nucleus. Detroit has some potential stars. The Spurs have a nice collection of young players (probably better than you realize), but they need someone who can be THE guy. With the hardest remaining schedule in the NBA, San Antonio will hit the lottery with those 14% odds at Victor Wembanyama.

Charlotte Hornets

Current record: 21-46

Projected record: 26-56

Record since last check-in: 10-15

Remaining schedule strength: .485, tied-21st in the NBA

Outlook: Charlotte was right there for those top odds at Victor Wembanyama. They were just as bad as Houston and Detroit the last time we checked in. Then they started winning some games. It’s kind of the most-Hornets (current iteration) thing possible.

LaMelo Ball is out for the season, and we all hope he’ll be healthy and ready to go for the start of next season after fracturing his ankle. They cleared out some vets at the trade deadline to open up minutes for their kids. But instead of losing, they’ve been frisky for the last couple of months. And that’s probably cost them a 14% chance at Wembanyama. And unlike Houston, Detroit or San Antonio, Scoot Henderson doesn’t make nearly as much sense for them if they were to land at the second pick. Charlotte started winning when they should have been losing. Here’s to hoping their fortitude is rewarded come lottery night.

Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder

We’re taking these two teams off the list of “Vomiting for Victor” challengers.

The Thunder remain in the mix for the Western Conference Play-In Tournament. Even after making a couple of stealth tank moves (trading away Mike Muscala, sitting guys even with marginal bumps and bruises), Oklahoma City keeps hanging around, going 13-11 since our last check-in. They don’t project to make the Play-In Tournament, but they are miles away from that bottom-four group.

Orlando was really frisky for a while. They’ve gone 11-13 since our last check-in and looked like a Play-In challenger in the Eastern Conference. That’s probably over, as they’ve now slipped to 4.5 games back with 16 games to play. But that’s fine. The Magic are still looking at two more lottery picks (their own and a top-4 protected Bulls pick), along with Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner leading a fun team that has real potential moving forward.

It’s possible the Basketball Gods reward the Thunder or Magic for playing hard by granting them some lottery luck. But even if they don’t, these two teams are set up to be at least Play-In contenders next season, if not more.

As for everyone else who has appeared here at various points, they’re way off this list now. The Indiana Pacers, Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers (who were proxies for the New Orleans Pelicans) are all battling for Play-In spots and won’t be even close to the top of the lottery, barring some incredibly good ping pong ball fortune.

Next time we check in, we’ll know who has those top lottery odds, because the regular season and Play-In Tournament will be over. What we’ll do at that time is examine each of the 14 teams in the 2023 NBA Draft Lottery and look at how Victor Wembanyama (with a side of Scoot Henderson) would fit in with each franchise.

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