The San Antonio Spurs traded All-Star guard Dejounte Murray to the Atlanta Hawks for significant draft compensation last week, positioning (potentially) a consistent contender that has only three losing seasons this century (!) to tank into next year. So prepare yourself now when I offer this reading of the tea leaves: This might be the new norm for the next 11 months in the NBA.
With so much star power at the top of the 2023 NBA Draft, teams typically in the playoff hunt — like maybe the Spurs, Indiana Pacers and many others — could easily fall back from their position to set themselves up in a spot to win the No. 1 pick. And that doesn’t even account for teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets or Orlando Magic — rebuilders — desperate to grab franchise-changing talents and could also be in the mix for the No. 1 pick once again. So even with many months until the start of the 2022-23 season and nearly a year out from the 2023 NBA Draft, it already seems like the race to tank to the top (or bottom) of the draft standings could be a competitive one.
Does this happen every year? Yes, yes it frequently does. But the prize at the top of the 2023 NBA Draft — Victor Wembanyama — is considered an all-time talent. The French prodigy has for years been considered the best basketball prospect regardless of classification. He’ll be mentioned as the best prospect since Anthony Davis, and when you watch his game, you won’t think it’s hyperbole one bit.
Winless for Wembanyama.
No Victories for Victor.
I’m still workshopping it, but the catch phrases will absolutely be a thing this season for a worthy gem. He’s worth the shameless tank job.
So who will win the sweepstakes?
Our first mock draft of the 2023 cycle has projections by SportsLine that give the Rockets the early edge over the Thunder and Magic. But this won’t be a normal draft cycle. Tankers will come out of the woodworks. Teams expected to be contenders may slump to the finish. Of course, there’s always a lot that can and probably will change in the coming months — players will rise and fall, as will teams and their standing — but the closer we get to next summer’s lottery, the more ready, I predict, the tankers will be to blow it all the way up for just a chance to steal the top pick.
It might just be worth it.
Let’s jump into the mock. Before we do, note that because the lottery is far from set and much will change between now and the lottery, team need is not taken into account.
2023 NBA Mock Draft
Order determined by SportsLine 2023 projections