What If The Portland Trail Blazers Had Landed Victor Wembanyama In the 2023 NBA Draft?


Portland Trail Blazers fans are all too familiar with “what-ifs” around the NBA Draft. So much so, and with such profound history attached to the subject, it might be too soon to ask the latest version of this question.

But today, on a day when Victor Wembanyama becomes the official 2024 NBA Rookie of the Year, we can’t help but drift off and let our minds wander as we wonder what could have been in Rip City.

One Ping-Pong Ball Away

The Blazers were as close as it comes to landing a once-in-a-generation star, and through one season, it’s clear Wembanyama is cutting in line for the “next face of the NBA” (although Anthony Edwards has something to say on the matter).

During his ROY campaign, Wembanyama, at 7’4” and with an eight-foot wingspan, posted averages of 21.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 3.6 blocks and 1.2 steals. That was across 71 games, and that was all in under 30 minutes per night.

Think those numbers are impressive? Wondering if any other rookies have ever posted such averages?

Not a single one. But here’s where it gets alien-like. The only other player to match that line at any point in his career would be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Like I said.

Of course, Wembanyama and his Spurs are in the lottery today instead of the playoffs. That’s what happens when you only muster 22 wins (one better than the Blazers) and when you never landed on a true floor general all year.

Looking ahead, just imagine what Wemby will look like on a team playing in meaningful games.

Then again, we aren’t done looking back because you have to wonder what Wembanyama could have done with an elite point guard right from the start.

The Wemby Dominoes

In a world where the Blazers land 2023’s No. 1 pick and take Wembanyama, Damian Lillard never asks for a trade. He just doesn’t.

Lillard needed two major things to keep him in Portland: better support and a clear direction.

Wembanyama in black and red instantly motivates Joe Cronin to win. Wemby also gives Lillard as versatile a weapon as he’s ever had—and as good a reason as any to build a contender at home through his contract.

Of course, in many ways, the Spurs were the “ideal” organization to land the now-20-year-old. The French connections are obvious, as is the big-man lineage. And learning under a living legend like Gregg Popovich can’t hurt, I suppose. But the Blazers were maybe the only bottom-tier squad with a shot to add him and compete right away. Adding Wemby (plus a healthy Dame) to that group would have kept their minds off the lottery—indefinitely.

The Roster

Drafting Wembanyama means the Blazers don’t land Scoot Henderson. Or Malcolm Brogdon. That leaves a hole at the backup point guard spot (again), but there’s a lot to like from what we do know about this hypothetical rotation.

For starters, the trio of Dame, Anfernee Simons, and Shaedon Sharpe own the backcourt. That’s alongside a couple of combo forwards in Jerami Grant and Nassir Little, not to mention other familiar faces in Matisse Thybulle and Jabari Walker. And then, to start the year at least, keeping both Jusuf Nurkic and Drew Eubanks around makes sense as you play with lineups and retain insurance at the 5.

Obviously, though, there are questions to answer. Among them: Does Wemby start over Nurk Day 1 (probably)? Does Nurk hit the trade block at any point (almost certainly)? Does Simons join (…)? Is this enough to make a real run (.…..)?

If Wemby looked generally the same in Portland as he did in San Antonio this season, the Blazers could develop one of the best starting lineups in the NBA. With Lillard running the show, the pressure to win wouldn’t have been squarely on the shoulders of a 19-year-old. And with so many faces from the previous year’s roster set to return, “cohesion” and “purpose” would have been two new characteristics for a roster desperate for both.

So, What If? 

Of course, today, this is more thought exercise than a hop in the DeLorean. Especially today.

Today, Wemby takes home the most important piece of NBA hardware he owns as Rookie of the Year. There will be plenty more to come, but that’s kind of the point because the question of “what if” is never answered or even properly asked, just a year into the case study. It needs time to build.

For Blazers fans, you already know what that means. That means you’ll have this question to answer today, you’ll have it to answer next season, and then again  10-plus years down the road when Wembanyama’s (hopefully healthy) career looks more complete.

This “what if?” isn’t going away any time soon.

But as always, it never hurts (too much) to ask.

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