The Spurs ended up being the big winners of the 2023 NBA Draft lottery, as they emerged with the No. 1 pick in the class and the right to select superstar French center Victor Wembanyama.
The other 13 teams vying for the No. 1 pick in the draft left disappointed. But for some, the pain was sharper than others.
Given the way the ping-pong balls fell in 2023, there remained a chance as the final ball was selected that several other organizations would have a shot at the No. 1 pick. In fact, one team had a greater than 50 percent chance to earn it as the final ball was drawn.
Instead, that team and others across the NBA had their collective hearts broken as the Spurs' number was called, likely sending another generational big man to San Antonio.
NBA MOCK DRAFT: Wembanyama goes No. 1, but who goes No. 2 after draft lottery?
But just how close were teams like the Trail Blazers and Wizards to getting Wembanyama? Here's what we know about the 2023 NBA Draft lottery results.
How the NBA Draft lottery works
Before we dive in, it's important to note exactly how the NBA Draft lottery works. Because each team has a weighted chance of winning the lottery based on their record from the previous season, it isn't as simple as pulling names out of a hat — or, in this case, one ping-pong ball out of a hopper.
Instead, the NBA divvies up 1,001 possible four-digit combinations that are based on each team's regular-season record. Then, 14 numbered ping-pong balls are placed into a hopper and four are drawn to produce the code needed to determine which team has the No. 1 overall pick.
This year, the code drawn to earn the No. 1 pick was 14, 5, 8, 2. That belonged to the Spurs, who will now almost certainly select Wembanyama, but that privilege was very close to swinging to another team because of the final ball drawn.
How Victor Wembanyama to the Trail Blazers almost happened
One of those teams was the Trail Blazers. Portland possessed the code 14, 5, 8, 3 in the 2023 NBA Draft lottery, per Ben Golliver of the Washington Post, so if the No. 3 ball had been selected at the end instead of the No. 2, the French phenom would be heading to the Pacific Northwest.
In the end, they were just one number off.
The San Antonio Spurs won the NBA Draft lottery and the right to select Victor Wembanyama with the ping pong ball combo 14, 5, 8, 2.— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) May 17, 2023
The Portland Trail Blazers held the combination 14, 5, 8, 3. They missed by just one number on the final ball.
This was a brutal blow for the Trail Blazers, who have struggled for years to surround Damian Lillard with star-level talent. Wembanyama would have qualified and could have made Portland an instant contender in the Western Conference had he adjusted right away to playing in the NBA.
Instead, the Trail Blazers settled on landing the No. 3 pick. That will still allow them to add talent next to Lillard, be it by drafting Scoot Henderson or Brandon Miller, but missing on Wembanyama will sting.
And it will hurt even worse if Lillard, 33 in July, decides to leave the team. He has been loyal to Portland throughout his career, but he did release a cryptic quote tweet an hour after the draft lottery results were finalized.
If so… https://t.co/MiztFAPR5X— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) May 17, 2023
How Victor Wembanyama to the Wizards almost happened
As bad as the Trail Blazers missing on Wembanyama was, the Wizards' pain after the lottery results were pulled had to be worse.
After the first three ping-pong balls were pulled in the NBA Draft lottery, the Wizards had six of the 11 remaining numbers in the hopper, per Golliver. That gave them a whopping 54.5 percent chase of landing the French superstar.
All Washington needed was the final number to be higher than seven and Wembanyama would be theirs. Instead, it came in on the lower end of the spectrum at two.
Update (with full list): After the first three numbers were picked, the Washington Wizards had 6 of the possible 11 remaining numbers (7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13) and barely missed.— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) May 17, 2023
Washington had entered the draft lottery with just a 6.7 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick, so some may think that their defeat in this regard would sting less than that of the Trail Blazers.
But with the way that the draft lottery unfolded, it's hard to argue that any team will feel more betrayed by the ping-pong balls than the Wizards, who dropped from having a 54.5 percent chance of earning the No. 1 pick before the final ball all the way down to No. 8.
Now, the Wizards will have to find a partner for Bradley Beal in the latter end of the top 10 picks in the 2023 NBA Draft. That won't prove nearly as easy as selecting Wembanyama and seeing what Beal, 29, could do next to an elite big man for the first time in his career.
Other teams with a shot at No. 1 pick
The Trail Blazers and Wizards were the most painful defeats in the final stage of the lottery drawing, but they weren't the only teams to miss on Wembanyama.
According to Ryan Bernardoni, six teams had a shot at landing Wembanyama just before the final ping-pong ball was pulled. They were as follows:
|Team||% chance for No. 1 pick|
The Wizards were the only team remaining with multiple shots at the No. 1 pick, so their loss remains most painful. But teams like the Rockets — who entered the evening tied with the Spurs for the best lottery odds — Magic and Pacers are certainly all lamenting their losses and the chance to pair their young stars with Wembanyama.
NBA Draft lottery results 2023
Below are the full results of the 2023 NBA Draft lottery as well as the odds each team had to win the No. 1 pick entering the evening.
|Pick||Team||% chance for No. 1 pick|
|11||Magic (via Bulls)||1.8|