Doyel: Is Victor Wembanyama worth a 14% chance for Pacers to tank for top pick?

Gregg Doyel
Indianapolis Star

People think the Indiana Pacers are going to stink. Or, maybe this is better, people think the Indiana Pacers should stink, that they better stink. Being terrible for 82 games would be quite the slog, but on the other side is Victor Wembanyama.

That’s the rationale behind the Pacers trying/not trying to lose a lot this season – tanking, you call that – and by itself, written the way I wrote it in that first paragraph, it makes sense. If the Pacers knew, I mean knew, they’d get Victor Wembanyama by finishing with the worst record in the 2022-23 NBA season, I’d beg them to think big, and by that I mean: tiny.

A 20-62 record would be nice, but 15-67 is better. A few more losses and you’re 9-73, matching the 76ers in 1973 for the worst 82-game record in NBA history. But if that’s not good enough, or bad enough, fine:

Go 0-82. Lose ‘em all. Because if Victor Wembanyama is on the other side, I promise you, 0-82 would be worth it.

Some of you don’t know much about Wembanyama, or anything about Wembanyama, and we’ll spend more time on Wemby, as he’s called, in moment. But let me say this without hyperbole:


And let me whisper this, so it’s just you and me hearing it:

He might be better than LeBron.

Ask yourself: Wouldn’t you trade one measly NBA season for the next LeBron? Of course you would. You’d miss out on the thrill of going 37-45, but you’d survive.

Here’s the thing, though. Victor Wembanyama won’t necessarily be there for whoever finishes dead last in the NBA. In fact, he probably won’t be there. The team with the worst record has a 14% chance of landing the No. 1 pick in the lottery. So does the team finishing second, and third.

Imagine that. Tanking, all season, for a one-in-seven shot at the jackpot.

You feel that lucky?

Victor Wembanyama, LeBron, Steph, and "the alien"

A few words on Victor Wembanyama: He’s 7-4, with an 8-foot wingspan, and will be a great 3-point shooter. I say “will be,” because he’s not there yet. He’s just 18, you know? But his shot, his form and fluidity, are breathtaking on a player of that size. And he certainly was a great 3-point shooter in two games his premier French league team played last week in Las Vegas against the G League Ignite.

In those two games Wembanyama averaged 36.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.5 blocks. He attempted 18 shots from 3-point range. Made nine of them.

He’s 7-4.

Highlights: Victor Wembanyama against Scoot Henderson and G League Ignite

Some call Wembanyama a cross between Kevin Durant and Rudy Gobert, only considerably taller than both. He’s going to change the game. I mean, he’s not fair. We call players like this “unicorns,” but Wembanyama is so unique, one NBA player came up with a different word last week:

“He’s more like an alien.”

Know who said that? LeBron James said that.

“A generational talent,” LeBron called Wembanyama in comments to NBA reporters in Las Vegas. “No one has ever seen anyone as tall as he is, but as fluid and as graceful as he is out on the floor.”

ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski says one team president told him, “Drafting Wembanyama might add as much as $500 million to the value of your franchise.”

Forbes projects the Pacers’ worth at No. 22 in the NBA, at $1.67 billion. A 30% increase in value, by drafting Wembanyama? Picture Herb Simon nodding.

Stephen Curry has called Wembanyama a “2K create-a-player,” referring to a video game where you can make the most perfect player imaginable. Only, who’d imagine this? A 7-4 guy who can touch the rim without jumping, capable of dribbling into a corner 3-pointer, rising and squaring in mid-air, and draining the shot? In an actual game?

That’s unimaginable.

Maybe a 14% chance isn’t so bad.

Key to Victor Wembanyama? Myles Turner

Like so many Pacers questions in recent years, the answer is: Myles Turner.

He’s the wild card, same as he ever was, so intriguing and disappointing and enticing and infuriating. Is Turner the great player he thinks he is, or is he the fine player – fine is good! – his track record has shown him to be? We’ll find out this season, because Domantas Sabonis is gone and Turner, after taking one for the team last season and playing out of position at power forward, will be the center.

What does Myles Turner at center for 36 minutes a game look like? How about Turner at center with a pass-first point guard like Tyrese Haliburton, surrounded by perimeter shooters like Jalen Smith, Buddy Hield, Chris Duarte and Bennedict Mathurin? What does that look like?

We’ll see. If Turner is what he says he is, the Pacers won’t be close to the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. Seriously, if Turner is that much better than his career averages – 12.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.3 bpg and 34.9% 3-point shooting – the Pacers are a 2022-23 NBA playoff team.

Play all of that out:

The Pacers wouldn’t be merely out of contention for Wembanyama and the obvious No. 2 overall pick, sensational 6-2 guard Scoot Henderson; they’d probably offer Myles the max contract he seeks. If Myles stays, if he decides he can coexist in the same city as me – he trolls me on Twitter, which is fine; I shoot my shot in print, don’t I? – the Pacers have the makings of something special.

Again, this presumes Myles Turner is what he says he is. But if he is, this is one hell of a lineup: star at center (Turner), excellent power forward (Smith), two promising young wings (Duarte, Mathurin) and special point guard (Haliburton). Add 6-10 forward-center Isaiah Jackson, a potential star at age 20, and the Pacers are in business.

Doyel: Pacers rebuild starts right here, with Haliburton, Mathurin, Jackson and Duarte

But if Turner isn’t what he says he is, if he’s "only" the fine player he’s always been, the Pacers will assuredly deal him before the Feb. 9 trade deadline rather than lose him for nothing as a free agent after the season.

Without Turner, or with him playing at his usual level, the Pacers are probably not a playoff team. I say probably, because I’m not convinced they’ll be anywhere near as bad as most seem to think. One Las Vegas bookmaker puts the Pacers on even terms with San Antonio and Oklahoma City for the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. The typical tanking story being written around the league casually includes the Pacers, as if they’ll be unable to do anything but lose.

Again, not so sure about that. Whatever Myles Turner is, the Pacers are going to win some games. They might not claw out of the draft lottery – might not reach the 2023 playoffs – but if this roster stays healthy, I think it tops last season’s 25-57 mark.

A low bar, to be sure, but 25-57 gave the Pacers the fifth-worst record in the league, which still gave them a 10.5% shot at the No. 1 overall pick. Finishing with the sixth-worst record means a 9% shot at No. 1 overall.

Point being, the Pacers don’t need to tank to have a mathematically similar shot – a similarly bad shot – at Victor Wembanyama. To be clear, if losing enough games could guarantee the No. 1 overall pick, I’d beg the Pacers to go 0-82. I’d offer to play point guard all season, for free. Let everyone dunk on me, let me become an internationally scorned meme, if it meant Wembanyama in Indianapolis for years to come.

But winning the No. 1 overall pick is a long shot, and in any event, the Pacers are too good to tank. Their key to landing a great player in the 2023 NBA Draft, whoever he is, is to add to their current bounty of three first-round picks and salary-cap space and tantalizing young trade bait like, sigh, Isaiah Jackson.

The Pacers need to keep stacking assets, not losses.

Find IndyStar columnist Gregg Doyel on Twitter at @GreggDoyelStar or at

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