The Spurs mastered the art of tanking before it became popular.
Twenty-six years ago, they landed Tim Duncan as a result, and Tuesday night they struck it rich again.
The pingpong balls fell perfectly for San Antonio, which now has the rights to Victor Wembanyama, the 7-foot-5 unicorn of a prospect from France some experts have said is the best prospect in the history of the league.
The Spurs were followed by the Hornets and Trail Blazers in the top three, while the Knicks were out of luck, the Mavericks keeping their pick after it stayed in the top 10.
The Post’s Zach Braziller offers his early look at how he believes the absolutely loaded lottery will break down at the 2023 NBA Draft scheduled for June 22 at Barclays Center:
1. San Antonio Spurs
Victor Wembanyama, (F, 7-5, 210 pounds)
There will be constant comparisons to Duncan, because of the spot the Spurs were in when they drafted him in 1997, coming off a 20-win season. But Duncan was surrounded by far more talent immediately, in particular David Robinson. Wembanyama, a fantastic talent at 19 years of age from France who shoots 3s, blocks shots and handles the ball like a guard, won’t have nearly as much help, and even more expectations considering the immense hype around him.
2. Charlotte Hornets
Brandon Miller, Alabama (F, 6-9, 200 pounds)
Injuries decimated the Hornets this year, ruining their season. That doesn’t mean this franchise isn’t in a potentially promising place, led by point guard LaMelo Ball. Miller is impact-ready, a sharpshooting wing with size who can do more than spot up. Teams won’t be scared off by his run-in with the law — a teammate was charged with the murder of a 23-year-old woman in which Miller allegedly brought a gun to the scene. It was his first such incident, and his talent is too overwhelming.
3. Portland Trail Blazers
Scoot Henderson, G League Ignite (F, 6-2, 195 pounds)
The gifted lead guard either learns from Damian Lillard or takes over for him as the face of the franchise if the superstar is moved. Some scouts have compared Henderson to an in-his-prime Derrick Rose. He performed well for G-League Ignite, averaging 16.5 points and 6.8 assists, though his 3-point shot remains a work in progress.
4. Houston Rockets
Amen Thompson, Overtime Elite (F, 6-17, 212 pounds)
Houston was one of the big losers of the lottery. It was one of three teams with a 14 percent chance to land the No. 1 pick — the Spurs and Pistons were the others — and wound up at No. 4 instead. Thompson isn’t a bad consolation prize, though, a multi-talented wing with ample playmaking skills who took a unique route to get here, playing for the new high school league, Overtime Elite, alongside his talented twin brother, Ausar.
5. Detroit Pistons
Cam Whitmore, Villanova (F, 6-7, 232 pounds)
A thumb injury slowed him down, but the shotmaking wing began to show his immense potential late in the year for Villanova, and finished the season exhibiting the traits — physicality, 3-point range, shot creativity — that make him a no-brainer top-10 pick.
6. Orlando Magic
Ausar Thompson, Overtime Elite (F, 6-7, 215 pounds)
He lacks his brother’s playmaking ceiling, but he is a better shooter, and like Amen, his length and positional versatility are the rage in the modern game.
7. Indiana Pacers
Jarace Walker, Houston (F, 6-8, 240 pounds)
Big, physical and skilled, Walker fits the mold of what the league now looks for in forwards. He can play multiple positions, finish above the rim and step out and sink 3-pointers, shooting them at a 34.7 percent clip in his one year of college. Tyrese Haliburton needs front-court help to make the Pacers matter again.
8. Washington Wizards
Gradey Dick, Kansas (F, 6-8, 205 pounds)
His size and shooting ability make up for any shortcomings defensively. Teams covet shooters with length, particularly ones like Dick who shot 40.3 percent on 5.7 attempts in his one year at Kansas.
9. Utah Jazz
Anthony Black, Arkansas (G, 6-7, 198 pounds)
He will defend immediately and add value as a ball-moving, secondary playmaker. If his 3-point shot comes around — it’s the one major weakness in his game — Black projects as a difference-maker who could become an All-Star since his ability on the other end of the floor is held in such high regard.
10. Dallas Mavericks
Cason Wallace, Kentucky (G, 6-4, 193 pounds)
The one-and-done Kentucky star may be the top perimeter defender in this draft, a major need for the Mavericks, who lost so much on that end of the floor after the Kyrie Irving trade.
His chase-down blocks became a staple of his game, and he showed promise as a playmaker (4.3 assists) capable of improving as a long-range shooter (34.6 percent).
11. Orlando Magic
Taylor Hendricks, Central Florida (F, 6-9, 210 pounds)
Athletic big men who protect the rim and can stretch the floor don’t last long in the green room.
Hendricks entered college an unheralded prospect ranked near the bottom of the top 100, and made the most of his one year at UCF, shooting 39.4 percent from 3 on 4.6 attempts and blocking 1.7 shots per game.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder
Dariq Whitehead, Duke (G, 6-7, 220 pounds)
A nagging foot injury stunted his progress, and has created uncertainty for the Newark prospect.
But, remember, he was ranked third in his class for a reason, and the Thunder are known for their patience. He could wind up being a steal.
13. Toronto Raptors
Brice Sensabaugh, Ohio State (G, 6-6, 235 pounds)
The Raptors may end up moving one of their wings, either Pascal Siakam or OG Anunoby, increasing the importance of adding a young player at the position.
Sensabaugh is a gifted scorer at both the mid-range and beyond the arc, and while there are substantial questions about his defense, his raw talent is undeniable.
14. New Orleans Pelicans
Jordan Hawkins, Connecticut (G, 6-5, 195 pounds)
There are playmaking limitations here, and he doesn’t project as a plus defender, but Hawkins is one of the top shooters in this draft and has quality size for his position.
Pressure won’t faze him.
Just look at how well he performed under the microscope at UConn, where he went from a role player as a freshman to star as a sophomore.
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