Spurs’ Victor Wembanyama is NBA Rookie of the Year after French phenom’s impressive start

Spurs’ Victor Wembanyama is NBA Rookie of the Year after French phenom’s impressive start


The comparison from San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich didn’t arrive without considerable thought. He knows the pitfalls of such an exercise.

But the Spurs’ season was over and rookie forward-center Victor Wembanyama was the topic.

“He’s made me understand that he has those Tim Duncan qualities of innate basketball IQ and a fire that he wants to be the best,” Popovich told reporters.

Now, he has something else in common with Duncan.

Wembanyama is the 2023-24 NBA Rookie of the Year, the league announced Monday. He joins Duncan (1998) and David Robinson (1990) as another Spurs big man to be so honored.

Wembanyama received all 99 first-place votes from a media panel, making him the first unanimous NBA Rookie of the Year since Karl-Anthony Towns in the 2015-16 season.

Suffice to say, the 20-year-old French phenom began his NBA career in impressive fashion and was rewarded for it.

Wembanyama averaged 21.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, a league-best 3.6 blocks and 1.2 steals, proving a unique talent, combining offensive ability and defensive dominance. He is also a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year, a rarity for a rookie.

The 7-foot-4 big man reached feats that set him apart from other rookies and put him on a level alongside some of the game’s greatest players.

Wembanyama is the only rookie to average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 3.0 blocks and 1.0 steal since the NBA began tracking blocks and steals 50 years ago.

When he had 27 points, 14 rebounds, 10 blocks and five assists in a victory against Toronto on Feb. 2, Wembanyama became the fifth player in NBA history to have at least 25 points, 10 rebounds, 10 blocks and five assists – alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Ralph Sampson and Robinson. He is just the fourth rookie to average 20 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks, joining Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning.

Wembanyama, with 40 points, 20 rebounds and seven assists March 29, became the first rookie since O’Neal 31 years ago to post at least 40 points and 20 rebounds. He also is the only player to have at least 30 points, five rebounds, five assists and five blocks in less than 25 minutes.

The Spurs were 22-60, the fifth-worst record in the league, and had the No. 21 defense, allowing 115.6 points per 100 possessions. However, with Wembanyama on the court the Spurs allowed 111.2 points per 100 possessions which is a top-five defense.

He is an extraordinary shot blocker and rim protector, and he does it without getting into too much foul trouble which is rare for a rookie big man.

Yet, Wembanyama said, according to The Athletic, “It’s my first impression that I didn’t exceed any expectations, that I should have done more.”

He is far from a finished product. His offensive game requires improvement, but there’s nothing to indicate he won’t become a better 3-point shooter, facilitator and creator. He’s also on his way to becoming one of the most dominant defenders.

Wembanyama had 15 points in his NBA debut and four games later, he had 38 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, two blocks and one steal.

For a portion of the season, Oklahoma City’s Chet Holmgren was alongside Wembanyama for Rookie of the Year. However, as the season progressed, it became a one-man race.

Holmgren and Charlotte’s Brandon Miller were the other finalists, finishing second and third.

Holmgren was a nearly unanimous runner-up, receiving 98 of 99 votes for second place with one voter prefering Miller.

In the overall results, Wembanyama received 495 total points to 295 for Holmgren; Miller had 86. The Miami Heat’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. came in fourth with 10 votes, while the Golden State Warriors’ Brandin Podziemski received four votes and the Dallas Mavericks’ Dereck Lively II earned one.

Follow NBA reporter Jeff Zillgitt on social media @JeffZillgitt

Related Articles