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JEFF ZILLGITT
Victor Wembanyama

Sorry, Chet Holmgren. Victor Wembanyama will be NBA Rookie of the Year, and it’s not close

A moment in time existed this season where there was discussion that could challenge – and outduel – for NBA Rookie of the Year.

Like all yesterdays, that moment vanished.

Wembanyama is the rookie of the year, and it’s not close.

That’s not a slight on Holmgren either. The 7-1 center-forward has had a fantastic season, helping the Thunder to one of the best records in the Western Conference and averaging 16.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.3 blocks and shooting 52.7% from the field, 37.1% on 3-pointers and 79.5% on free throws.

Holmgren is in a great situation, too. The Thunder are a team of the present and of the future and could be annual contenders for the next decade.

The and play each other for the final time this season Wednesday, and while this is not a one-on-one game, given the direction of both teams and players, Wembanyama and Holmgren are part of the NBA’s next generation of stars and the NBA needs to take advantage of two talented and game-changing 7-footers.

Sell it BIG.

San Antonio Spurs center Victor Wembanyama reacts to a shot against the Utah Jazz during game at Delta Center.

That the 7-4 Wembanyama, the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA draft, will be the runaway winner for rookie of the year exemplifies what an unprecedented season Wembanyama had offensively and defensively.

Wembanyama averages 21.3 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 3.5 blocks and 1.3 steals and leads all rookies this season in points, rebounds, blocks and steals.

His numbers are historical.

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 , 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 David Robinson. He is set to become just the fourth rookie to average 20 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks, joining Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning.

Wembanyama, with , became the first rookie since O’Neal 31 years ago to post at least 40 points and 20 rebounds.

We can keep doing this all day. But here’s one more in the unprecedented department: Wembanyama is the only player to have at least 30 points, five rebounds, five assists and five blocks in less than 25 minutes.

The Spurs have had a tough season – 20-59 and in last place in the West – and will get another high pick in the 2024 draft. (There is no Wembanyama type available this year but the Spurs should get a solid contributor).

Aside from individual statistics, Wembanyama’s impact as a defender makes the Spurs a quality defensive team and puts him in the conversation for an All-Defense selection. When Wembanyama is on the court, the Spurs allow 111.2 points per 100 possessions which is a top-five defense. When he is off the court, that number drops to 118.5 points allowed per 100 possessions which puts them among the worst defensive ratings.

He is an extraordinary shotblocker and rim protector, and he does it without getting into too much foul trouble which is rare for a rookie big man. He has fouled out once this season and has just seven games with five fouls and just four games with four fouls.

The Spurs took a deliberate, patient approach with Wembanyama. They didn’t want to burden him but they also wanted to see how he played – what makes him comfortable, where he excels and where he needs improvement.

He can run the pick-and-roll as a screener who can hit the mid-range jumper or roll to the rim or operate as the ball-handler pick-and-roll, seeking a favorable matchup – shoot 3 or drive with options for a shot at the rim or a pass to an open teammate.

Wembanyama can get a rebound or collect a shot he blocks and go basket to basket, and teammates can throw him lobs way up where only he can get the ball.

He will get smarter, stronger and better, and he’s not close to his peak or prime seasons.

It won’t be long before Wembanyama is a defensive player of the year and MVP candidate – as soon as next season.

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