The hype around Victor Wembanyama has been gaining steam over the past year and is about to hit a whole new level this month with his NBA debut fast approaching.
After a so-so NBA Summer League showing last June–at least in comparison with the expectations of most–the 7’4 French forward is proving to be as good as advertised in this ongoing preseason. Wembanyama scored 23 points on 10-of-15 field goals along with four rebounds, four assists, and three blocks in the San Antonio Spurs’ most recent exhibition win versus the Miami Heat.
The numbers are eye-catching in themselves, yet what made his performance truly special was the manner by which he achieved them. Wembanyama looked like a guard with his ball-handling skills and how he glided around the court with ease. He also flashed a smooth shooting motion and used every inch of his 8’0 wingspan to his advantage.
It is conceivable that Wembanyama averages over 20 points and three blocks per game this season which would easily make him the favorite to win the NBA Rookie of the Year award in most years.
However, this upcoming season is unlikely to have a typical Rookie of the Year race.
Wembanyama is truly a special player, but a worthy rival with a similar physical profile resides just a few miles north of San Antonio.
Last year’s second overall pick Chet Holmgren is all set to make his debut for the Oklahoma City Thunder after missing the entirety of what should have been his rookie campaign with a foot injury. Holmgren stands at 7’0 and, like Wembanyama, is extremely lanky and skillful.
The external similarities between these two players have naturally fed into comparisons and their first ever on-court meeting earlier this week in the preseason was a taste of what could be the NBA’s next great rivalry.
Holmgren should be a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate this season as the primary frontcourt player on a Thunder team that has aspirations of making it to the postseason for the first time since 2020.
Aside from these two seven-footers, Scoot Henderson of the Portland Trail Blazers should also be in the mix to win this award. Unlike Wembanyama and Holmgren, the 6’2 guard has a mature physique that is already NBA-ready despite him being only 19 years old.
Portland also just handed the keys to their franchise to Henderson following last month’s much-anticipated Damian Lillard trade which should pave the way for him to put up impressive numbers this season.
Wembanyama, Holmgren, and Henderson are heading into the new campaign as the top contenders for Rookie of the Year and it seems unlikely that anyone outside of this trio will wind up with the trophy. Among the dark horses in this year’s race are second overall pick Brandon Miller of the Charlotte Hornets, Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore of the Houston Rockets, the Indiana Pacers’ Jarace Walker, and Sasha Vezenkov of the Sacramento Kings.
This year’s rookie class is shaping up to be one of the deepest that the NBA has seen in several years and it would not come as a surprise if they are regarded as one of the most talented in league history a decade from now. Wembanyama may be getting all of the headlines, but it is clear that this class of freshmen goes way beyond its most popular player.