NBA

Victor Wembanyama is SN’s Rookie of the Year: Spurs center has potential to be this generation’s Wilt Chamberlain

Chet Holmgren put up a good fight, but the best rookie this year has undoubtedly been Victor Wembanyama.

The 20-year-old closed the year with three straight Rookie of the Month awards and flat-out dominated ever since being moved to the center position in early December.

Wemby finished the year with averages of 21.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 3.6 blocks and 1.2 steals. Forget rookies — the only players to ever hit those marks are Hall-of-Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon.

Not only was Wemby the best rookie, but he also looked like a top 15 NBA player. He would make my All-NBA Team. He’s also who I’d pick for Defensive Player of the Year. 

This is the worst that Wemby is going to be, and he’s already elite. He’s claimed that he thinks he’s only at 15 percent of his peak. How amazing will he be in his prime? Here’s a glimpse into his future. 

MORE: Victor Wembanyama is having the second-best rookie season of all time 

Victor Wembanyama could be the best defender in NBA history

Wemby is already arguably the best rim protector in the league. Players are afraid of going at his 8-foot wingspan. His 3.6 blocks per game was the highest average of the last eight years

That number will probably go up, both as he gets stronger and his minutes increase from a paltry 29.7 average.

Wembanyama should be in contention for the highest blocks per game average in NBA history, currently held by Mark Eaton at 3.5 per game. Wemby needs a minimum of 400 games played to qualify for the leaderboard, so he will get there around his sixth season.

By that time, Wembanyama should have multiple Defensive Player of the Year awards under his belt. The Spurs are a horrendous defense, and not even that is stopping him from getting support to win this year. He’s already forced Draymond Green to revise his stance — Green had previously stated that he’d pick Rudy Gobert before changing his mind to Wemby in early April

“I don’t know what lab he was created in, but I need to go create me a son in that lab because dude is unbelievable,” Green said on his podcast.

Wemby is still an underdog to win to Gobert this season, but he put it best himself. 

“Let him win it now,” Wembanyama told reporters. “Because after that, it’s no longer his turn.”

Ben Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo have both won the award four times. Gobert will likely join them at the end of this season. None of them were this good this young. And what other young player will challenge Wemby in a few years?

Bam Adebayo and Anthony Davis are elite as well. They may have missed their window to snatch a win. While they get older, Wemby will be leveling up. He could be the first five-time winner. 

Victor Wembanyama could be the NBA’s best-shooting big man

If you’re going to nitpick one area of Wembanyama’s game right now, it’s in his 3-point shot. He hit only 32.5 percent from deep this season. 

There are a couple of different ways to slice that number up to show that there’s a lot more untapped potential. One is to look at his pull-up 3-point percentage, where he was at a sterling 37.5 percent.

Not only is that the highest percentage for a 7-footer, but his 2.4 attempts per game were also by far the most taken by a center. Those are the most valuable types of 3s because they are often self-created. Wemby already has that skill down. 

The touch and difficulty on some of those 3s is absurd. He hit a one-legged 3 earlier in the season, and he looks like a guard when he goes to his stepback. The Sixers’ bench could only laugh or stare in disbelief when he hit one in the corner against them. 

Where Wemby has struggled more is in the easier catch-and-shoot 3s. He hit only 28.3 percent of those looks. He is too good of a shooter for that number to stay so low. 

Victor Wembanyama’s passing growth has been unbelievable

The most surprising part of Wemby’s rookie season was his prodigious assist totals. He was not this type of player in France, where he only averaged 1.4 per game. 

After moving full-time to center on Dec. 8, Wemby averaged 4.4 assists per game. That was second behind Joel Embiid for most by a 7-footer this season. (Nikola Jokic is listed at 6-11.) Wembanyama is one of only three rookie 7-footers to ever average over three assists per game.  

Wemby’s passes aren’t fake assists, either. He had some beautiful dimes, particularly in transition. 

Wemby’s height allows him to see the entire floor. He can use his long arms to create crazy passing angles that nobody else can mimic. He’s going to be too good of a passer to double-team in a few years, which should lead to an uptick both in his assists and scoring numbers. 

They say that growth isn’t linear, but Wemby’s passing has been exactly that. It has taken him a remarkably short amount of time to become a prodigious passing hub for the Spurs. 

Wilt Chamberlain holds the record for highest assists per game average among 7-footers. He averaged 8.6 per game back in 1968. Wemby could one day approach that number as the focal point of an offense. We know that he will probably have the ball in his hands a lot.

Chamberlain put up video game numbers in a different era, averaging 30.1 points, 22.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game in his career. Wemby is the only guy who could conceivably sniff those numbers. He has the potential to go down as one of the best players in NBA history. 

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