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Breaking Down the NBA’s Fresh Faces in the Race for Rookie of the Year

Credit: Joshua Gately/Getty Images


This year’s NBA Rookie of the Year race, highlighted by two generational talents in Chet Holmgren of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Victor Wembanyama of the San Antonio Spurs, might just be the closest race for the highly coveted award since the 1994-1995 season which saw two NBA legends in Jason Kidd and Grant Hill battle it out for the honour. 


The 2023 NBA draft had some of the most promising prospects the league has seen in a few years. The star-studded lineup consisted of the French phenom Victor Wembanyama, the NBA G League’s youngest player in history, Scoot Henderson, University of Alabama’s Brandon Miller and the Overtime Elite twins in Ausar and Amen Thompson. These players were all selected within the first five picks of the draft, with Wembanyama being the first overall pick.


The rookie class also features Thunder centre Chet Holmgren, a seven-foot one-inch sharpshooter and elite defender drafted out of Gonzaga University with the second pick in the 2022 NBA draft. The consensus 5-star recruit who broke the record for the most blocks in an NBA Summer League game with 15, suffered a Lisfranc fracture in a Pro-Am game before his first NBA season could even start. This pushed Holmgren over to this season’s rookie class, as he too is technically playing his first NBA season, making the draft class even stronger. 


While all the rookies are playing well in their own respects this season, two have stood out with their impressive offensive and defensive performances, making them the clear-cut candidates for Rookie of the Year.


Wemby vs. Chet

Credit: Clemente Almanza/ThunderWire


Victor Wembanaya and Chet Holmgren have been hailed as some of the greatest talents the NBA has ever seen, highlighted by their “unicorn” nickname insinuating that they are a once-in-a-lifetime talent. The two players have been battling it out all season, showing off their skills and putting the league on notice while they continue to try and get a step ahead of one another in the Rookie of the Year race.


Victor Wembanyama, the seven-foot-four-inch Frenchman who became the first French player to be drafted first overall in NBA history, has been setting records all over the place in just his first year in the league. On December 8, Wemby put up 21 points and 20 rebounds, becoming the youngest player in NBA history to put up 21 points and 20 rebounds at just 19 years of age. On December 17, Wemby put up a 17-point 13-rebound double-double, setting the record for the most double-doubles by a teenager in NBA history with eight in a row. Just yesterday, in a game against the Toronto Raptors, Wemby put up a 20-point, 10-block triple-double in less than 30 minutes of playing time, becoming the first player in NBA history to do so. 


Chet Holmgren has also been putting up some impressive stats in his first year. Holmgren has had three games with 30+ points this season. He also set the Thunder franchise record for the most blocks recorded in a game by a rookie, with seven blocks in just his second NBA game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Chet was also named Western Conference Rookie of the Month in October/November for his performance. What is most impressive about Chet however, is the fact that he is easily the second or third-best player on the Thunder, who are currently tied for the second-best record across the entire NBA. 


Wemby this season is averaging twenty points, ten boards, three assists, one steal and three and a half blocks per game - a category he leads the entire NBA in. Holmgren is averaging 17 points, eight boards, three assists, one steal and two and a half blocks per game. Wemby has the advantage in all-around stats, but his San Antonio Spurs have the worst record in the Western Conference and third worst in the entire NBA at 11-43, compared to Holmgren’s Thunder who are tied for the second-best record across the NBA at 35-17. 


So what really sets the two generational players apart in such a tight race?


Wemby vs. Chet

Credit: Michael Macasero/Sportskeeda


There are a couple of factors outside of statistics that should be considered when voters begin sending in their votes for who they believe should win the NBA Rookie of the Year award. Age and Team situation.


Chet Holmgren at the age of 21, turning 22 this year, has two years on Wemby. While this may not seem like a massive factor, there is some weight to it. Holmgren was originally drafted in 2022, the year before Wembanyama’s draft year. However, due to his foot fracture, he was forced to sit out the entire NBA season. This gave Chet an entire year to develop his skills under NBA coaches, develop friendships with his current teammates, and build overall team chemistry. This was noticeable as soon as he came into the league, as he slotted right into the team. 


Wemby was drafted with a year less of NBA experience, into a team of all new players where he would have to build relationships from zero. Despite this, he has managed to still produce better numbers than Chet.


Chet was also drafted to a team full of great players. Playing with teammates like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Williams and Josh Giddey, is bound to have an impact on the rookie’s numbers. Wemby was drafted into a rebuilding organization, where he instantly became the cornerstone of the franchise and was given the keys at just 19 years of age.

Regardless of these factors, both players are generational talents producing numbers that are rarely ever seen even from solid NBA role-players and veterans.


This might just be the closest rookie race in the history of the NBA and it will be interesting to see who is awarded the highly coveted NBA Rookie of the Year award for the 2023-2024 season.



Edited By: Josh Reidelbach


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