mega online casino On Tuesday, 2022 No. 2 overall pick Chet Holmgren and the Oklahoma City Thunder faced this year’s top pick, generational prospect Victor Wembanyama, and the San Antonio Spurs for the first time in a regular-season game.
Holmgren’s Thunder routed Wembanyama’s Spurs 123-87, with both players finishing with single digits in scoring. However, Wembanyama won the rebounding battle 14-7.
Despite the lackluster introduction to what should be one of the NBA’s top rivalries for years to come, the pair of versatile 7-footers lead a rookie class that has already appeared ahead of schedule — even when accounting for a slow start for Scoot Henderson, the No. 3 pick in the 2023 draft. All season, ESPN’s Bobby Marks and Kevin Pelton will be checking in on first-year players — including Holmgren, who is eligible for Rookie of the Year after missing his first season in the NBA due to injury — and ranking their top 10.
In addition to Holmgren and Wembanyama, a pair of Detroit Pistons rookies have been making an early push for Rookie of the Year along with another starting 7-footer, Dallas Mavericks center Dereck Lively II.
Let’s break down what we’ve seen from rookies this season.
Pelton: Chet vs. Wemby is a classic contrast between rookies who are effective in a smaller role and talented ones who are asked to do way too much because they’ve been drafted to a lottery team.
Wembanyama’s current 31% usage rate would be the second-highest share of his team’s offense finished by a rookie on record, according to Stathead.com, trailing only Joel Embiid’s 36% usage rate in 31 games during 2016-17. Embiid was already a 22-year-old rookie, having missed his first two NBA campaigns due to injury. Wembanyama is shouldering the lion’s share of the Spurs’ offense as a teenager — something even LeBron James didn’t do as a rookie. (He had a 28% usage rate.)
Predictably, that’s led to some inefficient outings. Wembanyama has shot worse than 40% from the field in five of his first 11 games and doesn’t yet get to the free throw line enough to compensate. By contrast, Holmgren has just two sub-40% shooting nights. He’s been dropped in a far more favorable setting to serve primarily as a play finisher with a league average 20% usage rate. Add in unsustainably hot 3-point shooting (46.3%) and Holmgren is one of the league’s 20 most efficient scorers.Editor’s PicksWhy Victor vs. Chet could be the NBA’s next intense rivalry6dBrian WindhorstWhere’s Wembanyama? The top 25 NBA players under 25, ranked11dNBA Insiders2024 NBA draft rankings: Jonathan Givony’s top 25 prospects15dJonathan Givony2 Related
Part of that favorable situation is because Holmgren is playing center almost exclusively after playing a lot of power forward during his summer return to the court. Wembanyama is starting at power forward in a lineup light on shooting, cramping his floor spacing.
If you want to make the case for Wembanyama as the better player, it’s based on how well he’s performed at center — typically in the fourth quarter. In those minutes, per Cleaning the Glass, Wembanyama’s effective field goal percentage goes from 45% at power forward to 60% at center without any drop in his usage rate. And his block rate, already good, goes from 4% of all opponent attempts to 5.5%, better than any regular has managed this season. (Wemby’s fifth among qualifying players overall, with Holmgren 11th.)
So long as Holmgren is shooting close to 50% from 3 and playing dominating defense, I think he’s been the most productive rookie, but Wembanyama has plenty of time to close the gap.
Marks: I agree with you. Holmgren has been the more productive of the two players to start the season. One thing that has gotten little attention is that Holmgren had a one-year head start in studying the Thunder’s principles on the court and visualizing how he could fit. In that regard, his foot injury last year benefited Holmgren because of the up-front seat he had to scout the other 29 teams and his current roster. It has helped that the Thunder returned 13 players from last season’s team.
With the knowledge he accrued last season, Holmgren became the second rookie to have 15 3-pointers and 20 blocks over an eight-game span.Top stories of the week from
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The wild card in all of this is Holmgren plays with an All-NBA point guard in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander while San Antonio has been experimenting with forward Jeremy Sochan at the point. Out of Wembanyama’s 61 assisted field goals this season, Sochan has assisted on only five. Last year’s starter, Tre Jones, leads the way with 14 assists to Wemby, while Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey have combined to assist on 27 Holmgren baskets.
One area to keep an eye on with Wembanyama getting more involved posting up and not drifting on the perimeter. Last year with French club Metropolitans 92, Wembanyama posted up on 20% of the team’s possessions. This year with the Spurs, that number is down to 12.9%, per Synergy Sports. In the Spurs’ two wins against the Phoenix Suns, 24 out of his 38 field attempts were within 19 feet. For comparison, in the games lost this season, Wembanyama has attempted 41 out 104 field goals outside of 20 feet. He is shooting 29.2% on those shots.
The second area of concern that popped up on his pre-draft scouting report was his carelessness with the basketball and reacting when double-teamed. In the loss to the Miami Heat, Wembanyama had seven turnovers. His 3.9 turnovers per game are the ninth most in the NBA this season.
We have talked extensively about Holmgren and Wembanyama, two players who will compete for Rookie of the Year this season. Are there any other players who could challenge them? And if not, who are the group Tier 2 players?
Pelton: I’d say my next tier is a pair of teammates, the Pistons’ Ausar Thompson and Marcus Sasser. With Bojan Bogdanovic out, Thompson has started every game and is third on the Pistons at 32.1 minutes per game despite his poor shooting (43%, including 15% on 3s). Sasser hasn’t played as much but is averaging double figures off the bench.
Thompson’s 5-by-4 on Nov. 5 vs. Phoenix (14 points, nine rebounds and four apiece in assists, steals and blocks) was one of just two such games in the NBA over this regular season and last — Anthony Edwards had the other in April. Thompson’s pair of four-steal games have been outliers, but his 1.9 blocks per game are notable. Among players who have played more on the perimeter than a frontcourt position by my analysis of lineup data, only Scottie Barnes has a higher block rate than Thompson.
Sasser’s 41% shooting on 3s stands out g7bet online casino after he hit 38% in his final season at the University of Houston, and 37% over his four-year career. He’s also hitting 67% of 2-point attempts outside the paint, per NBA Advanced Stats, which isn’t sustainable but is impressive. Both Sasser and Thompson have been part of Detroit’s improvement from 27th in defensive rating last season to 23rd. What have you thought of them and would you add anyone else to this group?
Marks: Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green recently commented that this year’s rookie class has a defensive mindset different from prior first-round picks.
“I feel a way about the Thompson twins and Wemby because those guys are making it much harder for me to continue to make All-Defensive teams as these young guys come in defending the way they’re defending,” he said.
While Amen Thompson has only played in four games in Houston because of an injury, his brother Ausar is competing at an All-NBA Defensive level with the Pistons. Thompson’s 13 steals and 19 blocks through his first 10 games are the most since Marcus Camby in 1996-97. He had four blocks against Phoenix and has three games of three-plus blocks this season. What really stands out about Ausar is his knack to grab offensive rebounds. He is ranked second in offensive rebounds and is the first player with 40 offensive rebounds through 10 career games since Elton Brand in 1999-2000, per ESPN Stats & Information. Thompson’s strong start could have a trickle-down effect as the trade deadline approaches if Detroit is out of play-in contention. Bogdanovic averaged a career-high 21.6 points last season but has been out with a calf injury.
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Sasser has been solid on both ends of the court. He held Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, LaMelo Ball and Kevin Durant to a combined 3-for-15 shooting as a primary defender. On the offensive side, Sasser does not settle. In a loss at the Milwaukee Bucks, he had it going from the perimeter but also showed a terrific floater in the paint. Before a recent shooting slump, he was one of three rookies (along with Holmgren and Oklahoma City teammate Cason Wallace) shooting 50% from the field and 40% on 3-pointers. It will be interesting how coach Monty Williams allocates backcourt minutes when Jaden Ivey is integrated back into the rotation. Sasser played eight minutes and went scoreless Tuesday night in a loss against the Atlanta Hawks.
We talked about Holmgren earlier, but I like what his teammate Wallace has done. The guard had one of those wow moments during a third quarter win against Atlanta. In a stretch of three minutes and 20 seconds, Wallace had three steals, an assist and a dunk. He is also one of two players shooting 50% on 3-pointers and 70% on 2-pointers this season (Indiana Pacers center Jalen Smith is the other one).
Lively II has found a nice rapport with Mavericks teammate Luka Doncic offensively. Lively has set 135 on-ball screens for Doncic, tied for fifth by any duo per Second Spectrum. He and Doncic are averaging 1.22 points per direct pick, ranking in the top five among duos to run at least 65 plays, per Second Spectrum. He recently had a career-high six assists versus Chicago.
Marks: A rookie name we haven’t brought up is the second pick, Brandon Miller. What have you seen from the Charlotte Hornets forward along with Wallace and Lively this season?
Pelton: Given how Miller has shot the ball (28% on 3s), it’s remarkable he’s averaging 12.8 PPG. Miller has found ways to score inside the arc and between his 77% foul shooting and 38% accuracy on 3s at Alabama, there’s plenty of reason to believe his outside shooting will come around.
Wallace’s 55% 3-point shooting has come on just 20 attempts, not enough to tell us much about his improvement after hitting 35% in his lone season at Kentucky. I do like how much he’s getting to the basket and have always been a believer in Wallace’s defense.
Lively’s statistical profile is interesting because he’s not blocking many shots (1.6 per 36 minutes) after that was a key part of his value at Duke. Lively’s projected block rate was second among 2023 draftees behind Wembanyama. Opponents are still finishing at a below-average rate with Lively as the primary defender inside five feet, so the impact of his size is still being felt and you outlined how well he’s fit in the pick-and-roll game with Doncic.
The rest of my top 10 features a number of more experienced rookies contributing to winning teams. Jaime Jaquez Jr. has been the best of this group, averaging 20-plus minutes per game while starting three times for a Miami Heat team that’s needed his contributions with Caleb Martin sidelined. New Orleans Pelicans guard Jordan Hawkins has started seven games and is averaging 13.7 PPG, albeit on below-average efficiency because of 41.5% 2-point shooting. And Brandin Podziemski played his way into the top 10 with his 23-point outburst Tuesday after Golden State Warriors teammate Klay Thompson was ejected with Stephen Curry already sidelined by injury. Podziemski, second overall in the stats-only version of my draft projections, has a chance to keep contributing off the bench.
Do you have the same top 10, Bobby? And should we talk about the top picks who haven’t made the cut, particularly Scoot? Henderson is currently sidelined by bone bruising in his right ankle, which he sprained on Nov. 1 after a slow start to his rookie season as a starting point guard at age 19.
1. Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City Thunder2. Victor Wembanyama, San Antonio Spurs3. Ausar Thompson, Detroit Pistons4. Marcus Sasser, Detroit Pistons5. Dereck Lively II, Dallas Mavericks6. Cason Wallace, Oklahoma City Thunder7. Jamie Jaquez Jr., Miami Heat8. Brandon Miller, Charlotte Hornets9. Jordan Hawkins, New Orleans Pelicans10. Brandin Podziemski, Golden State Warriors
Marks: If we were ranking the rookies on potential like we do with the 25-under-25 list, Henderson likely cracks the top 10. But considering he has only played five games and struggled in those games, it is hard to put him ahead of the 10 rookies on your list. Before injuring his right ankle, Henderson had committed 4.0 turnovers per game, ranking in the top 10. He had also shot 2-for-21 on 3-pointers, ranking last among players with at least 20 attempts.
I am intrigued by the Wizards’ Bilal Coulibaly, the Magic’s Anthony Black and the Jazz’s Keyonte George. Last year with Mets 92, Coulibaly shot 37.7% on catch-and-shoot jumpers, per Synergy Sports. That number is hovering right around 45% this season with Washington. He scored a career-high 20 points at Brooklyn and is shooting 43.8% from 3. Black didn’t play in two Orlando games and played only eight minutes in the Magic’s first four games. Since Nov. 1, he has started two games (both wins), averaging 7.8 points and 3 assists while committing only four turnovers in 132 minutes. The Jazz inserted George as the starting point guard in two games and he has handed out 20 assists and turned the ball over only three times. The downside is George shot 5-for-20 from the field, including 1-for-9 from 3 in those games. He did add seven more assists and went 4-for-9 from the field in a Jazz win over the Blazers on Tuesday. Julian Strawther is another player to keep an eye on. Strawther had 21 points in a win against New Orleans but has gone scoreless since.
Despite the recent play of those four players, I am not ready to put them in my top 10.
The top 10 for me looks nearly identical except I am going to flip Lively II for Wallace:
1. Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City Thunder2. Victor Wembanyama, San Antonio Spurs3. Ausar Thompson, Detroit Pistons4. Marcus Sasser, Detroit Pistons5. Cason Wallace, Oklahoma City Thunder6. Dereck Lively II, Dallas Mavericks7. Jaime Jaquez Jr., Miami Heat8. Brandon Miller, Charlotte Hornets9. Jordan Hawkins, New Orleans Pelicans10. Brandin Podziemski, Golden State Warriors
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