We know, we know. Victor Wembanyama arrived as one of the most highly touted, hotly anticipated NBA prospects ever. Most of those with whom he shared such advance acclaim — legends and Hall of Famers such as Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Ralph Sampson, Tim Duncan, and LeBron James — lived up to the hype from the start, snagging the Rookie of the Year honor as an early milestone to Springfield, Mass.
Most, but not all of them. Bill Walton, Magic Johnson and Zion Williamson are three can’t-miss phenoms who did miss in their ROY pursuits. For whatever reason — injuries, competition — those can’t-misses did miss.
Wembanyama will not be without rookie rivals. There’s Brandon Miller with the Charlotte Hornets (the No. 2 pick in June) and Scoot Henderson in Portland (who went No. 3 to the Trail Blazers). There are another 11 lottery picks — 26 of the 27 ROY winners dating back to Duncan have come from the lottery. There’s no telling that one won’t thrive in his environment every bit as much or more than Wembanyama with the Spurs. Heck, it’s possible that coach Gregg Popovich and his staff in San Antonio will be so committed to the long-term for the young man’s career and the team’s timeline that they err on the side of caution with his playing time, his usage and his nights off.
Then there’s this: Oklahoma City big man Chet Holmgren is a rookie this season, too. Holmgren’s 2022-23 was wiped out by the Lisfranc injury to his right foot, so his status is intact to challenge Wembanyama for newcomer supremacy. It has played out similarly recently for Blake Griffin and Ben Simmons, players who essentially redshirted their first NBA seasons with injuries, then roared back to ROY success. The Thunder’s 7-footer spent all last season in and around his NBA team, a significant head start on the season, and is said to have added strength to his familiarity and extra motivation for the coming year.
So Wembanyama deserves to be considered the favorite for the Wilt Chamberlain Trophy. But just because he’s a Victor doesn’t mean he’s the winner yet.