Chet Holmgren and Victor Wembanyama matched up for the first team in their NBA careers on Tuesday.
Anyone who came only for highlights got sent home scratching. But the showdown Tuesday between the league’s newest, potentially dominant big men — played out against a backdrop of In-Season Tournament meaningfulness — did not disappoint.
Blowout that it was, San Antonio’s Victor Wembanyama and Oklahoma City’s Chet Holmgren still held our interest when they were on the floor in OKC as surely as they hold the 1-2 spots on this week’s Kia Rookie Ladder.
The 1-2 battle at the top of the ladder is tightening. But most of the movement up or down came on lower runs as the 2023-24 season’s first full month plays out, with rookies’ roles still being defined.
- The two young centers didn’t guard each other. But Holmgren’s team smoked the Spurs, 123-87, and he was +30 in his 29:39. Wembanyama played 28:21, during which San Antonio got outscored by 31 points (compared to minus-7 in the 19:39 he sat).
- The players selected third and fourth in the Class of 2023 are out with ankle injuries. Portland Trail Blazers guard Scoot Henderson has not played since Nov. 1, missing five games and slipping off the Ladder. Houston swingman Amen Thompson has missed the Rockets’ five-game winning streak.
- Miami Heat wing Jaime Jaquez Jr., Utah Jazz guard Keyonte George, and Washington Wizards forward Bilal Coulibaly grabbed runs with strong weeks.
Storyline to watch
It isn’t too early to start scanning for the steal of the 2023 Draft. For now, that honor goes to Detroit Pistons guard Marcus Sasser, who has the fifth most points (112) and third most assists (35) among rookies despite being picked at No. 25 overall.
Keep an eye on Portland’s Toumani Camara, though, because the 23-year-old from Brussels is getting rotation minutes and ranks fourth in rebounds and 11th in scoring out of the No. 52 hole.
The Top 5 this week on the 2023-24 Kia Rookie Ladder:
(All stats through Tuesday, Nov. 14)
1. Victor Wembanyama, San Antonio Spurs
Season stats: 18.6 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.4 bpg
Last Ladder: 1
Draft pick: No. 1
Wembanyama’s 14 rebounds Tuesday in the nationally televised game at Paycom Center was the only eye-popping stat for him or Holmgren. Otherwise, he scored eight points on 4-of-15 shooting with a couple of assists and blocks. He’s down to 43.2% shooting overall and 28.3% on 3-pointers.
2. Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City Thunder
Season stats: 15.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.2 bpg
Last Ladder: 2
Draft pick: No. 2 (2022)
The Spurs had an 0-4 week, dropping Wembanyama’s team to 3-8. Holmgren, with a more advanced cast around him, has helped OKC to a 7-4 mark, including 3-1 this week. Team success isn’t historically a huge factor in Rookie of the Year balloting. But at some point, winning and each candidate’s plus/minus numbers will play some role (Holmgren is +55 so far to Wemby’s -60). He is also shooting 52.7% overall and 46.3% on 3-pointers.
3. Ausar Thompson, Detroit Pistons
Season stats: 12.0 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 3.7 apg
Last Ladder: 3
Draft pick: No. 5
Filling up stat sheets officially boosted the athletic Detroit wing to double-double status for the season (though he has done it just twice in his appearances). His 21 points vs. the Hawks Tuesday were his personal high so far. And while Thompson hasn’t fouled out, he is tied for the NBA lead in fouls (40) with teammate Cade Cunningham and Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball.
4. Jordan Hawkins, New Orleans Pelicans
Season stats: 12.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.7 apg
Last Ladder: 6
Draft pick: No. 14
Hawkins scored 25 vs. Dallas on Tuesday. Though he’s shooting 37.7% overall, he’s at 36.6% from the arc and his 32 threes top all rookies by at least 13. “I do not care about missing a shot,” he said. “I know the next one is coming in.”
5. Derek Lively II, Dallas Mavericks
Season stats: 8.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.1 apg
Last Ladder: 5
Draft pick: No. 12
One test of a player’s value is how his team fares without him. Well, Lively was sick and missed the Toronto game, and the Raptors promptly outscored Dallas by 32 in the paint with a 12-rebound advantage.
The Next 5:
6. Brandon Miller, Charlotte Hornets
Season stats: 12.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.6 apg
Last Ladder: 4
Draft pick: No. 2 overall
Sprained ankle in first 10 minutes vs. Knicks, missed Miami game on Tuesday.
7. Jaime Jaquez Jr., Miami Heat
Season stats: 9.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.1 apg
Last Ladder: —
Draft pick: No. 18
Four straight games with 10+ points (averaging 31.2 mpg and 53.3% FG during that span).
8. Keyonte George, Utah Jazz
Season stats: 8.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 4.8 apg
Last Ladder: —
Draft pick: No.16
Averaging 9.0 assists as starting point guard, with 2-1 record.
9. Bilal Coulibaly, Washington Wizards
Season stats: 8.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.8 apg
Last Ladder: —
Draft pick: No. 7
A +5.5 week, including 20 points vs. Nets.
10. Marcus Sasser, Detroit Pistons
Season stats: 9.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.9 apg
Last Ladder: 8
Draft pick: No. 25
Scored 26 points in less than 29 minutes at Milwaukee.
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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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