Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: No surprise as Victor Wembanyama finishes at No. 1

Deciding who gets our Kia Rookie of the Year vote was simple after Victor Wembanyama's epic rookie campaign in 2023-24.

Relive the best plays & moments from Victor Wembanyama's standout rookie season.

If we had a drum, we’d roll it. If we had an envelope, we’d adjust our reading glasses and fumble in opening it like some octogenarian Hollywood legend announcing the big moment.

But let’s face it, there’s no forcing suspense into what serves here as one voter’s ballot reveal for the 2023-24 Kia Rookie of the Year award. The choices, in order:

  1. Victor Wembanyama, San Antonio Spurs
  2. Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City Thunder
  3. Brandon Miller, Charlotte Hornets

To conclude this season’s Kia Rookie Ladder tracking of the league’s newcomers – the Draft Class of 2023 plus 2022 injury-holdover Holmgren – let’s go back to the beginning, to first impression as delivered in the Ladder’s season debut back in early November:

“There’s no denying the obvious: Victor Wembanyama looks to be the biggest lock for Kia Rookie of the Year since at least Minnesota Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns (who got all 130 ROY first-place votes in 2015-16). Then again, it’s ridiculously early to concede an award … So don’t look to the Ladder for any fabricated tension in its rankings.”

Here are the Ladder numbers:

  • Wembanyama held the No. 1 rung in 16 of the 21 weeks the Ladder appeared. In the other five, none later than Jan. 3, he was No. 2 to Holmgren.
  • Holmgren ranked second in each of the past 12 weeks and 16 times overall. No other rookie cracked the first or second rungs.
  • Miller logged the most time at No. 3 at 12 weeks. Miami’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. was an early-season regular for five weeks, Detroit’s Ausar Thompson was even earlier for three and New Orleans’ Jordan Hawkins made it that high once.
  • Switching from weekly honors to monthly, the NBA (distinct from the Ladder) selected Holmgren and Jaquez as its Rookie of the Month winners for October/November and for December. After that, Wembanyama and Miller were the West and East winners, respectively, for the past three months.

What’s left to say about Wembanyama that hasn’t already been said? His arrival from professional basketball in France was as eagerly anticipated, with even more curiosity, as LeBron James’ trek straight from St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High in Akron.

James had been a man among boys coming in as the most touted preps-to-pros prospect ever. Wembanyama, at 7-foot-4 with skills of players a foot shorter, was more alien among Earthlings, All-Other-Worldly from the start.

Assuming his numbers don’t dip over the Spurs’ three remaining games, Wembanyama will become only the 21st rookie to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. Sixteen of the first 20 were named Rookie of the Year and two more (Clark Kellogg and Alonzo Mourning) lost out to guys who did it.

The embodiment of the Spurs’ future has topped all first-year guys in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots, both by totals and per-game averages. He heads into the final five days with 87 steals to Jaquez’s 74 and Amen Thompson’s 73 and a narrow lead of 1.242 per game to Thompson’s 1.237.

Wembanyama has 42 double-doubles so far, with only Holmgren (23) and Thompson (10) reaching double figures. He has two triple-doubles, the only rookie with any. And with two more assists and one more block at Denver April 2, he would have notched only the fifth quadruple-double in NBA annals.

Then, if we weren’t already wowed enough, he did this Sunday. And this Tuesday.

Defensively, Wembanyama’s 252 blocks are the most not just among rookies but in the NBA, period. If we expand to “stocks,” adding steals, he has 339, with Lakers center Anthony Davis a distant second (264), two of only seven players to top 200 in 2023-24.

Stalking the defensive end like a praying mantis, Wemby hasn’t played favorites, swatting shots from some of the NBA’s most potent scorers. And at Memphis Tuesday, he produced another one of those “I don’t want to take it, you take it” highlights that could cut into his block totals over time.

There has been some noise about Wembanyama for Kia Defensive Player of the Year, and he probably will get votes both for that trophy and All-Defense consideration. The biggest hurdle is that his team ranks 22nd overall in defensive efficiency (115.9), far back of DPOY favorite Rudy Gobert’s Minnesota squad (107.9). There’s a gap, too, if judging solely when Gobert (106.1) and Wembanyana (110.9) are on the court.

The biggest hole in Wembanyama’s rookie resume has been his impact on the standings. When the Spurs added David Robinson in 1989-90, they jumped from 21 to 56 victories. Eight seasons later, with new guy Tim Duncan, they went from 20 wins to 56.

This time, San Antonio with Wemby needs to go 2-1 this week to match last season’s 22-60 record. The repeat rottenness mostly isn’t his fault, but it’s almost unprecedented flatness for an all-time NBA rookie.

There’s no need for Wembanyama to conquer all worlds at once, though. The MVPs and DPOYs undoubtedly are in his future.

Speaking of “All-” recognition, here are my picks for the first and second All-Rookie teams (which are not position-specific and listed here in final Ladder order):

All-Rookie First Team

• Victor Wembanyama, San Antonio Spurs
• Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City Thunder
Brandon Miller, Charlotte Hornets
Amen Thompson, Houston Rockets
Jaime Jaquez Jr., Miami Heat

All-Rookie Second Team

• Brandin Podziemski, Golden State Warriors
• Keyonte George, Utah Jazz
Dereck Lively II, Dallas Mavericks
Ausar Thompson, Detroit Pistons
Trayce Jackson-Davis, Golden State Warriors

Honorable mentions: Cason Wallace, Cam Whitmore, GG Jackson II, Scoot Henderson, Toumani Camara.

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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 X.

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