Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: Victor Wembanyama shining by all measures

The No. 1 overall pick holds the top spot after a 9-block outing against Nikola Jokic on Tuesday.

Victor Wembanyama erupted for 9 blocks against the Nuggets on Tuesday.

The Kia Rookie Ladder has used traditional stat lines all season to track the progress of the league’s top newcomers. But sometimes advanced stats are just as revealing. And occasionally a rookie breaks out to rank high among the league’s most experienced performers.

That’s how impressive San Antonio’s Victor Wembanyama has been. Beyond the ROY award, for which he looms as a big favorite, Wemby has earned mentions in conversations about Defensive Player of the Year and All-NBA honors. He also leads the league in total blocks (235) and blocks per game (3.5).

In advanced stats, Wembanyama ranks fifth in usage (31.3%), behind only Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Anthony Edwards among players expected to qualify at the 65-game minimum for major awards. His primary ROY rival, OKC’s Chet Holmgren, is way down at No. 140.

Wembanyama also ranks 13th in the NBA in rebound percentage (17.4) and sixth in defensive rebound percentage (27.3), helping to explain his perch again atop this week’s Ladder:

Weekly Recap

• Wembanyama and Charlotte’s Brandon Miller were named Rookies of the Month for March. That makes three in a row for each after Holmgren and Jaime Jaquez Jr. started quickly to win the season’s first two months.

• Miller’s March recognition didn’t completely crowd out Hornets project Vailije Micic, who was a nominee for the monthly honor. The point guard – a 6-foot-5 Serbian who was the No. 52 pick back in 2014 by the Sixers – averaged 13.4 points and 6.4 assists in March. Now 30, Micic began his international pro career at age 16 and signed last summer with OKC before his February trade to Charlotte.

• Another late-booming rookie, micro-level compared to Micic, has been Utah’s Brice Sensabaugh of Ohio State. The No. 28 pick last June, Sensabaugh averaged 2.7 minutes and 1.3 points before the All-Star break. Since then, 21.7 minutes and 8.5 points. He shot 42.9% from the arc last week.

Storyline to Watch

Boxscores. Wembanyama has played 67 of San Antonio’s 76 games. This means that if he plays the remaining six, he needs just 40 more points and 24 more rebounds to be the first rookie since Blake Griffin in 2010-11 (22.5 ppg, 12.1 rpg) to lock in a 20-10 season. However, the 7-foot-4 Spurs star would need to average 6.0 blocked shots and play all six to tie Alonzo Mourning (271) for fifth in total blocks by a rookie. The record of 397 – at least since blocks became an official stat category in 1973-74 – was set by Manute Bol in 1985-86 with Washington.

Latest rankings

(All stats through Tuesday, April 2)

Keep track of how our rookie rankings continue to evolve throughout the season.

1. Victor Wembanyama, San Antonio Spurs

Season stats: 21.2 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 3.5 bpg
Last Ladder: 1
Draft pick: No. 1

That multi-faceted, monster game Wembanyama had against two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and Denver Tuesday had Nuggets coach Mike Malone serving up superlatives. “With his unique length and shot-blocking ability, he’s the future of the NBA,” Malone said after his team’s home victory. “We’re watching the ascension of the next great player.” Jokic finished with 42 points and 16 rebounds, but Wembanyama had 23, 15, eight assists and nine blocks.

2. Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City Thunder

Season stats: 16.7 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.4 bpg
Last Ladder: 2
Draft pick: No. 2 (2022)

His numbers haven’t been gaudy lately but putting up 22 points with 3-of-6 from the arc against the reigning MVP, Joel Embiid, Tuesday wasn’t bad. Holmgren also drew high praise – between sips of wine, of course – from LeBron James and JJ Redick. “He changes the dynamic of everything [for OKC],” James said.

3. Brandon Miller, Charlotte Hornets

Season stats: 17.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.4 apg
Last Ladder: 3
Draft pick: No. 2 overall

Boosted his averages across the board in another busy week, averaging 21 points on 17 shots in 37.2 minutes as the Hornets went 1-3. He was listed Wednesday morning as questionable (right wrist sprain) for the night’s game against the Blazers.

4. Amen Thompson, Houston Rockets

Season stats: 9.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.4 apg
Last Ladder: 4
Draft pick: No. 4

His 10 double-doubles are more than all rookies except Wembanyama (40) and Holmgren (22) and have come in Thompson’s past 25 appearances. The Rockets have gone 9-2 with Thompson in the starting lineup the past three weeks.

5. Jaime Jaquez Jr., Miami Heat

Season stats: 12.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.6 apg
Last Ladder: 5
Draft pick: No. 18

Jaquez topped all rookies in plus/minus average this week (+13.0) thanks to that 60-point blowout over Portland. He played 25 minutes and was +28. The four-year product of UCLA has challenged himself to come back next season with more tricks in his bag to cope with the increased defensive attention he has drawn. “I take it as a sign of respect,” Jaquez said.

The Next 5:

6. Brandin Podziemski, Golden State Warriors

Season stats: 9.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.7 apg
Last Ladder: 9
Draft pick: No. 19

Talked of his admiration for HOFer Manu Ginobili and it shows – he leads Warriors in plus/minus (3.7), more than Steph (2.9), more than Draymond (2.2).

7. Keyonte George, Utah Jazz

Season stats: 12.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.5 apg
Last Ladder: 7
Draft pick: No. 16

Rough night in L vs. Cavs Tuesday (2-of-11, 4 turnovers) but spirit is far from broken.

8. Dereck Lively II, Dallas Mavericks 

Season stats: 8.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.4 bpg
Last Ladder: 6
Draft pick: No. 12

Could miss rest of regular season with right knee injury suffered vs. Rockets Sunday.

9. Trayce Jackson-Davis, Golden State Warriors

Season stats: 7.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.1 apg
Last Ladder:
Draft pick: No. 57

Kuminga injury has TJD starting, thriving and living both ends of the poster life.

10. GG Jackson II, Memphis Grizzlies

Season stats: 13.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.1 apg
Last Ladder: 8
Draft pick: No. 45

Scored 10 on 3-of-9 vs. Lakers, but got flowers from LeBron.

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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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