Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: Victor Wembanyama taken No. 1 in Rising Stars draft

Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren get taken in the 1st round of this week's Rising Stars draft.

Pau Gasol, Tamika Catchings and Jalen Rose make their selections for the 2024 Panini Rising Stars game.

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There’s too much modesty here at Kia Rookie Ladder headquarters to suggest that Hall of Famer Pau Gasol used our weekly rankings as his scouting report.

Let’s just note that the squad he drafted for the Panini Rising Stars event at All-Star weekend is notably Ladder-heavy.

Gasol, one of the four ex-player coaches for the mini-tournament Feb. 16, loaded up on top rung-holders, with Victor Wembanyama (No. 1 again this week), Brandon Miller (No. 3), Jaime Jaquez Jr. (No. 4) and Brandin Podziemski (No. 5) on Team Pau.

Jalen Rose took Chet Holmgren (No. 2 on the Ladder), Dereck Lively II (No. 6) and Jordan Hawkins (No. 10). WNBA Hall of Famer Tamika Catchings chose Keyonte George (No. 8) and Scoot Henderson (No. 9).

Two members of the Class of 2023 who aren’t on the Ladder, Cason Wallace and Bilal Coulibaly, also were Gasol picks, giving him six rookies on the seven-man roster. Only Cam Whitmore from this week’s Ladder (No. 7) failed to get an invitation to the Rising Stars.

With Wembanyama and Holmgren landing on different teams, fans may get a fifth clash of the two young slender bigs this season. They already have met twice and play again on Feb. 29 and April 10.

Weekly recap:

• The top two contenders for Rookie of the Year are having a block party this season. Compare Rudy Gobert’s 129 blocks and 44 steals in 2017-18, when he won the first of his three Kia Defensive Player of the Year awards, to Wembanyama’s 138 and 51 already.

• Then there’s Holmgren, who at 133 is just five swats behind his Spurs rival and in 51 appearances already has passed Kevin Garnett’s rookie total (131 in 80 games).

• Holmgren got up 6.5 3-point attempts last week and George hit 52.6% of his 6.3. But Miller launched 10.3 from beyond the arc, which over a full season would trail only Steph Curry (11.8) and Luka Doncic (10.4).

• The Thompson twins Amen of Houston and Ausar of Detroit, seemingly have swapped jerseys. Through New Year’s Eve, Ausar was putting up the better numbers (9.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.2 apg) across the board. So far in 2024, though, Amen is ahead in production (8.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.9 apg).

Storyline to watch

The Wemby tour hits the road. San Antonio begins a season-high nine-game “rodeo” trip Wednesday, putting Wembanyama for the first time in front of fans at seven of those stops. First up is Miami, against whom he shot 8-of-22 for 18 points in November, with 11 rebounds, seven assists and seven turnovers. The other cities in which he has yet to play: Orlando, Brooklyn, Toronto, Dallas, Sacramento and Salt Lake City (all possible on this trip) as well as New Orleans (April 5), and Milwaukee and Charlotte (see ya next year!).

Latest rankings

(All stats through Tuesday, Feb. 6)

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

1. Victor Wembanyama, San Antonio Spurs

Season stats: 20.4 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 3.1 bpg
Last Ladder: No. 1
Draft pick: No. 1

The Western Conference’s Rookie of the Month and his team have been off since Saturday. But that hasn’t slowed the rightful hype. Zion Williamson heaped some praise on the current one, saying, “He’s a dude that can get two or three Defensive Player of the Years and also, I don’t want to put a limit on it, but he can get Defensive Player of the Year and MVPs. We haven’t seen nothing like that.”

2. Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City Thunder

Season stats: 16.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.6 bpg
Last Ladder: No. 2
Draft pick: No. 2 (2022)

Back to his sharp-shooting, plus-impact ways with 53.8% on 6.5 3FGA this week and +7.8 in 3-1 week. Holmgren’s Mr. Inside/Mr. Outside game has produced six nights with at least three blocks and at least three made 3-pointers. That’s a rookie record and four more than Wembanyama.

3. Brandon Miller, Charlotte Hornets

Season stats: 16.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.3 apg
Last Ladder: No. 3
Draft pick: No. 2 overall

The East’s top rookie for January earned generic praise from LeBron James after outscoring the Lakers star 33-26 and finishing +3 in the Hornets’ 6-point loss Monday. “He’s here for a reason,” James said. “He’ll continue to get better. I love what I see from him at this stage of his career.” No rookie has taken (258) or made (100) more 3-pointers.

4. Jaime Jaquez Jr., Miami Heat

Season stats: 13.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.6 apg
Last Ladder: No. 4
Draft pick: No. 18

He scored 12 against the Magic on Tuesday, his first double-digit night since Jan. 14 (six games injured, five of eight points or fewer). He’s presumably healed from that groin injury and will be needed as Miami has two more home games (Feb. 7 and 11) before embarking on a six-game road trip that will begin before the All-Star break and end after it.

5. Brandin Podziemski, Golden State Warriors

Season stats: 9.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.5 apg
Last Ladder: No. 6
Draft pick: No. 19

First rookie to stack up three consecutive double-doubles with zero turnovers since at least 1967-68. The Warriors wing totaled 42 points, 29 rebounds and 22 assists in 111 minutes at Memphis, Atlanta and Brooklyn. And he also compiled an impressive highlight package, too.

The next 5:

6. Dereck Lively II, Dallas Mavericks

Season stats: 9.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.4 bpg
Last Ladder: No. 5
Draft pick: No. 12

Broken nose kept Lively on bench and off court, including during his Philadelphia homecoming.

7. Cam Whitmore, Houston Rockets

Season stats: 11.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 0.4 apg
Last Ladder: No. 7
Draft pick: No. 20

Credits veteran guard Fred VanVleet for much of his emergence.

8. Keyonte George, Utah Jazz

Season stats: 11.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.2 apg
Last Ladder: No. 9
Draft pick: No. 16

19 points, 10 boards, played the entire 4th quarter and did this in win over Bucks.

9. Scoot Henderson, Portland Trail Blazers

Season stats: 12.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.6 apg
Last Ladder: No. 10
Draft pick: No. 3

Resourceful at Denver with eight rebounds, nine assists on 3-of-16 FG night.

10. Jordan Hawkins, New Orleans Pelicans

Season stats: 10 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.3 apg
Last Ladder: No. 8
Draft pick: No. 14

Just 3.0 ppg on 30.8% this week, but +5.0 as Pelicans go 3-0.

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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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