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What we’ve seen from Victor Wembanyama this season

The Spurs landed a generational talent in Victor Wembanyama. How great has he been this season?

Victor Wembanyama took the NBA by storm in his rookie season. We review the film, numbers and impact.

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This article is part of a five-part series called “What We’ve Seen,” which examines the top candidates on the Kia Rookie Ladder and Kia MVP Ladder.

Victor Wembanyama was the most anticipated Draft prospect in 20 years, and through 61 games of NBA action, he’s absolutely lived up to the hype.

The 20-year-old from outside of Paris is a nightly highlight show, but also a rookie making a huge impact on a team that was fortunate to win the Lottery 10 months ago. Just 61 games into his career, he’s already one of the best defenders in the league and is showing flashes of being unstoppable on the other end of the floor.

Here are some notes, numbers and film on what we’ve seen from Wembanyama thus far:

All stats are through Thursday, March 21.

1. Superlatives

A few things we’ll remember from Wembanyama’s rookie season:

Most impressive game: Wembanyama’s two triple-doubles could make the cut here, but let’s focus on matchups such as the head-to-head battle with fellow Kia Rookie of the Year candidate Chet Holmgren or the classic showdown against Giannis Antetokounmpo. The latter goes down as the most impressive because the 20-year-old, in his first clash against a two-time MVP, never shied from the challenge of fighting tooth and nail down the stretch of a tight contest against one of the world’s best.

Most impressive milestone: Wembanyama is just the second player in NBA history to total 200 blocks and 100 3-pointers in a single season. Before the Frenchman reached the milestone Friday against Denver, Raef LaFrentz (2001-02) had been the only player to accomplish that feat (Wembanyama did it in 18 fewer games).

Most impressive play: We associate 360s with dunks, but in this case, Wembanyama notched a 360 block on Jan. 20 at Washington. Driving to the basket, Tyus Jones faked a pass left that temporarily distracted Wembanyama, who eventually spun with his back turned to the rim and still managed to block the shot with his right hand.

— Michael C. Wright

2. Stats that tell the story

Go beyond Wembanyama’s regular-season averages — 20.7 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.5 blocks — to understand how good he’s been this season:

  • Wembanyama is the first player to average at least 25 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks per 36 minutes in the 51 seasons for which blocks have been tracked (since 1973-74). The only other player to average 25, 12 and three blocks per 36 was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (25.7, 13.0 and 3.1) in 1976-77.
  • He has a usage rate of 30.7%, the highest rate for a rookie who’s played at least 1,000 minutes (it trails Joel Embiid’s 35.6% in 786 minutes) in the 28 seasons for which we have play-by-play data.
  • He’s shot 47-for-121 (38.8%) on pull-up 3-pointers, the second-best mark among 36 rookies with at least 100 pull-up attempts in the 11 seasons of tracking data.
  • The Spurs’ defense has allowed 9.0 fewer points per 100 possessions with Wembanyama on the floor (111.1) than it’s allowed with him off the floor (120.1). That’s the second-biggest differential on defense among full-time starters who’ve played at least 1,000 minutes, trailing only that of Kawhi Leonard (-9.8).
  • Wembanyama has 77 more blocks (213) than personal fouls (136). That’s the biggest differential for a player who’s played at least 500 minutes in the last 20 seasons.

3. Film room famous

Not surprisingly, Wembanyama’s value is greater on defense, where he can block and alter shots in all situations. But he’s also been as advertised on the other end of the floor, flashing guard skills never seen from a player so big.

His help defense: With his length, Wembanyama can quickly get from one side of the lane to block a shot on the other. And he has good help-defense awareness, stalking the opponent from a distance at which normal defenders wouldn’t be considered a threat:

Victor Wembanyama block against Dennis Schroder

His ability to stay in the play: It’s probably best to stay out of Wembanyama’s orbit, but some offensive players will test him. He can be bullied in the post, but even if he’s been pushed under the basket, Wembanyama can block a shot in front of it. It’s also not as easy for guards to get away from him, especially because he’ll block shots with either hand:

Victor Wembanyama block against Jalen Green

His ability to smother shots without fouling: The Spurs have been a bottom-10 team on both ends of the floor, but the one thing in which they rank in the top 10 is opponent free-throw rate. As noted above, Wembanyama has 77 more blocks than personal fouls, a huge differential, with only five other players this season (minimum 500 minutes played) having more blocks than fouls. Opponents will try to get into his body, but he can still smother their shots without committing foul:

Victor Wembanyama two blocks vs. Nic Claxton

His skills with the ball: A 7-foot-4 guy shooting 39% on pull-up 3s would be pretty remarkable (he’s shot worse on pull-up 2s), even if none of them were step-backs following a between-the-legs dribble. The Spurs haven’t set a ton of ball-screens (6.5 per 100 possessions) for the rookie, but it’s certainly a different look for defenses to have him handling the ball and driving at a much, much smaller defender. Wembanyama has seen his assist rate climb as the season has gone on and has shown flashes of being a capable playmaker:

Victor Wembanyama assist to Tre Jones

His movement without the ball: Wembanyama is (obviously) a vertical threat, but he needs to have some space from which to launch. He can get there by running in transition, rolling to the rim after setting a screen, or jabbing toward a screen and catching the defense off guard:

Devin Vassell lob to Victor Wembanyama

4. Closing Kia Rookie of the Year case

With 13 games remaining, the Spurs will likely finish last in the Western Conference and possibly with the worst record in franchise history. But as the on-off numbers make clear, their place in the standings is more about the other players on the roster than the 20-year-old from France, the rare rookie who’s the best player on his team.

If Wembanyama continues to put up gaudy numbers and if the Spurs continue to outscore their opponents in his minutes (which they’ve done since Jan. 1), he should be their first Rookie of the Year winner since the guy (Tim Duncan) who led them to five championships.

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X. 

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