Victor Wembanyama, the 7’4” first-overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, is entering the league with nearly unprecedented hype.
Actually seeing him on the floor only added to that, as he is averaging 21.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, two assists and two blocks in 21.1 minutes per game through two games played this preseason.
Yes, it’s only the preseason. But Wembanyama has by far the shortest odds to win NBA Rookie of the Year at +100, with the closest competitor, Scoot Henderson, +300 for the award.
So how likely is it that Wemby becomes a record-breaking rookie? It would be a huge accomplishment, especially when looking at Wilt Chamberlain’s stats from his 1959-60 rookie season.
That said, considering Wemby is 7’4” with guardlike handles, anything is possible.
Chamberlain made a career of putting up video game numbers, and that started as soon as he entered the best basketball league in the world.
Wilt won the scoring title that season, and based on recent scoring champion points averages, Wemby would need to do the same. The last player to average upwards of 35 points per game was James Harden in 2018/19, when he averaged 36.1 as a 29-year-old.
Wembanyama enters the league aged 19, so that’s a huge ask.
Yes, another Wilt record.
He averaged an even 27 rebounds per game over the 72 games he played in his rookie season.
The leading rebounder in 2022/23, Domantas Sabonis, grabbed 973 boards. In his rookie year, Wilt grabbed 1,941 and he set the still-standing league record in his second season with 2,149.
So, to be as kind to Wemby as possible, this one isn’t looking likely.
Finally, a record not set by Wilt Chamberlain.
Brandon Clarke set this record with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2019/20. But Clarke was a role player who played in 58 games that season, whereas Wembanyama will likely see a higher workload in his debut campaign.
Wembanyama never averaged a field goal percentage over 50 in any competition while he played in France, but if any coach can teach him shot selection, it’s Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich.
Manute Bol, standing at 7’7”, had his best season in terms of blocked shots in his rookie year. He averaged five per game and blocked 397 shots in 80 games played.
Wembanyama is only three inches shorter than Bol and he averaged three blocks per game in France’s Pro A league last season. But Bol averaged more blocked shots than points for most of his career, and he began his career at 23 years old – four years older than Wembanyama.
Breaking this record does not appear likely for Wemby, but it is possible if he lurks under the basket most of the time on defense. Accomplishing this feat would bode well for his +2500 odds to win Defensive Player of the Year.
Ernie DiGregorio set this record with the Buffalo Braves – now the Los Angeles Clippers – in the 1973/74 season. DiGregorio only shot 2.4 free throws per game, while Wemby is likely to head to the line much more often than that.
Wemby hit 82.8 percent of his free throws in France last season, a 12.8 percentage increase on his 2021/22 percentage of an even 70 percent.
He will break this record if he makes a similar jump in his first NBA season. He’ll have to lean on Popovich and his experienced assistant coaching staff to do so.
At +8000 to win the NBA's regular season MVP Award, Wemby has the 31st-shortest odds in the market.
He's something of a longshot, which makes sense given only two rookies have won MVP: Wilt Chamberlain in 1959/60 and Wes Unseld in 1968/69.
Chamberlain averaged 37.6 points, 27 rebounds, and 2.3 assists in 46.4 minutes per game in his rookie season. Unseld averaged 13.8 points, 18.2 rebounds, and 2.6 assists in his award-winning campaign as he led the Baltimore Bullets to first place in the Eastern Conference a season after finishing sixth with a losing record.
In addition to filling up the individual stat sheet, the Spurs would need to undergo a huge turnaround after going 22-60 last year if Wemby is to take home the Michael Jordan Trophy granted to the MVP Award winner.