April 24, 2024

NBA Rookie Rankings: Victor Wembanyama caps his freshman season with more statement performances

We still have a week and some changes left of the regular season, which means we’re nearing the end for the 2023 draft class. And as we look back on this rookie class and revel in the greatness of Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren, what the end of this season shows us is the real depth that the 2023 draft had. We’re seeing guys who started slow or didn’t get much playing time step up and find themselves in heavy rotation minutes for next season. Guys like Taylor Hendricks, Gradey Dick and GG Jackson are starting to make a name for themselves as their teams prioritize playing younger guys.

Now let’s move on to this week’s rankings. Please note that these rankings only reflect a rookie’s performance from week to week, and not the collective season. This is not a Rookie of the Year ranking, but rather a reflection of what the player has done over the past week. Now that that’s cleared up, here’s a look at the top five performers from the NBA’s freshman class:

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Wembanyama’s rookie season may go down as one of the best in NBA history. At a point in the season where Spurs certainly have nothing left to play for, you’d think this would be the moment he starts to sputter, probably looking ahead to playing for the French national team at the Olympics this summer. Instead, we were treated to an absurd 40-point, 20-rebound performance in a win over the Knicks this week. It was one of those performances that you want to give a standing ovation for, I mean it, that’s how otherworldly it was. It was a career highlight for Wemby, and he was also the first rookie in league history to record this statistic since Shaquille O’Neal more than 30 years ago, while also being the first player in Spurs history was who achieved a score of 40 points and 20. -rebound, five-assist game.

Four days after that, the No. 1 overall pick in last June’s draft was just one block and two assists away from recording that elusive quadruple-double. It’s the third time this season that Wembanyama has flirted with that stat line, and this time it was against the defending champion Denver Nuggets, where he posted 23 points, 15 rebounds, nine blocks and eight assists. After the game, Nuggets coach Michael Malone called Wemby the “future of the NBA,” and for good reason. At this rate I’m running out of adjectives to describe the performances Wembanyama delivers almost every night.

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Henderson is peaking at the right time, so it’s a shame there’s only a week and a half left in the regular season. After an injury-riddled rookie campaign in which he didn’t really hit his stride until January, Henderson is starting to get the scoring, playmaking and efficiency all on the same page. In a matchup against Brandon Miller – who was drafted one spot ahead of him – Henderson showed the Hornets what they could be missing, dropping 22 points on an incredibly efficient 56.3% from the floor, while also collecting 10 assists .

Things seem to be slowing down for Henderson now, and everything seemed so fluid against the Hornets. He drained 3s, used screens to get into the paint and sink floats and also made some tough layups through traffic. His facilitation was also on full display, especially his chemistry with Deandre Ayton in pick-and-rolls. Ayton’s game has really opened up in recent months, and Henderson continued to feed him off elbow jumpers all night against the Hornets.

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While it hasn’t quite been the rookie season that Henderson or the Trail Blazers probably expected, finishing the year on a high note is incredibly important and he appears to be on his way to achieving that.

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After the Hornets lost to Henderson and the Blazers this week, recent ex-coach Steve Clifford was asked about the team’s decision to draft Miller over Henderson with the No. 2 pick in last June’s draft.

This is what he had to say:

“Positional size, versatility, shooting – in college he shot the ball well – a great competitor in college, which is obviously critical for me, that’s the most important thing. And then his practices here. He had two practices here and in one of them he was really good and in the other he was completely out. We liked Scoot [Henderson] a lot too, we took Brandon with us [Miller] because we thought Brandon was awesome.”

We’ve seen countless times this season just how good Miller can be and the flashes he’s shown as an elite two-way player in this league. The great thing about his game is that he doesn’t need the ball in his hands to influence the attack. We’ve seen him be a three-point threat when LaMelo Ball has been healthy, and we’ve also seen him be a ball-dominant guard who can lead the offense and create for himself. His length and size also make him a versatile defender on the other end. At the time, choosing Miller over Henderson was seen as controversial, but so far it seems to be working out quite well for the Hornets.

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Hendricks has seen an uptick in minutes since the All-Star break, and this week he delivered back-to-back 18-point performances while shooting over 50% from the floor in both games. But it’s not just about the offense, he also impacts the defensive side of the ball. And two weeks ago he talked about his commitment to that side of the floor, saying he wants to guard the best players every night. He’s already taken on the job of guarding the likes of Luka Doncic and Anthony Edwards, so he certainly won’t shy away from the challenge. It’s unclear exactly what direction the Jazz will go after this season, but Hendricks has proven over the past two months that he should be part of the rotation going forward.

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Who would have thought that signing Thompson as a small-ball power forward would propel the Rockets on a long winning streak that was snapped earlier this week. During that winning streak, Thompson was like a Swiss army knife for Houston, someone you could use in different ways on defense and an efficient scorer on offense where you can’t just throw your weakest defender on. He’s also a ridiculous rebounder, grabbing 15 and 14 boards in back-to-back games this week. In fact, he ranks fourth among rookies in rebounds, and the three guys in front of him are all under center. Obviously, playing the fourth spot isn’t a permanent thing for Thompson or the Rockets, because once Alperen Sengun returns healthy at the end of this season or next year, it will change Thompson’s position yet again. but it does make you wonder if Houston could get away with a frontcourt of Sengun and Thompson in the future.

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