If I told you a 30-point blowout between the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs was one of the most exciting games of the season I’d understand if you laughed in my face. I get it, what could be exciting about that sort of lopsided game, but this was less about Spurs vs. Thunder and all about Victor Wembanyama vs. Chet Holmgren. It was one of the featured matchups during NBA Rivalry Week, and while the final score won’t reflect it, we got the Wemby vs. Chet matchup that should spawn a legitimate rivalry for years to come.
Both rookies showed out and it wasn’t that they just performed well, there was a back-and-forth nature in trying to one-up each other, and even a little bit of trash-talking. The competitive nature in both of them came out a little bit, especially in the fourth quarter, but I’ll get into both of their performances below.
Now let’s move on to this week’s rankings. Keep in mind that these rankings will reflect a rookie’s performance on a week-to-week basis only, not the collective season. These aren’t Rookie of the Year standings, but rather a reflection on what the player has done over the past week. With that straightened out, here is a look at the top five performers from the NBA’s freshman class:
It felt like Wembanyama played with a little more oomph in his matchup against Holmgren Wednesday night, and whether either player will admit it, you could tell there was a bit of a competitive rivalry brewing between the two. While Wemby and his Spurs didn’t come away with the win, that didn’t take away from another standout performance from the No. 1 overall pick in what was already an impressive week from him. But let’s just focus on his game against Oklahoma City, because watching him go against Holmgren and the Thunder was the highlight of the week.
What always stands out the most to me about any Wemby performance is just how much control he has of his body. He sometimes looks like a baby deer learning how to walk for the first time when he’s on the move, but for the most part, he’s not erratic with his movements or clumsily falling to the ground like a redwood tree falling in a forest. He’s taking gigantic steps, hitting a spin move, getting up into the body of the defender and finishing with grace. Like he did on this possession where despite Holmgren’s best defensive efforts, Wemby easily found the bottom of the net.
He’s flying around screens with the grace of a gazelle to get the ball in the high post, then taking one massive step to soar momentarily for a dunk.
I feel like I’ve written this line a million times at this point, but we just haven’t seen anyone do these things. He can not only dribble the ball, a feat in itself for someone of his size, but he has a handle that can get him to where he needs to go, and when he gets downhill, well he might just drive straight through you like he did Holmgren on this play:
Wembanyama’s performance on Wednesday almost felt like an “I’m coming for that Rookie of the Year trophy” type performance. And with the way he’s been playing, and with half the season left there’s certainly still time for him to takeover that conversation.
Miller’s been on quite the tear after missing two full games and all but nine minutes of another after taking a Timberwolves are partly why Karl-Anthony Towns‘ 62-point night was a loss instead of a win, as well as his solid defense. Miller was the primary defender against Anthony Edwards and turned the All-Star guard into a facilitator instead of a scorer.during a Jan. 12 game against the Spurs. Luckily the injury wasn’t serious, and since then he’s been churning out 20+ point performances with complete ease. His 27 points against the
Miller’s one of the few rookies who is truly a two-way player, and while his defense gets overlooked because it’s the less glamorous side of the ball, he’s shown flashes of eventually becoming an All-Defensive type of player. But his scoring was something else against the Timberwolves. He shot a ridiculous 11-of-13 from the floor, including 3-of-4 from deep. He showed no fear in going against the No. 1 defense in the league, getting into the paint and making smart shot selections with Rudy Gobert looming in the paint.
You could also tell that the time he spent with the ball in his hands more while LaMelo Ball was sidelined served him well, because even with Ball back the Hornets are still giving him those opportunities, and it’s leading to good things, like this crossover he caught Edwards with and finished with a difficult shot.
While there was always the expectation that Miller could serve as a secondary ballhandler alongside Ball, he’s coming along at a rapid rate which will only mean good things for the Hornets down the line.
Holmgren got the last laugh in the Wemby vs. Chet Part 2 matchup, with the Thunder cruising to a win. But it wasn’t like Holmgren was enjoying the 30-point beatdown from the sideline. There was a stretch in the fourth quarter where it felt like two heavyweight champions going blow for blow and Holmgren showed exactly why hefrom our CBS Sports panel.
There was a possession in the fourth quarter when the Spurs were trying to get Wemby to post up Holmgren, but the OKC rookie quickly nixed those plans by not only denying the entry pass but coming away from the steal. Holmgren then proceeded to lead the break for the bucket on the other end.
Just like we say what Wemby is capable of doing is unlike anything we’ve seen, Holmgren is the same. He’s a more consistent shooter from deep than Wembanyama is right now, and he possesses all the same skills that make the Spurs rookie unique. He can score off the bounce, and can get past most defenders with his length, which again, is not normal for a seven-footer.
Holmgren’s ability to perfectly time blocks has also made him one of the best rim protectors already. Wembanyama has that rare length that allows him to block pretty much everything in his vicinity, but Holmgren knows exactly when to meet an opponent at the rim, it’s like watching a lion stalking their prey. He makes you think you got one over on him, and then at the last second, there he is snatching what looked like a great scoring opportunity away with ease. That’s what he did to Devin Vassell on this play, who likely thought he had an easy bucket, but Holmgren had other plans.
Walker is a perfect example of taking advantage of the opportunity you’re given. Of Indiana’s four games this week he only played in two, and yet he made the most of those two appearances. In the Pacers‘ loss to the Suns, Walker showed flashes of becoming a more consistent shooter, and while he could still probably use a quicker release on his jumper the foundation is there to build upon. He’s splitting time between the Pacers and the G League, but he’s proven through putting up 24.4 points on 51.2% from the field in the G League that he’s deserving of more time with the parent club in Indiana.
Thompson’s season was somewhat derailed after missing a month with an ankle sprain, but even with only 23 games under his belt, the rookie is proving his worth on a night basis, especially on the defensive end. His block on Collin Sexton in overtime against the Jazz with roughly 30 seconds left ultimately sealed the win for the Rockets, and the fact that he was even in the game in a high-pressure situation like that tells you how much Rockets head coach Ime Udoka trusts Thompson already. His playing time is a bit inconsistent, but that has more to do with the logjam of guards and wings Houston employs right now that could be solved with a trade deadline move to free up more minutes for the rookie, because his defense alone makes him deserving of more playing time.