‘He’s the future of the NBA’ | Spurs’ Victor Wembanyama unanimous pick for Rookie of the Year, finishes as finalist for Defensive Player of the Year

In an otherwise tough season for the Spurs, the 7-foot-4 franchise cornerstone lived up to the hype and looks ready to lead the team back to contention.

SAN ANTONIO — Spurs phenom Victor Wembanyama ran away with the NBA Rookie of the Year award in voting results that were announced by the league Monday.

The 7-foot-4 French forward/center lived up to the hype in an otherwise tough season for the Spurs, finishing with 21.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists and an NBA-best 3.6 blocked shots per game.

Wembanyama is the third Spurs player to win the award, following in the footsteps of David Robinson in 1990 and Tim Duncan in 1998. He’s also the first to win Rookie of the Year unanimously – meaning he received all 99 first-place votes from a panel of journalists – since Karl-Anthony Towns in 2016. 

The other finalists this year were Oklahoma City’s Chet Holmgren — who helped the Thunder to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference — and Charlotte’s Brandon Miller.

“Leading rookies in most categories and leading the league in blocks, I’m pretty proud of this,” said Wembanyama, who becomes the first international winner of the award since Dallas’ Luka Doncic in 2019.

Wembanyama also was one of three finalists for NBA Defensive Player of the Year. The award, which was announced Tuesday, went to Rudy Gobert of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“He’s a multi-talented young man,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of Wembanyama at the end of the season. “And he’s going to show us things that none of us have ever seen before. … He’s getting more and more solid, more and more disciplined, getting more and more used to the contact that he gets, the attention that he gets. It’s a tough position for him to be in. But he handles it with class and with pretty good smarts.”

A spectacular season

When Wembanyama came to the U.S. last year there were reasonable questions about what his transition to the NBA would look like. Could he endure the rigors of an 82-game schedule? Would he be able to guard stronger, heavier opponents?

He’s answered every question, some of them emphatically.

Among the highlights — a 40-point, 20-rebound game against the Knicks; 10 games of at least 30 points; 40 games of at least 20 points; two triple-doubles (one with 10 assists, one with 10 blocks); and what’s known as a 5×5 game — five or more points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks in the same contest.

He did that against the Los Angeles Lakers with Feb. 23 with 27 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, five steals and five blocks. It was only the 22nd such game in NBA history and the first in more than five years. And it came exactly one day after he was one assist shy from another 5×5 outing.

“He doesn’t have a ceiling,” Lakers star LeBron James said that night. “He can do whatever he wants to do in his career.”

That’s what the Spurs are banking on.

‘We’ve got the potential to be great’

“I’ve just witnessed so much greatness. And I want to be a part of it,” Wembanyama said. “More and more, I’m seeing that I’m already able to compete with those guys. I’m not near, but I’m on the right path. I know it. And I’m going to get there one day soon.”

That day could be coming even sooner than he thinks.

“He’s the future of the NBA,” Denver coach Michael Malone said in early April. “We’re watching the ascension of the next great player in the NBA. … There’s not a lot that that young man cannot do.”

Wembanyama has spoken with reverence for San Antonio and Popovich from the beginning of this journey, starting with the night the Spurs won the draft lottery. The city has embraced “Wemby” and has seen sparks of greatness from the team. There’s genuine optimism among fans for what the coming seasons will hold.

“We’ve got the potential to be great,” Wembanyama said. “The fact that we have the chance to live this, with the fans, I can only hope it’s as incredible as it can be.”

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