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Rookie of the Year rankings: Who can push Victor Wembanyama or Chet Holmgren for the No. 1 spot?


The NBA has returned from its All-Star break slumber, which means we’ve entered the home stretch of the regular season. Teams are getting serious about jockeying for playoff spots, others are getting serious about their draft positions and the races for all the major awards are becoming more crystalized. And while the Rookie of the Year race typically isn’t as exciting as Most Valuable Player or Defensive Player of the Year, this year’s race has turned out to be one of the more memorable ones. For a big portion of the season, it wasn’t as obvious as to who would win the award, but with roughly 30 games left on the schedule, the rankings are becoming more clear. 

This year’s class has shown us that the 2023 NBA Draft had a wealth of young talent. Many of the players listed here and featured in my weekly rookie rankings have the potential to be All-Stars, win MVP, and become important role players with lengthy careers. All of these players have bright futures ahead of them, but only one can go home with the Rookie of the Year hardware. With that in mind, here’s the Rookie of the Year rankings as the NBA kicks back into gear for the last month and a half of the regular season.

When you get elevated to the starting lineup in place of future Hall of Famer Klay Thompson to share the backcourt with another future Hall of Famer in Stephen Curry, you know you’re doing something right. Podziemski isn’t putting up the numbers some of his fellow draft classmates are, but he’s impacting winning for a Warriors team that has sorely needed someone else to step up so it doesn’t just all fall on Curry’s shoulders. 

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Podziemski fits his role perfectly, acting as a 3-point threat when needed, rebounding the ball at a high rate for someone of his size, and displaying a high IQ and great energy that matches the Warriors’ system. Putting him in the starting lineup over Thompson, who has struggled this season, will only give Podziemski more opportunity to flourish, especially when he’s playing off of the greatest shooter in NBA history.

Jaquez has acted like the perfect Swiss army knife for a Heat team that has dealt with significant injuries to Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro. You need him to just run around the floor to open space and drain catch-and-shoot jumpers? He’s got you covered. Want him to run the floor in transition for a flashy finish at the rim or kick it out to someone on the perimeter, he can do that, too. You need him to start; oh, yep, check that box as well. 

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Jaquez brings energy, speed and athleticism, but more than that, he’s helped keep the Heat afloat while they’ve dealt with depth issues. He fits perfectly into the “Heat Culture” mantra, putting in 100% effort on both ends of the floor, and while he may not be a lockdown defender, the hustle he displays on that end sometimes leads to a steal, breaking up a pass or just frustrating the opponent.

Miller’s been somewhat overshadowed because of the Wemby vs. Chet conversations that have been happening all season. But if you’ve actually sat down to watch a Hornets game, you’d notice that he has the potential to be one of the best two-way wings in the league at some point in his career. The versatility Miller displays on defense is impressive, he can guard 1-4, and has shown flashes of being a legitimate stopper on that end of the floor. His wingspan that stretches out past seven feet allows him to be disruptive as an on-ball defender, forcing guards to be a bit more focused when he’s guarding them.

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On offense, Miller has been given a bigger opportunity than initially expected due to the number of injuries the Hornets have gone through, primarily to LaMelo Ball. The whole idea of drafting Miller was to pair him with Ball as a complementary piece who can play on or off the ball, allowing their star point guard to be as creative as his mind will allow while giving him another capable ballhandler in the lineup who can just as easily spot up for jumpers as he can score off the dribble. At the start of the season, Miller was doing all those things rather well, too. But Ball getting injured forced the Hornets to put the ball in Miller’s hand significantly more, and the results have been successful.

There’s a smoothness to Miller’s game, and allowing him to have the ball in his hands more has only highlighted that aspect. Charlotte has been running most of its pick-and-rolls through the No. 2 overall pick, and while there’s definitely room for improvement, he’s shown he can be a threat coming around a screen to either pull up for a jumper, either from distance or mid-range. 

There’s been a handful of times this season where he’s just completely taken over on offense, getting whatever he wants, especially from 3-point territory. In a pair of games against the Knicks, Miller got going early and often, draining jumper after jumper en route to two 29-point performances where he shot a combined 62.3% from the field and 60.7% from deep. It’s a sign that he’s going to be a real threat shooting the ball, whether it’s coming off a pick-and-roll or in catch-and-shoot situations off a pass from Ball.

Holmgren’s role is unlike what many rookies experience because he’s not the center of attention on offense and learning by getting countless touches and shot attempts a night. He’s also not an end-of-the-bench rookie who can’t find the court because he got drafted to a championship-caliber team. Instead, Holmgren finds himself as the third-leading scorer on an OKC team that currently sits in the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference. In many ways, what Holmgren is doing is more difficult than having free reign on a rebuilding team because he has to play within a system, know when to take his shots, and recognize what the right play is. Asking that much of any rookie is a tall task, even if Holmgren was around the team last season despite being sidelined all year with an injury. 

But despite all of that added responsibility and pressure, Holmgren has proven to be the perfect complementary piece on both ends of the floor for the Thunder. He’s already one of the best shot blockers in the league, and while he doesn’t strike quite the same amount of fear into opponents when they get into the paint as another rookie in this class, Holmgren’s no slouch. 

Those are blocks on seven-footers Ivica Zubac and Jaob Poeltl, and then Holmgren just casually breaking up a typically successful lob attempt from Luka Doncic to Daniel Gafford. But it’s not surprising when you start to look at the numbers. He has seven games this season where he’s recorded 5+ blocks, ahead of guys like Rudy Gobert and Jaren Jackson Jr. His defended field goal percentage of 45.6% ranks eighth amongst centers, an impressive mark for a rookie. 

Holmgren’s offense has been just as essential to OKC’s success this season, and while he isn’t asked to do nearly as much as other top draft picks on offense, his efficiency on fewer shot attempts is astounding. There hasn’t been a month this season where Holmgren hasn’t shot below 50% from the field. And he’s just as efficient from long range, too, an important skill that allows the Thunder to spread the floor and gives Shai Gilgeous-Alexander an unlimited amount of space to operate.

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But the fluidity of Holmgren’s shooting and scoring are what make him such a rare talent. This is a 7-footer who can grab a rebound, get a block, or steal on one end and immediately run the break himself for a bucket on the other end.

He can also put the ball on the deck and create for himself, giving the Thunder another shot creator, and a unique one at that, because there’s really no easy way to stop a guy with Holmgren’s length from getting to his spots when he can handle the ball like a guard and operate with finesse to nail a turnaround jumper on you.

Holmgren’s cooled off a bit from some truly ridiculous shooting numbers he was putting up earlier in the season, but his averages are still eye-popping, not just for a rookie but for anyone in the league. He may not be in the driver’s seat to win Rookie of the Year, but that’s only because the next guy on this list has come on incredibly strong over the past couple of months to supplant him.

There isn’t a rookie right now that impacts their team on both ends of the floor as much as Wemby does. He’s teetering on the level of becoming the best player in the league some day, and he still has roughly 30 games to go in his rookie season. We’re already seeing players avoid attacking the rim with him looming in the paint, and when they do, the results aren’t pretty. Just look at how easily he dealt with Domantas Sabonis’ shot despite all the best efforts from the All-Star forward.

There’s endless video reels of him just swatting the top players in the league, it’s almost comical at this point. He was already going to have a natural knack for blocking shots given his size, but his ability to recover when he gets beat, the timing of his blocks, and the amount of space he can cover make him a shot-blocking threat even when he’s beyond the 3-point line. The agility he possesses is a key piece in this, too, because there are not many big men who can move around quite as well as Wembanyama does on the defensive end. You’re rarely going to catch him on his heels or stuck because not only can he cover an ocean’s amount of space, but he has great instincts not to get burned frequently.

Then there’s the offense, which has only improved after the Spurs finally let go of the failed experiment of having Jeremy Sochan act as the floor general despite lacking guard abilities. Since Gregg Popovich made the long overdue decision to slide Wembanyama to center and place Sochan at his more natural position of power forward, the rookie has been operating at a level, unlike anything we’ve seen.

This play alone is going to be a nightmare for opponents to guard for years to come:

When the Spurs get out in transition and Wemby’s running the floor, there’s no stopping him from getting right underneath the basket and getting an easy bucket. It happens almost every game, and there’s literally no way to combat it. 

The things Wemby’s doing are legitimately nothing like we’ve ever seen in the league before. There hasn’t been a seven-foot guy who has the defensive acumen he possesses while also being dangerous from practically everywhere on offense. He’s not just a lob threat or a dump it inside and let him work, big man. He has guard-like handles and a finesse that leans more poetry in motion than a baby deer learning how to walk. He has a unique explosiveness that makes him terrifying when he’s coming downhill in transition, and he’s also got impressive court vision to help put his teammates in a position to score.

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San Antonio may not be all that entertaining to watch as a team right now, but as soon as the Spurs put the right pieces around Wembanyama, we’re going to start to see his full arsenal. He was already five assists shy of becoming the first player since David Robinson in 1994 to record the elusive quadruple-double, and it probably would’ve happened, too, had the Spurs not built up a 31-point lead against the Raptors. He was also just one assist away from recording a 5-by-5, after putting up 19 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks, five steals and four assists against the Kings. Wembanyama is rewriting history books and accomplishing rare feats that only happen every couple of decades or so, and with around 30 games left in the season, he’s leading the way for Rookie of the Year.





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