Spurs’ Victor Wembanyama voted unanimous Rookie of Year

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Victor Wembanyama came into the NBA with massive expectations, and he responded with one of the best rookie campaigns the league has ever seen.

Wembanyama was named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year on Monday, garnering all 99 first-place votes. Oklahoma City Thunder center Chet Holmgren, the No. 2 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, came in second with 98 second-place votes. Last season’s No. 2 pick, Charlotte’s Brandon Miller, came in third.

Wembanyama becomes the sixth unanimous Rookie of the Year in NBA history joining Ralph Sampson (1984), David Robinson (1990), Blake Griffin (2011), Damian Lillard (2013) and Karl-Anthony Towns (2016). He also joins the Spurs’ other two No. 1 picks — Robinson and Tim Duncan (1998) — as winners of the award.

“My goals were always to help my team as best as I could and get better as the year went on,” Wembanyama said from San Antonio on TNT after the award was announced on the network’s NBA playoff pregame show. “I knew in order to do this I had to be individually good on the court and dominant. So, it was a huge thing for me and a big thing to get. It’s always been really important and I’m glad it’s finally official.”

In 71 games this season, Wembanyama averaged 21.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 3.6 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. The last player to average 20 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks in a single season was Shaquille O’Neal, who did it in his MVP season in 1999-2000.

Wembanyama became only the second rookie in NBA history to lead the league in blocks (since blocks were officially recorded as a stat in 1973-74) joining Manute Bol, who accomplished the feat in 1985-86. Wembanyama is the first rookie to record 250 blocks in a season since Alonzo Mourning and O’Neal did it in 1992-93. The 4.5 blocks per game Wembanyama averaged after the All-Star break were the most by any player after the break since Dikembe Mutombo in 1994.

His 4.81 steals and blocks per game average are the most “stocks” by any player in a single season since Ben Wallace did it in 2001-02, the first year he won Defensive Player of the Year.

Wembanyama is one of three finalists for Defensive Player of the Year along with Minnesota’s Rudy Gobert and Miami’s Bam Adebayo. Because of the positionless nature of the All-Defensive team, Wembanyama could end up being the first rookie ever to make first team All-Defense later this week.

“Physically, the work is never going to be done,” Wembanyama said. “I’ve had my plan for months ready for all of my body and we’re going to keep discovering new ways to get better and work on my body. For basketball, there’s a lot I want to work on.”

As much as he impressed on the defensive end, Wembanyama’s offense came along faster than many anticipated. With 128 3-pointers, he became the first player in NBA history with 250 blocks and 100 3-pointers in the same season.

He averaged 0.72 points per minute this season, the most in a season by any rookie since Michael Jordan (min. 1,000 minutes).

Wembanyama recorded two triple-doubles as well — one with assists and one with blocks. On Jan. 10, he had 16 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists against the Detroit Pistons. Just over a month later on Feb. 12, he had 27 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocks against the Toronto Raptors.

Just 11 days after that, Wembanyama posted a 5×5 against the Los Angeles Lakers when he finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 blocks and 5 steals — becoming the youngest player to achieve a 5×5 in NBA history.

In an overtime performance against the New York Knicks on March 29, Wembanyama had 40 points and 20 rebounds in his highest scoring game of the season.

Since blocks became an official stat, the only other players to have a 40-point, 20-rebound game, a 5×5 game and a 10-block game in their career are Hakeem Olajuwon and Anthony Davis.

Despite all of Wembanyama’s accomplishments, San Antonio still finished with the same record as they did a season ago — 22-60 — and it took seven wins in their final 11 games to get there.

The Spurs remain a young team, and while no one thought their record wouldn’t improve, Wembanyama does see the long-term vision.

“At any point, I never thought I wasn’t in the best situation. I wasn’t in the best place,” Wembanyama said on the final day of the season. “Of course, I wish we were into the playoffs and I wish I didn’t lose 60 games, of course.

“But as much as it’s hard today, I know it’s for the long-term. I trust my teammates a hundred percent and I trust the project. So, it’s really my confidence … was never shaken at any point.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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