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Wemby Watch: Assessing phenom's impact at break

Julian Catalfo / theScore

How do you judge the impact of a player whose arrival in the NBA garnered more hype than any rookie since LeBron James 20 years ago?

Through 49 games, it appears all the hype surrounding Victor Wembanyama was warranted. The 7-foot-4 prodigy is having one of the best rookie seasons in NBA history by nearly every metric - but just how good has he actually been?

Wemby's best performances

Wembanyama has produced several notable individual showings to start his career. Here's a look at seven of his best outings leading up to the All-Star break.

Nov. 2: Spurs 132-121 Suns

34 38 10 2 2 15-26 3-6 5-6

Wembanyama continued an early trend of strong finishes in the Spurs' second win over the Phoenix Suns in the span of three days. With 4:21 left, he nailed a 23-footer to tie it at 116 before scoring 10 of San Antonio's next 12 points as part of a dominant 38-point, 10-rebound showing. That made it 39 points across five fourth quarters on 15-of-19 shooting. Mon dieu. [Recap]

Dec. 8: Bulls 121-112 Spurs

31 21 20 4 4 8-20 0-4 5-6

The Frenchman's first career 20-20 outing wasn't enough to prevent the Spurs from tying their franchise-worst 16-game losing streak. Wembanyama also logged a double-double in the opening half for the first time in his career. Not bad considering he was part of a starting five that had only shared the floor for six total possessions prior to the contest. [Recap]

Dec. 13: Lakers 122-119 Spurs

32 30 13 2 6 11-21 4-5 4-7

Matched up against Anthony Davis, Wembanyama became the first rookie to record 30 points, 10 rebounds, and six blocks in an NBA game since Tim Duncan (1998). Wembanyama had another strong fourth quarter, recording 14 points in the final frame as San Antonio outscored L.A. 45-30 and nearly erased a 20-point deficit. [Recap]

Jan. 4: Bucks 125-121 Spurs

26 27 9 1 5 10-18 2-8 5-6

Wembanyama toasted his 20th birthday going toe-to-toe with Giannis Antetokounmpo. The final 1:30 was thrilling: Wembanyama denied Damian Lillard then hit a game-tying triple before Giannis threw down an and-1 slam. The Greek Freak tried it again on the next possession, only for Wembanyama to block him. Exhilarating stuff. If only the other Spurs could hit a shot. [Recap]

Jan. 10: Spurs 130-108 Pistons

21 16 12 10 0 6-16 0-4 4-5

Wembanyama resembled an elite playmaker against the Detroit Pistons, notching a first career triple-double in 21 minutes. It was the second-fewest minutes played for a triple-double in NBA history (Russell Westbrook needed just 20 to accomplish the feat in 2014). The Spurs star also became the youngest to ever record a triple-double without a turnover. [Recap]

Jan. 22: 76ers 133-123 Spurs

28 33 7 2 2 10-19 2-5 11-12

Lost in the hubbub surrounding Joel Embiid's 70-point night was a stellar display from Wembanyama, who posted a career best in free-throw attempts, signaling his effort to seek higher-percentage shots. "He's already pretty good, but once his body develops and his body also catches up, it's going to be a lot of problems for a lot of guys in this league," Embiid said, per Justin Grasso of Sports Illustrated. [Recap]

Feb. 12: Spurs 122-99 Raptors

29 27 14 5 10 10-14 2-4 5-6

As if the lowly Toronto Raptors needed another reminder they're a year late on being lottery-bound, the 2023 first overall pick recorded the first 10-block triple-double by a rookie since 1990 and the first ever in 30 or fewer minutes. The grin he flashed after denying Scottie Barnes twice on the same possession was a concise summarization of events. [Recap]

Jaw-dropping highlights

Here are a few highlights from Wembanyama's many excellent individual plays:

Self alley-oop vs. Bucks

In a clash of unicorns (as featured above), Wembanyama followed Giannis' dunk with a truly unique self-assisted effort. How do you defend this?

Behind-the-back plus slam vs. Bucks

Also from the same contest, Wembanyama eluded Lillard with a nifty move before sending 7-footer Brook Lopez on a one-way trip to retirement.

Lankiest dunk ever vs. Celtics

This is a layup for 99.999% of people on this planet. For Wembanyama, it's a finger roll dunk. This is not fair.

Shammgod vs. T-Wolves sends Gobert back to France

Wembanyama made countryman Rudy Gobert reconsider his life choices with a Shammgod and slam. Again, this isn't fair.

Making circus shots look routine vs. the Grizzlies

Here he is nailing a nonchalant double-banked one-footed 30-foot triple in Memphis. Replace the dunk contest with whatever the heck this is.

Houston, we have a problem: Victor Wembanyama

Wembanyama continued a trend of going at the league's best bigs with this poster on Rockets stud Alperen Sengun. Yikes.

Noteworthy numbers

The 7-foot-4 Frenchman has paired inspired performances with some standout stats on both ends of the court. Here's a look at some of the most notable ones:

1 - Wembanyama is the first rookie in NBA history with 150-plus blocks and 75-plus made threes in a season. He has 27 games left to play.

4 - The Spurs star has four 30-point outings this season. The rest of the rookie class has seven total.

13 - His 10 rebounds per game are tied for 13th in the NBA. Only two players above him (Clint Capela, Jusuf Nurkic) play fewer minutes per game.

16 - Wembanyama has 16 outings of at least 20 points and four blocks, which is already the most by a rookie since 1992-93 (Shaquille O'Neal).

24 - He became the first player since Duncan (1988) to record 25 points, five rebounds, five assists, and seven blocks in a game. Duncan required 46 minutes to reach the mark. Wembanyama needed just 24.

31 - The 20-year-old has recorded at least one block and one steal in 34 games this season, the highest mark in the league.

Early assessment

Wembanyama is enjoying an outstanding season, and not just by rookie standards, either. Here's a look at Wembanyama's stats through 49 games played:

 28.4 20.5 10 3.2 3.2 .468 .320 .811

Astounding returns considering the minutes restriction that head coach Gregg Popovich has imposed on him and the quality of his teammates.

Per 36 minutes of play, Wembanyama would bump those returns to 26 points, 12.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 4.0 blocks. The last player to post four or more blocks a game in a season was Dikembe Mutombo in 1995-96.

Wemby is also improving at a rapid pace following a brief acclimation period. Most notably, he's blossomed on the perimeter:

Month 3PM 3PA 3PT%
October 5 19 26.3 
November 24 75 27.3
December 14 42 33.3
January 23 71 32.4
February 14 33 43.8

Once considered the favorite to capture Rookie of the Year honors, Wembanyama now faces stiff competition from Oklahoma City Thunder big Chet Holmgren for the annual award.

Holmgren has had a bigger impact on winning, largely because the Thunder are actually a good team, whereas the Spurs trot out Jeremy Sochan at the point.

Wembanyama does benefit from often being the No. 1 option for the Spurs, who are also 0-6 when he sits. Also, among major statistical categories, Holmgren betters Wembanyama in just minutes per game (30.1), field-goal percentage (53%), and 3-point percentage (39%). That's not to take away from what's also been a historic season from Holmgren, who's the first rookie to shoot at least 50% from the field and 77% from the charity stripe while hitting 39% of his threes on more than 200 attempts.

With all due respect to Holmgren, though, it may be fairer to compare Wembanyama to other outstanding debutants from the past.

Michael Gonzales / National Basketball Association / Getty

Wembanyama is the only rookie in NBA history to average 20 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, and three blocks. O'Neal (37.9 minutes per game), Duncan (39.1 MPG), and Larry Bird (36 MPG) are among a handful of first-year standouts to come close, though they did so averaging far more minutes per game than Wembanyama's 28.4.

O'Neal won the MVP award in 1999-2000 and was one vote shy of becoming the first unanimous winner in league history.

Wembanyama's statistical returns are remarkable considering he's been a teenager for the greater part of the season and that his greatest impact on the game remains at the defensive end. This season, Wembanyama has the most blocks in a quarter (six), a half (seven), and a game (10), and he leads the league in blocks per game (3.2) and total blocks (156).

Blocks only tell part of the story of Wembanyama's impact at the defensive end, and it's a difficult task to measure the number of shots he's altered.

He recorded four denials against the Minnesota Timberwolves' towering front line in a 117-110 defeat on Nov. 10, prompting T-Wolves coach Chris Finch to assess Wembanyama's threat through the lens of his own players: "Defensively, I think our guys were a little too aware of him. … If he blocks a shot, he blocks a shot, but we can't stop being aggressive."

Were expectations so high that it's near impossible for Wembanyama to exceed them? And could he actually be better than even the loftiest expectations could've foretold?

Let's revisit this in April and see how Wembanyama's campaign stacks up with the greatest rookie seasons in NBA history.

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