There was a lot of anticipation surrounding the first meeting between Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren earlier this week, but for all the excitement, it was a good reminder of how young both of these guys are. Wembanyama and Holmgren combined for just 17 points on 7-of-25 shooting, so not exactly the stunning performances most people were hoping to see.
If nothing else, it showed that these guys still have so much developing to do. It wasn’t that either played particularly bad. Wembanyama was getting tons of defensive pressure all night, and Holmgren missed a lot of great looks, but patience should be exercised with both young phenoms. Just because neither had a stellar night it doesn’t mean there weren’t some positives takeaways.
But, of course, Wemby and Holmgren aren’t the only two rookies in the league. Miami’s Jaime Jaquez Jr., Detroit’s Ausar Thompson and New Orleans’ Jordan Hawkins also had outings worth discussing.
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:
While Wembanyama’s week ended with his lowest point total on the season — an eight-point outing in a loss to the Thunder — that wasn’t indicative of how the rest of his performances went. And even in that game, there were still positives. We’re seeing Wembanyama’s teammates build better chemistry with him and doing a better job of getting him the ball in the right places and at the right moments.
The young French phenom is great at running the floor, and on this possession, he establishes position in a mismatch against Josh Giddey and his teammate, Julian Champagnie, did a good job of seeing him early for this easy score:
Against the Heat, this off-ball screen set by Zach Collins freed up Wembanyama perfectly, which led to Keldon Johnson finding him wide open under the basket for this dunk:
The Spurs could run that play a million times in a game and it’s probably going to continue to be nearly unstoppable, not just because of Wembanyama’s height, but because of his skill around the basket.
Let’s just start things off with this absurd dunk from Thompson:
That’s going to make all the highlight reels, and, rightfully so, because it was ridiculous. But Thompson’s defense deserves even more praise. Against the Hawks, he just put on a defensive masterclass, showing off his great footwork while defending on the ball, and once again showed off his knack for disrupting shots.
Just look at how he stays with Jalen Johnson as he tries to drive to the rim, but Thompson isn’t giving him an inch of space to operate. He gets rewarded with this block:
He then does it again a little while later. Same play as Johnson tries to take Thompson one-on-one, and the Pistons rookie gets the jumpball call by blocking the shot with his off hand:
If this is how he looks as a rookie on defense, then the ceiling for him is limitless at this point.
The Heat are on a six-game winning streak, and Jaquez has played a pivotal role in that. In Miami’s most recent win, a 111-105 victory over the Hornets, the rookie was called upon early after Kyle Lowry picked up three fouls in the first quarter.
Jaquez did the little things in the first half to put his team in the right position, but where he really stepped up was in the fourth quarter. Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra trusted the rookie for all 12 minutes of the fourth, where he scored nine of his 17 points, leading Miami in scoring in the final frame of action.
He was making hustle plays, running the floor and taking advantage of Charlotte underestimating him on offense. It’s exactly what happened on this play when LaMelo Ball left Jaquez wide open in the corner:
After the game, Spoelstra had high praise for his rookie forward for stepping up to the challenge.
“All of those things I mentioned — that you need to win on the road and that you would like to develop out of your team; those are his strengths,”. “The grit, the perseverance, the mental and emotional stability. He’s learning things, but he typically doesn’t make the same mistake twice, so these experiences in the fourth quarter are exponential. … He’s earned the trust of the staff, but, more importantly, he’s earned the trust of his teammates.”
Jaquez is playing himself into a bigger role with the Heat, and it sounds like he’s embodying everything about “Heat Culture,” which will surely make him a favorite amongst his teammates and fans.
You may not know this, but Hawkins is the third-leading scorer amongst rookies behind Wembanyama and Holmgren. That may be surprising since he hasn’t received nearly the same amount of attention as other rookies in his class, but he’s consistently had huge performances for New Orleans. With the Pelicans being without CJ McCollum over the last week, Hawkins has seen an increase in his role, and rightfully so with the way he’s been shooting the ball.
His standout performance of the week came in the Pelicans’ absolute beatdown of the Mavericks, in which Hawkins put up 25 points off the bench. He was draining 3s, putting the ball on the floor, creating opportunities for himself, and, overall, just being a spark plug off the bench for the Pelicans. He’s started in seven games, but once New Orleans is fully back healthy, he’ll likely have a more permanent role in the second unit. That’s good news for the Pelicans, because once Jose Alvarado is back healthy, a second unit featuring him and Hawkins in the backcourt would be something to watch.
Holmgren had an interesting thing to say about his role on the Thunder and how he views being a scorer as more quality over quantity.
“I’ve always been someone who tries to win basketball games,” Holmgren said. “Making it all about myself isn’t going to help this team do that. Getting 30 points on 35 shots doesn’t make you a great scorer, you know what I’m saying? I try to make my looks count. The more efficient you are, the better chance you have to win a basketball game.”
Given how Holmgren started the season with 52/46/90/ splits, it’s not surprising to hear him preach the importance of efficiency. And while the Thunder rookie has been efficient for most of this season, he had a bit of a down week in that regard (40.6% FG, 28.6% 3P), which came to a head against Wembanyama and the Spurs. Holmgren went 3 for 10 from the field and 1 of 5 from deep, but he still positively impacted the game in other ways by contributing seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block to go with his nine points.
It wasn’t Holmgren’s best performance, in fact, just like Wemby it was also his lowest point total on the season. But Holmgren’s quote gives great insight into how he views his role, and, on shooting nights like the one he had against San Antonio, it’s a great reminder that even if his shot isn’t falling, he can still make a difference in other ways to help his team win. Though the scoring may not leave a positive impression of Holmgren’s performance in that game, something that does is the fact that he finished with the highest boxscore plus-minus in the game with a plus-30.