We're fewer than 10 games into the season, a new in-season tournament is underway and (no surprise here) Victor Wembanyama is must-watch basketball every time the San Antonio Spurs are playing. Some of the best players in the NBA are in awe when they face the 7-foot-4 French phenom with an 8-foot wingspan and offensive skill set of a seasoned NBA guard.
Wembanyama led all players in the victory with 38 points and added 10 rebounds, two blocks, two assists and was a plus-21 in 34 minutes. Every time he takes the court, he does things players and fans have hardly seen, whether that's grabbing offensive rebounds over two people and tossing the ball up for an and-1 or getting two blocks in the same possession.
Wembanyama is the first rookie since Shaquille O'Neal (1992) to have 100 points, 40 rebounds and 10 blocks in the first five games of the season, and he doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
Chet Holmgren has also been pretty special in his NBA debut. After missing the entire 2022-23 season with a Lisfranc fracture in his right foot, Holmgren has had an incredibly strong start to the season and it's clear that both he and Wembanyama are two special players who are changing the game with their length, versatility and skills. The duo are the only two players in NBA history to average 1.5 3-point attempts and 2-plus blocks in the first six games of their careers.
Some rookies are finding their rhythm early on and outperforming their draft stock while others are still adjusting to the speed and physicality of the NBA. Here's the first look at Yahoo Sports' rookie rankings for the 2023-24 season.
1. Victor Wembanyama, San Antonio Spurs
Draft slot: No. 1
In his first six games, he is more than meeting and, sometimes exceeding, all expectations. After playing the Suns, a star-studded veteran team, in back-to-back games last week, Wembanyama has commanded respect from some of the best players in the NBA.
"I don't see anybody else in his game," Kevin Durant said Thursday. "He's going to create his own lane. He's much different than anybody who's ever played. You can try to compare, but he's going to call out his own name."
Wembanyama is currently leading all rookies in points per game (20.5) and free-throw attempts (26) and tied for total steals (eight). The Spurs, after finishing with a 22-60 record last season and positioning themselves in a favorable spot to land Wembanyama in the 2023 NBA Draft, now have a bright future. Gregg Popovich's team is off to a good start thanks to his star rookie.
Wembanyama can play any position on the court, whether that's leading the break, hitting stepback 3s or catching lobs for easy dunks. He does everything and makes it look effortless. It's clear he's a true competitor and wants the ball in his hands when the game is on the line. He's already sent one game into overtime, tying the contest 111-111 against the Rockets, with the Spurs eventually taking the game, 126-122. Wembanyama finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds, three steals and three blocks in the win.
"In the NBA, you have to make big plays," Wembanyama told reporters Thursday. "You’re not going to have many chances if you don’t try to kill your opponent right away."
Right now, it's the Wembanyama show. If he stays healthy and continues to play this way consistently, it's going to be nearly impossible for any other player to beat him out for the top rookie honor.
2. Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City Thunder
Draft slot (2022): No. 2
If there's any other player this season who is going to challenge Wembanyama for Rookie of the Year, it's Holmgren. For how good Wembanyama was during the two-game stretch against the Suns, Holmgren was equally impressive against Stephen Curry and the Warriors in a thrilling 141-139 loss on Friday. Holmgren finished with 24 points, eight rebounds and five assists. He's obviously a defensive threat with his 7-foot frame and elite shot-blocking skills, but it was what he was doing off the dribble that was most intriguing. At one point in the game, Holmgren was at the top of the key, Chris Paul was on him off the switch as he took two dribbles to collapse the defense and hit Lu Dort flaring out for a 3-pointer.
— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) November 4, 2023
It's a high-level play for a player significantly smaller than Holmgren, but to see him reading the defense and leading the half-court offense like that has to put the league on notice. Curry first got a glimpse of Holmgren in high school when he crossed over the two-time MVP at his SC Select Camp in 2019.
"The jersey swap and the history we have, he crossed me up at my own camp," Curry said after the game. "To see him back and healthy and playing, and playing well, it's fun to see."
Draft slot: No. 5
All of the chatter of whether the jump shot would translate or how the weaker Overtime Elite competition would fare for the Thompson twins in the NBA has been put to rest. Ausar, in particular, has proven to be more of a hybrid player with any lineup Pistons head coach Monty Williams puts alongside him in the backcourt.
In the first two games of the regular season, he was stepping into open shots with ease (his glaring weak spot in the pre-draft process) and put his elite footwork on display, beating players with his first step off the wing. His passing is elite and instead of forcing anything at the rim, he's making the extra pass to an open man when the help-side defense collapses.
Thompson positions himself well for rebounds on both ends and uses his 6-7 frame to his advantage. The wing is leading all rookies in rebounds (as a guard!) with 9.3 per game. He's also second in assists per game (4.6) and tied for second in total blocks (11).
Draft slot: No. 2
The Hornets' selection with the No. 2 pick had everyone guessing all the way up to draft night. Charlotte drafted for best fit over best available prospect, and in a few short games, Miller looks to be the right pick. He was told during the pre-draft process he needed to add weight and be stronger with the ball. During a preseason game against the Washington Wizards, he showed he has no problem finishing at the rim after postering Daniel Gafford (it was called an offensive foul) and looks very strong when the ball is in his hands and he doesn't shy away from finishing over stronger players.
Miller leads all rookies in minutes played, averaging 30.4 per game, and has been a valuable offensive threat for the rebuilding Hornets.
Draft slot: No. 12
Imagine being 19 years old and joining a team with Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončić, thinking you would be contributing meaningful minutes right away. Don't let Lively's stat line fool you, the 7-1 center has been a very valuable rim protector on defense but has also had his moments offensively.
In his first regular-season game against the Spurs, Lively held his own at the rim and put everyone on notice, holding Wembanyama to 15 points and forcing five fouls. For his part, Lively finished with a double-double off the bench (16 points and 10 rebounds) and was a plus-20 in the win.
"He came off the bench and he was great," Dončić said after Lively's first game. "I remember my first year and my first game, I was nervous. He didn't look nervous. He's going to get even better and he's going to be great for us."
With limited minutes off the bench, Lively has found a way to be productive when he's on the court for this Mavericks team that's trying to compete at a high level in the Western Conference.
Draft slot: No. 6
The Magic have a ton of players in the backcourt rotation, but Black has been one of their most productive guards in the way he facilitates with the ball in his hands and makes the right cuts off the wing. Orlando has last season's Rookie of the Year in Paolo Banchero, and he and Franz Wagner are the top two options offensively in the half-court set. It's clear Black studied the Magic's system and adapted to the defense.
He's not scoring a ton, but he has made a couple flashy plays and does a lot of the little things really well. In his first recorded start of the season (in a win over the Lakers), Black finished with 11 points (67% from the field), four rebounds and was a plus-32 for the game.
"Plus-32 is nuts," Banchero said after the game. "He just stepped up right away. I've seen it every day in practice since he got here."
7. Marcus Sasser, Detroit Pistons
Draft slot: No. 25
The Pistons have Cade Cunningham back and Sasser, a four-year guard out of the University of Houston, has been a great complementary backcourt piece. Even though Detroit fell short in the last two contests, Sasser combined for nine 3-pointers and averaged 20.5 points per game. He's clearly an offensive threat with the way he's shooting so confidently from deep range, but he's also making plays on the defensive end, forcing six steals in the last three games.
Detroit Pistons rookie Marcus Sasser showcased his outstanding skill-level today en route to an efficient 22 points and 4 assists. The 6'2" guard is shooting the leather off the ball while operating with distinct pace, patience, and poise. 41 PTS on 9/14 from 3PT in last 2 GM. pic.twitter.com/PWSNxR7vXw
— League Him (@League_Him) November 6, 2023
Draft slot: No. 3
It's been a relatively quiet start for Henderson as the Blazers find their way in the post-Damian Lillard era. The young core of Henderson, Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe and Deandre Ayton looks great on paper but might take some time to translate to the court. Henderson's biggest area of development entering the league was his 3-point shot and he's struggled early on, shooting 2-for-21 in the first five games. Every rookie has growing pains, and Henderson is performing well in the areas he excels. He's dynamic in the open court and is one of the best facilitators in this draft class, leading all rookies in assists with 4.6 per game.
9. Keyonte George, Utah Jazz
Draft slot: No. 16
George was known as a three-level scorer in college, but what has been most surprising early on with the Jazz is his passing and how well he's reading defenses. Even with limited minutes, he's finding multiple ways to impact the game, whether that's contesting shots off the switch on defense or running the break with ease on offense. Jazz fans have been buzzing about George since June and it's for good reason. His potential is through the roof and he's showing glimpses of it early on.
10. Bilal Coulibaly, Washington Wizards
Draft slot: No. 7
Coulibaly was the biggest riser in the NBA Draft and the Wizards targeted the French wing because of his length at 6-8 (with a 7-2 wingspan) and upside. He's already established himself as an elite defender, forcing three steals against Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks in only 12 minutes on the court. Defensively is where he'll be most effective off the bench and get early playing time, but his feel on offense is coming along, as well.