Victor Wembanyama vs. Chet Holmgren: Does NBA's great new rivalry start tonight?

San Antonio Spurs v Oklahoma City Thunder
San Antonio Spurs v Oklahoma City Thunder

Victor Wembanyama has been all the Spurs could hope for this season: 19.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocked shots a game, with a good-for-a-rookie 54.2 true shooting percentage. More than the numbers, watch him play and you see him starting to find himself in the NBA space.

Chet Holmgren might be better so far. Playing a more clearly defined role on a deeper, better Thunder team — they have Shai Gilgeous-Alexander setting him up — Holmgren has fit in perfectly, putting up 16.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots a game on a very-good-for-anyone 69.1 true shooting percentage.

Tonight the duo that could be the NBA's best rivalry for the next decade face off for the first time in a real NBA game.

They have gone head-to-head before. There was the 2021 FIBA Under-19 World Championships in Latvia, a game where Wembanyama came out with the better numbers — 22 points and eight blocks — but he fouled out and Team USA got the two-point win. Then they met last month in an NBA preseason game where Wembanyama scored 20 — including a dunk over Holmgren and a flex, Holmgren complained later about a headbutt on the play — and Holmgren scored 21.

Tonight, we should see extended minutes with these two going against each other — it is must-watch hoop. Both of these players change the geometry of the game and make their teams hard to play against, which will be fun.

It also feels like the start of what could become one of the great NBA rivalries, something the league needs more of. Not only are both players standing out in their rookie years, but both are on teams that are building toward being great for a long time. NBA rivalries are built on postseason meetings — from Magic and Bird through Curry and LeBron — and these franchises are headed down that same path. Right now the Thunder are much farther along — again, it's about Gilgeous-Alexander, a First-Team All-NBA talent right now who will be the best player on the court tonight — but in a few years we could have the epic playoff showdowns we want to see.

For tonight, sit back and enjoy. This is what being a fan is about — being on the ground floor of something great. That is where these players are headed.