NBA: Victor Wembanyama named “rookie of the year”, a first for a Frenchman

Victor Wembanyama was unsurprisingly named “rookie of the year”, the NBA announced on Monday, validating the first convincing season of the basketball prodigy, the first Frenchman to be offered this award. The 20-year-old Frenchman, drafted in No. 1 by the San Antonio Spurs in June 2023, thus wins a first trophy, which calls for others, as confirmed by a first NBA season that lived up to the immense expectations that he arouses. “I knew that to get there I had to be good individually and dominant on the field,” Wembanyama told TNT.

“I’m happy it’s finally official.”

The rookie of the year title “has always been very important and I’m happy that it’s finally official.” If the collective results were not there, with 14th place (out of 15 in the West) for Spurs, the first NBA season of the French giant (2.24 m) was successful on an individual level.

After some doubts at the start of the year, “Wemby” had extinguished the suspense for the outcome of this award reserved for beginners, for which he beat Oklahoma City pivot Chet Holmgren. Holmgren (22 years old), an American with characteristics similar to the Frenchman (very tall, 2.16 m, mobile and dexterous), is announced as Wembanyama’s great rival in the years to come, after the two players have already faced each other during international youth competitions.

The third player to have generated the most video views on social networks, according to the NBA

To succeed Orlando Magic player Paolo Banchero, a panel of one hundred media personalities following the NBA voted for “Wemby”, who becomes the first Frenchman to receive the award, the third European after the Spaniard Pau Gasol (2002) and Slovenian Luka Doncic (2019). Although not very victorious with the Spurs (22 wins, 60 losses), Wembanyama lit up the league with his talent, immediately becoming one of the fans’ favorites: he was the third player to have generated the most video “views” on social networks (1.3 billion) according to the NBA, behind superstars LeBron James (1.9) and Stephen Curry (1.7).

And he continued to improve throughout the season. “I made a big effort on playmaking, shot selection and also, after the playing time restrictions I had, I had to come back in good shape to play more than 30-35 minutes . Cardio, I think, I have made big progress on that,” analyzed the French prodigy. “I have never improved so much in so few months, so I am very happy.”

A new trophy on Tuesday?

This “rookie of the year” trophy validates the season of Wembanyama, placed at the heart of the Spurs reconstruction project, with rare statistics for a beginner. In 71 of his franchise’s 82 games — he was rested for a few ankle injuries — the Frenchman averaged 21.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 3.6 blocks, placing him first for the entire NBA in this latter statistical area.

Visible and spectacular elements of his defensive work, Wembanyama’s counterattacks could offer him a new trophy on Tuesday, he who is one of the three finalists for the “defender of the year” award, along with his compatriot Rudy Gobert and the Miami center Bam Adebayo. The outcome is much more uncertain this time, facing two experienced All-Star players.

Gobert, the centerpiece in Minnesota of the best NBA defense, more than ever in the title race, has already won the award three times (2018, 2019 and 2021). Adebayo (26), eliminated with the Miami Heat in the first round of the play-offs by Boston, was selected by the United States in a “dream team” for the Paris Olympic Games.

The Olympic Games, Wembanyama’s next horizon

Paris and the Olympic rings are the next horizon for Wembanyama, currently resting while the strongest teams in the league battle in the play-offs. There is no doubt that the giant will be called up on May 16 by coach Vincent Collet, who is counting on his former player at the Metropolitans 92 to shine at the Games, from his first senior international competition.

“Looking forward to seeing you at the Games!”, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal wrote on X (ex-Twitter), in a congratulatory message. Victor Wembanyama’s career “is a source of pride for France and for all basketball lovers”, he said.

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