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NBA: Spurs’ Victor Wembanyama named Rookie of the Year

Victor Wembanyama had a year like no rookie in NBA history.

Others scored more points, others grabbed more rebounds, others had more blocks, others made more steals. But never had there been a player who, in Year 1 of his career, posted all these averages — at least 21.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 3.6 blocks and 1.2 steals per game.

Until now.

The long-expected result became reality on Monday, when the Spurs’ star from France was announced as the unanimous winner of the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award. He’s the third San Antonio player to win it, joining David Robinson in 1990 and Tim Duncan in 1998 — both of whom, like Wembanyama, were No. 1 overall picks and instantly anointed as centres who would lead the Spurs to greatness.

“My goals were always to help my team as best as I could and get better as the year went on,” Wembanyama said from San Antonio on TNT after the award was announced on the network’s NBA playoff pregame show. “I knew in order to do this I had to be individually good on the court and dominant. So, it was a huge thing for me and a big thing to get. It’s always been really important and I’m glad it’s finally official.”

Wembanyama is the sixth player since the award debuted in the 1952-53 season to get every first-place vote. He joins Houston’s Ralph Sampson (1984), Robinson (1990), the Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin (2011), Portland’s Damian Lillard (2013) and Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns (2016).

Oklahoma City’s Chet Holmgren and Charlotte’s Brandon Miller were the other finalists for the award. Wembanyama got all 99 first-place votes from a panel of reporters and broadcasters who cover the league. Holmgren got 98 of 99 second-place votes, and Miller got the other second-place vote to finish third.

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Miami’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. was fourth, followed by Golden State’s Brandin Podziemski and Dallas’ Dereck Lively II. No other rookie got a second- or third-place vote.

There had been other near-unanimous selections in recent years: Orlando’s Paolo Banchero got 98 of 100 first-place votes last year, Memphis’ Ja Morant got 99 of 100 in 2020, Dallas’ Luka Doncic got 98 of 100 in 2019, and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons got 90 of 101 in 2018.

But voters left no doubt — Wemby was the one. And he’s already working toward getting better.

“Physically, the work is never going to be done,” Wembanyama said. “I’ve had my plan for months ready for all of my body and we’re going to keep discovering new ways to get better and work on my body. For basketball, there’s a lot I want to work on.”

Wembanyama became the first international winner of the award since Doncic in 2019 and the fifth such winner in the last 10 seasons. Andrew Wiggins (Canada) won in 2015, Towns (Dominican Republic) won in 2016, Simmons (Australia) won in 2018 and Doncic followed the next season.

Wembanyama became just the fourth player, and first rookie, to finish a season with at least 1,500 points, 250 assists and 250 blocked shots. The others: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it five times, Hakeem Olajuwon did it twice and Robinson did it twice. Nobody had done it since 1993-94, when Olajuwon and Robinson both had such a season.

Wembanyama said his family has adapted to life in the U.S. and the change from France to Texas was not overwhelming.

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“With no contest, it’s the best country in the world for an athlete,” Wembanyama said. “The culture, everything, the infrastructure, it’s made for us to thrive. I’m really in a bubble. I know I’m living a very privileged life as an NBA player and there’s a lot of people taking care of me every day. This award is also for them.”

The rookie award may be the start of a big week for Wembanyama, who will be in the top three finishers for Defensive Player of the Year as well. That award gets announced Tuesday, with Minnesota’s Rudy Gobert and Miami’s Bam Adebayo the other finalists.

The NBA will reveal the MVP — either Denver’s Nikola Jokic, Dallas’ Luka Doncic or Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — on Wednesday.

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