If the NBA preseason is any indication of what the regular season holds for this rookie class, this might be the most impactful first-year group of players to hit the league in recent memory.
Victor Wembanyama is the early favorite for the top rookie honor, but Chet Holmgren made his presence known when the pair went head-to-head for the first time on Oct. 9. The duo put on a show with Holmgren and the Thunder getting the win, 122-121. Wembanyama finished with 20 points, five rebounds and two steals in only 19 minutes while Holmgren posted 21 points and nine rebounds in 16 minutes. It's clear this is a budding rivalry. When asked by reporters after the game if the two had a relationship off the court, Wembanyama simply answered, "No."
Aside from the two 7-foot point-centers in this class, there's a wide range of talent at the guard position and a couple players to keep tabs on as dark horses for Rookie of the Year. Yahoo Sports breaks down the top rookies to watch this season.
Rookie of the Year favorites
Victor Wembanyama, San Antonio Spurs
Pending any injuries that keep him off the court for an extended period, Wembanyama is expected to be the top rookie this season. The No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft came in with some lofty expectations and more than delivered in four preseason games.
He seems to do something new and unbelievable every time he hits the court, leaving players on opposing team shaking their heads in disbelief. In the most recent win over the Warriors, Wembanyama blocked Klay Thompson's 3-point attempt at the top of the key and finished with a dunk at the other end. In the same half, he also hit a fadeaway 3-pointer off the dribble and converted on an impossible and-1 while falling out of bounds behind the backboard.
— Ball Don’t Lie (@Balldontlie) October 21, 2023
"He's like an NBA2K cheat code," Stephen Curry said of Wembanyama last year. "Every point guard wants to be 7-foot and he's a great talent and plays a very entertaining game."
It's not even the regular season yet and some of the best players in the league are already asking to swap jerseys with Wembanyama. Chris Paul, an 18-year vet, was seen exchanging jerseys in the tunnel after the game Friday. It's a trend that will most likely continue all season long.
Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City Thunder
Holmgren, the No. 2 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, sat out the entire 2022-23 season with a Lisfranc fracture in his right foot but looks confident coming into his first season on the court. The time off the court allowed him to study the game and ease into the Thunder's system.
Holmgren looks comfortable leading the break off missed shots, he didn't back down once while facing Wembanyama and both are prolific rim protectors whether they're in the paint or closing out on the perimeter. In four preseason games, Holmgren averaged 16.3 points, five rebounds and two blocks in 19.3 minutes on the court.
Holmgren could make a strong case for Rookie of the Year with how he impacts both sides of the ball for this young Thunder squad. It might all come down to who stays healthy and advances their game the most this season.
Scoot Henderson, Portland Trail Blazers
In any other draft year, Henderson would have been favored to go No. 1 overall. For the majority of last season, leading up to the 2023 NBA Draft, it was Wembanyama No. 1 and Henderson No. 2. After the draft lottery and teams were set, the Hornets, with the second pick, had the tough decision to draft on team need (Brandon Miller) or best prospect available (Henderson). The Hornets ultimately went with Miller, leaving Henderson to fall to the Trail Blazers at No. 3.
Henderson is the best lead guard in this draft class with the way he facilitates and reads the defense. He's excellent at the rim and has a solid midrange game, while his 3-point shot continues to be an area of development. Henderson was a little up and down during the four preseason games. In a loss to the Phoenix Suns on Oct. 12, he finished with 22 points and four assists but fouled out in 30 minutes on the court. Expect to see more consistency and incredible finishes at the rim as the season goes on and the 19-year-old guard settles into the pace and physicality of the NBA.
Most impactful guards
Amen Thompson, Houston Rockets
There was a lot of criticism surrounding Thompson and his twin brother, Ausar, during the pre-draft process because of the lack of competition playing for Overtime Elite. Questions surrounding the pace at which they played and if their struggling 3-point shots would translate right away seem to be put to rest after the twins played well in the preseason.
Amen Thompson, a 6-foot-7 guard, averaged only two turnovers over the course of five games and had his best preseason game in a win over the Miami Heat, posting 19 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals. Thompson takes pride in his on-ball defense and has done a solid job keeping some of the best guards in the NBA in front of him and not allowing them to turn the corner. His 3-point shot remains an area of development and he's not forcing anything, taking the open 3 when it's presented. With this young Rockets team, Thompson has the space to develop and grow with his teammates, playing alongside two other very athletic guards in the backcourt in Jalen Green and Cam Whitmore.
— Ball Don’t Lie (@Balldontlie) October 13, 2023
Ausar Thompson, Detroit Pistons
Thompson, the No. 5 overall pick in the draft) also is coming into a rebuild situation in Detroit. Cade Cunningham is back after missing nearly the entire season with a shin injury, and Killian Hayes and Jaden Ivey join Thompson in this up-and-coming backcourt. Thompson has one of the quickest first steps off the wing and has impeccable footwork in the lane. He's not receiving as many touches on offense as his twin brother, but he's showcasing patience and makes the right pass.
Thompson has great size and length on the perimeter and can guard multiple positions at a high level. He is one of the best rebounding guards in this rookie class, averaging 9.3 rebounds in four preseason games.
Keyonte George, Utah Jazz
George was the No. 16 pick in the draft and is a certified bucket, getting shots off from anywhere on the court. The Jazz imploded their roster two seasons ago for several future draft picks, and George looks like a budding star. His outside shot has yet to start falling consistently, but it's not from lack of trying or opportunities during games. George is averaging five 3-point shot attempts per game with his best shooting performance coming in a win over the Trail Blazers (3-for-6 from 3, 17 points).
George is the best rookie in creating separation for himself to get his shot, and he and center Walker Kessler are showing glimpses of a good two-man game in the pick-and-roll or George finding Kessler in the seal off a skip pass. There's still plenty of room for improvement, but George exudes confidence, particularly on offense, and could be the Donovan Mitchell 2.0 the Jazz have been looking for.
Anthony Black, Orlando Magic
The Magic had two lottery picks in the 2023 NBA Draft and selected Black with the No. 6 overall pick, followed by sharpshooter Jett Howard with pick No. 11. Black is a phenomenal passer and uses his size at 6-7 to his advantage to see over the defense. The Magic have a ton of guards in the rotation with Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs, but what makes Black unique is he can be inserted anywhere along the perimeter and he'll find a way to make a play.
Orlando is still playing around with different rotational options with last year's No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero the No. 1 option in most offensive sets. Black isn't the flashiest guard in this draft class, but he could end up having the longest career with the way he plays and his high basketball IQ. In the final preseason game, Howard had a star-studded night, scoring 21 points (including five 3s).
Rookie of the Year dark horses
Brandon Miller, Charlotte Hornets
Some might have criticized the Hornets for passing on Henderson, but Miller has shown signs of being a very productive pro. During the pre-draft process, Miller said he and point guard LaMelo Ball were already building chemistry, and Ball was the first phone call he got on draft night in June. During his one year at Alabama, Miller was more of a high-volume scorer and his role has changed a bit in Charlotte. He's showing more upside as a facilitator off the wing, dishing out four assists and forcing three steals on defense in his most recent game. He might have the best poster dunk of the preseason (that was called an offensive foul) but still is showing the confidence of playing above the rim at such a young age.
— Ball Don’t Lie (@Balldontlie) October 13, 2023
Bilal Coulibaly, Washington Wizards
Coulibaly was the biggest draft riser in the 2023 NBA Draft after coming alive in the LNB Pro A playoffs with the Metropolitans 92 and playing alongside Wembanyama. He is one of the youngest players in this rookie class — turning 19 years old in July — and has incredible length and upside with his 6-6 frame and 7-2 wingspan. Defensively is where he shines, shooting the gaps, grabbing long rebounds and altering shots on the perimeter. In three preseason games, he averaged 3.3 steals per game and has committed only one turnover.
Cam Whitmore, Houston Rockets
Whitmore is out to make a strong statement after falling to No. 20 in the draft with teams concerned about a few things they saw in his medical report, pertaining to his knee and foot. Whitmore, a 6-7, 232-pound guard, is following up his MVP Summer League performance with a great start to his rookie season, averaging 13.8 points and only one turnover in four preseason games. He's coming in with something to prove after being considered a top-five talent all last year and falling outside of the lottery.