Spurs’ Victor Vembanyama was unanimously voted Rookie of the Year

Victor Vembanyama came into the NBA with high expectations, and he responded with one of the best rookie campaigns the league has ever seen.

Wembaniyama was named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year on Monday, receiving all 99 first-place votes. Oklahoma City Thunder center Chet Holmgren, the No. 2 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, finished second with 98 second-place votes. Charlotte’s Brandon Miller, last season’s No. 2 pick, finished third.

Wembaniyama became the sixth unanimous Rookie of the Year in NBA history, joining Ralph Sampson (1984), David Robinson (1990), Blake Griffin (2011), Damian Lillard (2013) and Karl-Anthony Towns (2016). He joins the Spurs’ two other No. 1 picks — Robinson and Tim Duncan (1998) — as winners of the award.

“My goals are always to help my team as much as I can and get better as the year goes on,” Wembaniama said from San Antonio on TNT after the award was announced on the network’s NBA Playoff Pregame Show. So, it’s a big thing for me and a big thing to get. It’s always been so important and I’m glad it’s finally official. “

In 71 games this season, Vembanyama averaged 21.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 3.6 blocks and 1.2 steals. The last player to average 20 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks in a season was Shaquille O’Neal, who did it in an MVP season in 1999-2000.

Wembaniama became only the second rookie in NBA history to lead the league in blocks (since blocks were officially recorded as a statistic in 1973–74), joining Maud Paul, who accomplished the feat in 1985–86. Wembaniama became the first freshman to record 250 blocks in a season since Alonso Morning and O’Neal did in 1992-93. Wembaniama averaged 4.5 blocks per game after the All-Star break, the most by any player since Dikembe Mutombo in 1994.

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His 4.81 steals and blocks per game are the most “shares” of any player in a season since Ben Wallace’s first year in 2001-02, when he won Defensive Player of the Year.

Wembaniyama is one of three finalists for Defensive Player of the Year, along with Minnesota’s Rudy Gobert and Miami’s Bam Adebayo. Because of the instability of the All-Defensive team, Vembaniyama could end up being the first rookie to make the first team All-Defense later this week.

“Physically, the work is never done,” Wembaniama said. “I’ve been preparing my program for months on my whole body, and we’re going to continue to find new ways to improve and work my body. For basketball, I want to work a lot.”

As impressive as he was on the defensive end, Wembaniyama’s offense came sooner than many expected. With 128 3-pointers, he became the first player in NBA history with 250 blocks and 100 3-pointers in the same season.

He averaged 0.72 points per minute this season, the most by any rookie since Michael Jordan (minimum 1,000 minutes).

Vembanyama also recorded two triple-doubles — one with an assist and one with a block. On January 10, he had 16 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists against the Detroit Pistons. A month later on February 12, he had 27 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocks against the Toronto Raptors.

11 days later, Wembanayama recorded a 5×5 against the Los Angeles Lakers when he finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 blocks and 5 steals — becoming the youngest player in NBA history to reach 5×5.

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In an overtime performance against the New York Knicks on March 29, Vembanyama had his season highs of 40 points and 20 rebounds.

Hakeem Olajuwon and Anthony Davis are the only other players with a 40-point, 20-rebound game, 5×5 game and 10-block game since blocks became the official point.

Despite all of Wembanayama’s accomplishments, San Antonio still finished with the same record it did a season ago — 22-60 — and needed seven wins in their final 11 games to get there.

Spurs remain a young team and while no one thinks their record will improve, Wembaniyama takes a long-term view.

“At no time, I never thought I wasn’t in the best situation. I wasn’t in the best place,” Wembaniama said on the final day of the season. “Of course, I’d like us to be in the playoffs, and of course I’d like to go 60 games undefeated.

“But as hard as it was today, I know it’s for the long haul. I believe in my teammates one hundred percent and I believe in the program. So, that’s really my belief … that hasn’t wavered at any point.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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