Number one overall pick Victor Wembanyama has been a sensation during his first preseason games, showing that he has a chance to be a two-way superstar. On offense, even while being listed as a power forward, he has played more out on the perimeter than expected.
Wembanyama has proven that he is fully capable of hitting pull-up jumpers, step-back threes, and even using pin-down screens to get open like a guard. Defensively, he has been equally jaw-dropping. His height of 7’4 and outrageous 8’0 wingspan allow him to seemingly be everywhere at once.
Here, he is only a foot inside the 3-point line but stretches out and swipes at Cason Wallace, who’s inside the paint, causing him to lose the ball.
In the same game, Jalen Williams takes him off the dribble, crosses him up, and is about to finish at the rim when Wembanyama somehow recovers and blocks his shot from behind. Wembanyama, despite having all the tools to be an immediate force on the defensive end, BET GM has him well out of Defensive Player of the Year contention.
Despite low odds, Wembanyama could make a huge impact on the defensive end for the Spurs.
To be fair, no player has ever won a Defensive Player of the Year award as a rookie, though there hasn’t been a player quite like him before. Moreover, giving him the 12th-best DPOY odds seems incredibly low based on what he’s shown thus far.
Here, Wembanyama loses track of his defender, who backdoor cuts to the opposite side of the paint, gets the ball, and attempts a floater. Wembanyama had other plans and quickly covered several feet of ground and blocks Haywood Highsmith Jr.’s shot after it barely left his hands. That play illustrates the mistake of underestimating his chances of winning Defensive Player of the Year as a rookie.
Even if he makes a mistake, his agility, length, and size allow him to easily recover. He’ll make plenty as a rookie but his instincts are terrific, as evident by his swatting three shots per game last season while playing for Mets 92 as a teenager.
There will be a learning curve transitioning to the NBA but playing for coach Greg Popovich should definitely help. From 1997–98 to the 2017–18 season, a 21-season span, San Antonio finished as a top-10 team in defensive ratings a staggering 20 times.
Not only that but they finished inside the top-five in 18 of those seasons. All that to say, whether it be with David Robinson, Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge, or Wembanyama, he has a knack for crafting an elite defense around great defensive players.
It might take time for the Spurs to get back to that level, especially after finishing 30th in defensive rating last season. Moreover, another poor finish in that category could sink his chances, while a better-than-expected finish would boost his candidacy.
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Ultimately whether Wembanyama will have a chance to win the award comes down to how many games he plays. Jaren Jackson Jr. won the award last season despite missing 19 games, providing a potential floor for him to reach. If he plays at least that much and continues to be a menace on the defensive end, he’ll almost certainly be in the mix to win Defensive Player of the Year.