Victor Wembanyama. Amen Thompson. Brandon Miller. Even though he’s technically a second-year player, Chet Holmgren. These are some of the favorites to win 2023-24 NBA Rookie of the Year. But at the end of the season, it will be Portland Trail Blazers’ guard Scoot Henderson winning the race and hoisting the trophy.
Wembanyama was seemingly a heavy favorite even before the 2023 NBA Draft. The No. 1 pick is a generational talent and the most hyped prospect since LeBron James. His combination of size and skill make him perhaps the most unique player in league history.
Miller was chosen with the No. 2 pick – ahead of Scoot – by the Charlotte Hornets after a standout freshman season at Alabama. Thompson went toe-to-toe with Henderson in summer league. Holmgren was one of the favorites to win the award last year before a Lisfranc injury ended his season early.
3 reasons Scoot Henderson will be the 2023-24 NBA Rookie of the Year
So why would Portland’s point guard surpass all of them – a never-before-seen big man, a 6-foot-9 wing created in a lab to score in today’s NBA, an uber-athletic playmaker/defender, and a unicorn center who’s already spent a year in the league?
This is assuming one of the other top players from the 2023 draft class doesn’t make a significant run for the award, either.
Well, here’s why.
Reason No. 1: Wembanyama will struggle to meet expectations
This isn’t to say the 7-foot-4 Frenchman will have a poor rookie season; but given the level of hype surrounding him and the YouTube highlights everyone has seen from his time with Metropolitans 92, it will be tough for Wemby to immediately be the star everyone expects him to be.
Yes, he hit one-legged floaters from deep, which is crazy – but he also shot just 27.5 percent from three on 5.0 attempts per game last year in France.
He was able to handle the ball, cross over defenders, hit step-back jumpers and drive to the rim seemingly at will. He’ll struggle to do those same things against NBA defenders, however, especially as his handle is naturally high given his height. This will give smart defenders the chance to swipe at it and force turnovers.
He’s listed at 7-4 but only 210 pounds. Regardless of his length, he’s going to get bullied near the rim by stronger NBA centers given that exceptionally thin frame.
This is to say that, despite all the expectations, Wembanyama isn’t going to come in and light the league on fire offensively. He won’t start dropping 20 and 10 with 5 blocks every night straight out of the gate.
There’s no doubt he’ll be a force defensively, but will he be good enough on the offensive end to run away with the Rookie of the Year Award, as most expect?
Injuries and playing time could also be a factor. His body type will always make him susceptible to injury, and Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich is known for monitoring playing time for his rookies, which may become even more of a factor given how much Wembanyama means to the San Antonio franchise.
Again – this isn’t to knock Wemby’s incredibly unique game and all-NBA potential – but it’s not a given he dominates the league from day one and simply blows away the competition to win Rookie of the Year.
Reason No. 2: The rest of the competition carries significant question marks
Miller was a controversial selection at No. 2. It made some sense for the Hornets to take him over Scoot simply based on fit, as Charlotte already has LaMelo Ball as its franchise point guard. Miller easily slides in to a big wing role as a spot-up shooter, secondary playmaker and, at times, lead scorer.
But Ball, Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington are still around to take some shots away from Miller. The former Alabama star may be forced into a spot-up 3-point-shooter role to begin his career. He did make almost 3 threes a game and shot 38.4 percent from deep with the Crimson Tide, but there’s no guarantee that percentage immediately translates to the NBA.
Similarly, Thompson has shot-chuckers like Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. running the show with the Houston Rockets as more established players in the league. Those two combined to take almost 33 shots a game in 2022-23.
That’s not accounting for an interior offensive hub like Alperen Sengun, who continues to improve each season; fellow rookie Cam Whitmore, who doesn’t mind getting some shots up either; and ’22-23 Rookie of the Year candidate Jabari Walker, who showed significant improvement during summer league.
Thompson could be relegated to more of a facilitator and defender role during his rookie campaign, and those types of players don’t normally win Rookie of the Year awards.
Holmgren is another incredibly slim big man with a two-way skill set, much like Wembanyama, but the former Gonzaga Bulldog has already missed an entire season due to a foot injury – the most common and most concerning of injuries for big men, especially one with a unique body.
He can pass, dribble, shoot and swat shots at the rim with ease, but a Lisfranc injury is no joke. Chet may not be at full strength when the season begins in October.
Holmgren may also run into the same problems Thompson could have in Houston – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a legitimate superstar who flies under the radar because he plays in Oklahoma City. Jalen Williams received votes for Rookie of the Year last season. Josh Giddey is an exceptional playmaker, but needs the ball in his hands.
These players are all legitimate candidates to win the award in 2023-24, but there are some significant concerns surrounding their ability to put up the required numbers.
Reason No. 3: Scoot Henderson is just that good
Speaking of numbers – scoring, impacting the game and consistently putting your name into the ether are all requirements for winning Rookie of the Year. Henderson should have ample opportunities to do all three, and he’s more than capable of accomplishing them (and doing so with style).
Assuming Damian Lillard has moved on by the start of the season, the ball will be in Scoot’s hands – a lot – and he’s talented, skilled and already experienced enough to make the most of it.
Whether it’s driving past defenders to get to the rim where he can finish through, over or around contact; getting fouled and racking up easy points at the free-throw line; or hitting mid-range jumpers like he showed in his brief time at summer league, Henderson can get buckets and create highlights.
He’s not just a downhill scorer, though. He’s a willing facilitator who can use that ability to get to the rim and kick the ball out to open shooters, which he has in Portland in the form of Anfernee Simons, Jerami Grant and fellow rookie Kris Murray. Even Matisse Thybulle shot 38.8 percent from three on nearly 4 attempts a night after his trade-deadline move to Portland.
Scoot is going to put up numbers. It’s not unrealistic to think he will lead all rookies in scoring, and he could very well do the same in assists. Even if he’s not the most efficient, check out last season’s Rookie of the Year, Paolo Banchero, who led his rookie class in scoring despite shooting only 42.7 percent from the floor and 29.8 percent from three.
Putting up numbers and creating highlights are significant factors in winning Rookie of the Year, and Scoot should have no problem doing both.
Wembanyama is the early favorite to win the award, and for good reason. But digging deeper, Scoot has everything needed to surpass the more heralded prospect and will end the season as the 2023-24 NBA Rookie of the Year.