NBA Rookie of the Year ladder: Big rise from Bilal Coulibaly in Week 3

The Rookie of the Year race features a battle of titans and several worthy candidates vying for a spot in the top five.
Bilal Coulibaly, Washington Wizards
Bilal Coulibaly, Washington Wizards / Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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Chet Holmgren. 1. 149. Thunder. Chet Holmgren. player. 1. . . Center

The Oklahoma City Thunder are 7-4 with the feel of a legitimate contender. That is a young team, but that alone shouldn't preclude OKC from serious praise. That core group has been together for a while and the front office continues to nail just about every marginal move. The Cason Wallace pick has already paid massive dividends. Mark Daigneault is a Coach of the Year candidate, to boot.

What has really pushed OKC to the next level, however, is the arrival of Chet Holmgren. He is already their second-best player. At 7-foot-1, Holmgren's string-bean frame belies an unquenchable competitive fire. He wants to make life hell for the opposition, which he frequently accomplishes on the defensive end. Much like Wembanyama, he's a legitimate early DPOY candidate, averaging 1.0 steals and 2.2 blocks in 30.0 minutes per game.

Holmgren has the obvious boost of a redshirt NBA season. He's more polished and precise than the average rookie. He doesn't miss rotations on defense, and the Thunder ask a lot of him. Holmgren is constantly switching to the perimeter, guarding in space, and covering large swathes of ground as the backbone of OKC's seventh-ranked defense.

The offense has been just as impressive, frankly. Holmgren doesn't have the same freedom as Wembanyama (nor is he as dynamic in isolation), but he's a hyper-efficient shooter (.527/.463/.900) who has thrived as a secondary threat in OKC's dynamic, everybody-can-dribble offense. Holmgren is an easy lob target, a potent pick-and-pop threat, and a sneaky talented passer who can make quick reads out of various actions. He is only going to get better, as will the Thunder. His counting stats don't quite match Wembanyama's at first glance — 15.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists — but the efficiency gap is wide. Team success also pads Holmgren's edge, for now.


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