The Rod Wave: Why Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren will be the next great big man rivalry  

San Antonio Spurs center Victor Wembanyama (1) goes up to block the shot of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jalen Williams (8) in the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 9, 2023, in Oklahoma City. Photo by Sarah Phipps/AP Photo.

It may have just been a preseason game on Monday between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs, but at the same time, it felt like more. 

That’s because of the blockbuster big man matchup between Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren. Standing at 7 feet 4 inches, Wembanyama is being touted as the most hyped up prospect since Lebron James after the Spurs selected him first overall in the 2023 NBA Draft. It’s quite the compliment when you’re being compared to such illustrious company, but with everything that NBA fans have seen from the young Spurs prospect up to this point, it’s certainly deserving. It’s just a matter of whether Wembanyama will actually live up to that hype in the next few seasons as an NBA player. 

It also depends on how he matches up against top NBA big man talent, and one of those talents happens to be Holmgren, a young big man out of Gonzaga. While the Thunder forward-center hasn’t received the amount of hype that someone like Wembanyama has, he is still extremely talented and was expected to be a major piece last season for Oklahoma City. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out for Holmgren, as he missed the entire 2022-23 season due to a Lisfranc injury in his foot. However, this season is an opportunity for him to quiet his doubters and make noise on an up-and-coming roster. 

With that being said, it was a match made in heaven when both Wembanyama and Holmgren were able to duel in some early NBA preseason action. Both players had excellent performances, with Wembanyama pouring in 20 points and 5 rebounds while Holmgren countered with 21 points, 9 rebounds and the 122-121 win. While it is important to note that this is just the preseason, it’s something to think about when it comes to a potential future rivalry between these two young players. 

The two have yet to play a single regular season NBA game, but fans have certainly been able to see a good share of action between them. While Holmgren did miss all of last season, fans were able to watch him play in two summer league seasons and put on a show in each of them. If he manages to stay healthy and continue adding muscle to a frame that’s susceptible to injury, he’ll continue to be a talented foe that can go up against a player of Wembanyama’s status. 

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Chet Holmgren (7) reacts after a 3-point basket in the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 9, 2023, in Oklahoma City. Photo by Sarah Phipps/AP Photo.

One thing to keep in mind as well when it comes to Holmgren is his team’s entire roster. While the Thunder didn’t make much noise last season, they clearly have the pieces to be a contender in the future with players like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey. The amount of draft picks that Oklahoma City has over the next few seasons will also allow them to either acquire more talent in an effort to contend or sign even more young talent to contend in the future. 

But in terms of Holmgren himself, even going back to Monday’s preseason matchup, he showed an incredible collection of his skillset, whether that was his ability to get to the rim or his shot from the 3-point line, an attribute that’s become highly valuable amongst taller big men in the NBA. 

Wembanyama also had an impressive showing beyond just his Monday statline. While he showed many of the same qualities that Holmgren did, he also showed impressive court vision  and his ability to utilize his size for easy blocks. While his passing will need to improve to be increasingly utilized in the Spurs system, it’s certainly not a weakness at the same time. 

While the full potential of both players have yet to be realized, there’s more than enough reason as to why this could be the next great NBA big man rivalry. Could it be like Hakeem Olajuwon vs. Patrick Ewing or Dennis Rodman vs. Karl Malone? It’s too soon to tell, but one thing is for certain: basketball fans are definitely in for a treat for future matchups between these two. 

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