Value in Wembanyama’s Rookie of the Year Odds?

The last time a player entered the NBA with expectations as high as Victor Wembanyama, it turned into LeBron James, as some experts claim that the Spurs’ newly drafted 19-year-old seven-footer is the most promising prospect that the league has ever seen – wielding the ability to shoot the longball like an elite stretch forward, while also being able to protect the rim at an unforeseen level.

Last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Paolo Banchero, went on to win the 2022-23 Rookie of the Year Award with relative ease for the Orlando Magic after opening as the favorite at +350, closely followed by Chet Holmgren at +375 and Jaden Ivey at +375 on the preseason odds list.

However, Holmgren suffered a season-ending foot injury in a Pro-Am game before the season even started, so Banchero’s odds quickly rose to +200 prior to the start of the season, and he never looked back on the way to becoming Rookie of the Year.

Banchero claimed 98-of-100 first place votes by averaging 20 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.7 assists over 72 games last season – while the second-place finalist, Jalen Williams, averaged just 14 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists across 75 contests for the Thunder.

The notion of the No. 1 overall pick winning Rookie of the Year isn’t exactly par for the course, though. Or at least, not in recent years.

Prior to Banchero winning the 2022-23 Rookie of the Year Award, the last time that a No. 1 pick received R.O.Y. honors immediately following his draft was Karl-Anthony Towns back in 2015-16.

Make note, Ben Simmons was the No.1 overall pick in 2016, but he sat out for a year before winning R.O.Y. in 2017-18, similar to Holmgren’s situation at the moment.

YearPlayerDraft Position
2022-23Paolo Banchero1
2021-22Scottie Barnes4
2020-21LaMelo Ball3
2019-20Ja Morant2
2018-19Luka Doncic3

Banchero’s win marks just the 15th time since 1990 that the Rookie of the Year Award has gone to the No. 1 overall pick – hitting at roughly a 45% clip.

So in theory, backing Wembanyama to win R.O.Y. at -160 isn’t a very smart bet. But all the experts and scouts tell us that this guy is a totally different beast, right? Maybe there’s some value in taking it now before the mainstream audience realizes that we have another generational superstar on our hands. 

Unfortunately, though, even if Wembanyama truly is the next “LeBron-caliber” superstar, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s a lock to win Rookie of the Year. There’s a wide variety of factors that go into the equation.

Let’s take a trip back to the 2003 NBA Draft, when a trio of excellent players entered the league – No. 1 overall pick LeBron James, No. 3 pick Carmelo Anthony, and No. 5 pick Dwyane Wade.

Ranking these three players on a broad scale isn’t rocket science. It goes 1.) LeBron, 2.) D-Wade, 3.) Carmelo. However, if you take a look at the 2003-04 Rookie of the Year voting, you’ll find that LeBron won the award by a surprisingly thin margin.

One could even make the case that Carmelo should’ve actually received the honors, as Carmelo averaged 21 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.8 assists on 43% shooting to earn 40 first-place votes, while LeBron averaged 21 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists on 42% shooting to earn 78 first-place votes.

In retrospect, the best player of the trio is clearly LeBron, and that was a well known fact all along. However, given a one-season sample size, it wasn’t overly clear who deserved to be named Rookie of the Year – and that’s not even accounting for the fact that a Hall of Famer in D-Wade didn’t receive a single first place vote.

The landscape of the league is much different now than it was back then. Back in 2003-04, LeBron and Carmelo both averaged 36+ minutes per game and participated in 79+ games apiece – which is very rare for a franchise player in today’s NBA, and somewhat unrealistic for an athlete with Wembanyama’s build.

The new CBA deal requires players to participate in a minimum of 65 games in order to contend for awards – and we’ve seen a much stronger emphasis on “games played” in awards voting in recent years.

When it comes to evaluating next season’s Rookie of the Year odds, it’s important to note that the Spurs probably won’t be very good, and there’s a good chance that San Antonio plays the situation as safely as humanly possible with their crown jewel throughout the year. 

Players get hurt, they go through cold spells, and sometimes, they simply aren’t quite ready for the bright lights by the time their rookie year rolls around. To be clear, I’m not predicting that such will be the case for Wembenyama – but there’s way too many factors on the table to warrant backing him at minus odds this early in the game.

The NBA Rookie of the Year Award has gone to the No. 1 overall pick just once in the last five years – and that’s certainly not because “the best player always wins.”

Click here for the full list of 2023-24 NBA Rookie of the Year Odds.