Can Victor Wembanyama join list of all-time MSG debuts?

ByAnthony Gharib ESPN logo
Thursday, November 9, 2023

Through two weeks, San Antonio Spurs center Victor Wembanyama has lived up to the hype.

Wembanyama is averaging 19.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game (which ranks second in the NBA behindAnthony Davis' 3.3).

The No. 1 pick led the Spurs to a win against the Phoenix Suns last week with a career-high 38 points, plus 10 rebounds. He became the third player in the past 40 seasons to record at least 35 points and 10 rebounds within his first five career games, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Wembanyama is also the third player to record at least 120 points and 15 blocks in his first six career games.

The 7-foot-4 center can add another chapter to his strong rookie season on Wednesday when he makes his debut at Madison Square Garden in New York against the Knicks (ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET).

In preparation for Wembanyama's first game at MSG, here are some notable performances by a visiting rookie at the Garden, which opened in 1968.

Elvin Hayes (1968)

The second-highest scoring output by a visiting rookie at MSG came in 1968 (stay tuned for the players who are tied for No. 1).

Playing for the San Diego Rockets, Hayes had 39 points and 17 rebounds on 48.4% shooting. Remarkably, Hayes' 39 points wasn't even close to his highest total during the 1968-69 season: He scored 54 points, 45 points and 40 points (five times).

Pete Maravich (1970), Jay Vincent (1982)

Maravich and Vincent are tied for the highest-scoring games by a visiting rookie with 40 points.

Then with the Atlanta Hawks, Maravich had 40 points on 58% shooting with six rebounds and six assists in a nine-point loss. Maravich scored at least 40 points two more times as a rookie, and earned 1970-71 NBA All-Rookie Team honors.

In the midst of a 21-point-per-game rookie season in 1981-82, Vincent had 40 points on 77% shooting in his MSG debut, along with 10 rebounds. He was also named to the All-Rookie Team.

Michael Jordan (1985)

"His Airness" had many notable games at Madison Square Garden, including a 55-point performance during the 1994-95 season. Jordan averaged 31.8 points per game at MSG during his career, the highest of any visiting player (minimum 10 games).

Jordan's debut set the tone for his future performances at the Garden. The Chicago Bulls' 15-point win included a 33-point game from Jordan in 33 minutes of play. He also added eight rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks while shooting 68% from the field, one of his best single-game shooting percentages that season.

David Robinson (1989) and Tim Duncan (1997)

Wembanyama is the first No. 1 overall pick by the Spurs since Tim Duncan (1997). Both Duncan andDavid Robinson (also a Spurs No. 1 pick in 1987) showed out in New York during their respective debuts.

Robinson had 27 points on 60% shooting, with six rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Duncan had a patented double-double -- 25 points on 62% shooting with 10 rebounds -- as well as two blocks and one steal in a 17-point win.

Robinson and Duncan were also each named Rookie of The Year (1989-90 for Robinson; 1997-98 for Duncan), setting a high bar for Wembanyama.

LeBron James (2004)

If there's one player who understands what it's like to enter the NBA with expectations similar to Wembanyama's, it's LeBron James.

Deemed "The Chosen One," James has a career average of 28 points, 7.5 assists and 6.9 rebounds at MSG, but had a reasonably quiet debut. James scored 22 points on 35% shooting, adding five rebounds, three assists and one steal in a six-point win for the Cavaliers. Like others on this list, he was named to the All-Rookie Team and also won Rookie of the Year honors.

Data from ESPN Stats & Information was used in this article.