Paolo Banchero met expectations and more to win Rookie of the Year

Oct 30, 2022; Dallas, Texas, USA; Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero (5) during the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Orlando Magic at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 30, 2022; Dallas, Texas, USA; Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero (5) during the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Orlando Magic at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Paolo Banchero is a quiet person.

His game is not about the loud things he does, but the quiet things he does. The way he walks into a jumper or lulls a defender to sleep thinking his burst of speed at his size is not going to do much before exploding smoothly to the basket or baiting the contact to get to the line.

Defenses tried to use this smooth way he plays against him, baiting him into jumpers. In time, he will hit those too. Everyone around the league already recognizes the rookie forward is going to be a problem if he keeps growing.

Opposing coaches already talk about Banchero as if he is a star scorer in the league.

Those are a lot of expectations to place on someone who is not even 20 years old and just one year into the league.

Anyone who has watched enough of Banchero knows that while his game is soft-spoken — everything moving fluidly and methodically — it all builds up. Banchero can drop a big scoring game on any defense in the NBA if they are not careful.

And soon those rookie and youthful mistakes are going to fall by the wayside. Then his game may get really loud.

Paolo Banchero entered the NBA facing tons of high expectations. He exits his rookie year meeting them — likely winning Rookie of the Year — and speaking loudly about his future.

The expectations for Banchero are only going to increase now. His game is going to keep doing the talking. And everyone knows it.

The scary part is that even with the outsized expectations for the top pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, there is still so much he can do.

His almost certain coronation as the NBA’s Rookie of the Year — scheduled to be announced Tuesday night — was a statement of Banchero meeting these high expectations. But it is also a statement of how much more he can do.

"“I think I would say I met them,” Banchero said during the Magic’s exit interviews. “I wouldn’t say I exceeded them. I think I did everything that I wanted to do in my first year. It’s definitely time to take it to another level in this next year. That’s what I’m excited about.”"

Banchero put himself among All-Stars at minimum and among legends at a peak for his rookie year.

He averaged 20.0 points per game in his rookie year, joining an elite group of first-year players to hit that mark not to mention the exclusive club of Magic players to reach that level.

He was also a solid passer and rebounder for a player of his age all while getting the defense’s full attention. Teams sent double teams at him recognizing how critical he was to the Magic’s offensive attack, as limited as it was.

Orlando recognized it too. The team continually put the ball in Banchero’s hands in pressure-filled situations. The team wanted him to close out games and to make his mistakes now because the team knows what he will be.

That is not something that just happens. This trust and belief are earned. Banchero earned it at every turn and with every opportunity the Magic threw at him.

"“I think there are so many ways he can grow,” coach Jamahl Mosley said during the team’s exit interviews. “I think a lot of times rookies will come in and try to do everything. I think the biggest talk with him is just to have a level of focus on one or two pieces for the summer where he can improve in certain areas.”"

Indeed, Banchero can still improve in a lot of areas. No rookie is perfect. He has to improve his efficiency and his decision-making. He has to understand when to impose himself on the game.

But unlike any other rookie in his class, Banchero was the one who had that responsibility to create for himself and for his teammates. It is here where Banchero was perhaps his most impressive.

Banchero’s rookie season was characterized by the constant drumbeat he provided. There were his loud moments — a 29-point introduction including a monster dunk over Cory Joseph in the season opener against the Detroit Pistons or his eight-point fourth-quarter salvo to deliver a win against the New Orleans Pelicans — and his big scoring games.

But Banchero’s success as a rookie was with the consistency with which he kept scoring. The way the Magic came to rely on him every night.

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Paolo Banchero scored 20 or more points 40 times this season, matching LeBron James’ rookie year (20.9 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game, 5.9 assists per game on a 43.8-percent effective field goal percentage).

That is not to say Banchero will become James. But that was constantly the company he kept statistically — matching stats with Kevin Durant (20.3 points per game on a 45.1-percent effective field goal percentage), Blake Griffin (22.5 points per game on a 50.8-percent effective field goal percentage) and Luka Doncic (21.2 points per game, 6.0 assists per game and 7.8 rebounds per game on a 49.7-percent effective field goal percentage).

Efficiency is not exactly what star rookies do well. So Banchero’s 20.0 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game and 3.7 assists per game on a 46.5-percent effective field goal percentage does not look so bad.

Banchero, who has dealt with star accolades for years as the projected top pick in his class, was humbled to have his name alongside those players. It means something.

But it is also clear he will be making his own waves soon.

Winning Rookie of the Year is truly just the beginning, as humbling as it is.

"“It would mean everything,” Banchero said on potentially winning the award at the team’s exit interviews. “It is something I wanted to do for a while. Worked really hard for it. Just wanted to come out this year and be the best rookie and help my team win and have a good effect on my team and overall success. Hopefully, I’m able to win and if I am, it will be a blessing.”"

Banchero will win that award because he met the heightened expectations and then some. His game was a steady conversation with some big highlight moments. But that is not what is going to build his success.

Now that he is likely to join that fraternity of Rookies of the Year, the expectations will only increase for him to get better. That is the nature of things.

And Banchero has the hopes of his franchise on his young shoulders to help them break through to the postseason next season and even further beyond.

There is no doubt he will put in the work to do so. As Mosley puts it, his development and success will come down to the small details and understanding how to control the game while improving his skills.

That is a big ask for a rookie and rising second-year player. But if there is one thing everyone knows and understands about Banchero after his first season is that he will be up for the challenge.

"“I feel like the rookie year is kind of your honeymoon year where you get to get comfortable and get your feet wet,” Banchero said during the team’s exit interviews. “I think next year there will be more expectations out of the team, out of myself and out of everyone. This summer will be a huge period to lock in and get ready for what’s next.”"

Banchero is a quiet person. He speaks quietly and softly, perhaps as a rookie still getting used to his environment and coming into his own as a leader and player in this league. He always has had this laid-back demeanor.

That is how he plays. He quietly carves teams up with his ability to work the mid-range, attack the paint and get to the foul line. Before you know it, Banchero has dropped a big game. And then comes the exclamation point.

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That is how his season went. And Banchero delivered in every way. And Tuesday night he will get the hardware that speaks loudly.