When did you know Paolo Banchero was going to be the Rookie of the Year?
Was it immediately when he lit up the Houston Rockets in the first half of his first Summer League game? Was it in that first game when he leaped over Cory Joseph to score 27 points in his debut game? Was it in his streak of 20-point games to start the season? Was it the four straight Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month Awards he won from December through March/April, matching Shaquille O’Neal’s mark with the team?
Was it the highlight plays or the consistency throughout the season? Was it the little things that built up through the whole season? Was it the 98 first-place votes that finally and emphatically clinched it?
Paolo Banchero won the Orlando Magic’s third Rookie of the Year award for the franchise. The way he got there was through building up his talent through hard work. And that work is just starting.
Everyone has their moment when they knew Banchero was something different — at least a cut above the other players in his draft class.
When was that moment for Banchero?
"“I don’t know if it was a moment,” Banchero said after the Orlando Magic celebrated his Rookie of the Year award win. “Before the year started I knew if I control what I can control, I will win the Rookie of the Year if I do what I know what I can do. It was never a sense of worry or wondering if I was going to do well enough to win the award. It was me asking myself did I do what I was supposed to do? Am I happy with the results? If I’m not happy, what am I going to do to bounce back. It was the daily battles with myself.”"
That might be the real secret to Banchero’s success. It was the raised expectations Banchero had for himself. It was the confidence he had in himself to deliver. And it was the grind and work he relished putting on behind the scenes.
Banchero consistently retreated to the work to meet the lofty expectations he set for himself. He ate up coaching like a sponge and listened to criticisms from himself, his coaches, his teammates and his family, absorbing it all and redirecting it back onto the court.
That is how the Rookie of the Year Award came to be.
That was still on display even with the deed done. And the celebration set to begin.
Before the Magic celebrated their third Rookie of the Year award winner and presented Banchero with the Wilt Chamberlain Trophy, Banchero was working up a sweat and getting a workout in before the media, family, Magic executives, coaches and staff arrived for the celebration. The work never stops.
Not when there is still so much more to accomplish and a long career ahead of him.
As president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman put it, Banchero did not seek the Rookie of the Year Award it. It found him. It found him through the work he put in over and over again. The way he made the incredible feel routine in his rookie year and how, even now with this award heading home with him, there is still much more to do.
“Paolo did not chase this award. It found him,” president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said during the Orlando Magic’s program honoring Paolo Banchero’s Rookie of the Year award (see video below in this post). “Because everything he just talked about — the DNA, the winning, the service to the team, his teammates — know that is what he is about. Ultimately, the talent speaks for itself. But it’s really way beyond that what is going to determine success in this league. All those ingredients of what Paolo is made up of is why we selected him and why we are sitting here today.”
This underlying work ethic is one of the many reasons the Magic found themselves drawn to him.
Yes, Banchero has natural talent — a physicality that does not seem possible for a 19- or 20-year-old player. That talent has been cultivated and grown through his time at Duke and now in the NBA where he averaged 20.0 points per game.
It still took a lot of work to get there.
A work ethic that was instilled in him by his parents, especially his mom, former WNBA player and basketball coach Rhonda Banchero. She was the one who taught him to work but also pumped him with confidence. She told him he was the Rookie of the Year after that first game in the NBA.
That relationship helped instill Banchero the approach that has helped build him up.
It would be easy being the first overall pick and thinking everything was figured out. Banchero himself said he felt like he belonged on the NBA floor the moment he stepped on it.
Indeed, it sometimes really did. But it was a continual progress to make an impact on an NBA floor.
"“It actually started in the Summer League where there was a belief in what he had,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after the Magic celebrated Banchero’s Rookie of the Year Award. “As the game started to slow down for him. I think that might have been in December where it slowed down and he started to look at things in a different way. I think that’s when it clicked in how special he really was and how he was grabbing it and being able to focus on the right things throughout the game.”"
Nothing became mundane or ordinary. There was always a new challenge or new struggle as the league began to learn his game and Banchero tried to test himself in the league.
Banchero shot out like a rocket with some stellar plays and that indeed continued into December. He averaged 20.9 points per game on 43.5-percent shooting with 7.9 free throw attempts through December. This was still with Banchero piecing things together and finding his groove.
Despite how seamless his rookie year seemed to be, he had his ups and downs. His difficult February was a notable low point in a season that otherwise seemed so consistent. He made just one of his 32 3-pointers that month as he said he dealt with a nerve injury. Banchero had to grind and find ways to contribute even in that shooting slump.
It was something he had to fight his way through and figure out.
He eventually did. Ending his final 17 games shooting 38.7 percent from deep and averaging 20.3 points per game in a strong finishing kick.
Mosley praised Banchero for being a constant learner. That meant learning how to attack the double teams and attention to detail to beat them and grow his game even mid-season. It has left a laundry list of things to work on this offseason.
But that has always been the task at hand.
His agent, former Orlando Magic Rookie of the Year Mike Miller, said Paolo Banchero has the talent to fall out of bed and score 20. There is still a lot of work for Banchero to become a superstar, something the former player imparted on his client — both in meetings and in their on-court work together.
The celebration slowly got put away as the day went on. Banchero did his interviews with the media in Orlando and nationwide. He took his photos with new trophy and glad-handed the Magic executives and staff that were there to celebrate.
But the celebration was momentary. It was the end product of a lot of work that built up. But it was only a weigh station.
Because the work never stops. Banchero was like that during the season, too, Mosley said. He always got back to work after winning an award. This is no different.
"“Tomorrow I’m going to get up and go to the gym,” Banchero said after the Magic’s announcement. “I have a big offseason. I have a lot of stuff planned in terms of how I’m going to improve my game and my body. That’s kind of how of always how I’ve been. I don’t try to be satisfied. [Assistant coach] Randy Gregory sent me a list of every single Rookie of the Year winner. He texted me, ‘Look at this list and ask yourself who you want to be on this list?'”"
Banchero took that to heart. Not every Rookie of the Year turned into a surefire All-Star.
So Thursday, Banchero would be right back on that floor he was celebrating, putting in the work again. Ready to take that next important step on his journey. There is still a lot of work to do. There are bigger plans ahead for him.
Lifting the Rookie of the Year trophy is just one step on this long journey. The next task is to get back to work.