Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: Paolo Banchero ranks No. 1 at season's end

NBA senior writer Steve Aschburner makes his selection for the 2022-23 Wilt Chamberlain Kia Rookie of the Year trophy.

Paolo Banchero’s consistency and excellence makes him our No. 1 finisher in this season’s Kia Rookie Ladder.

Yesterday, it was for Kia Defensive Player of the Year. Today, our NBA Awards ballot reveal looks at the Kia Rookie of the Year race through one voter’s eyes:

1. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic

2. Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder

3. Walker Kessler, Utah Jazz  

So no, there was no chase-down block of Banchero’s Rookie of the Year campaign by either Williams or Kessler. As well as those two young guys performed, Banchero basically went wire-to-wire to claim the top spot here. He might not end up as a unanimous choice for ROY but he’ll be close.

Banchero was drafted ready with the No. 1 pick last June. He had a veteran’s presence in his brief Las Vegas Summer League exposure and looked capable from the season’s start in plugging that leading-man role Orlando had reserved for him. His shooting range needs to be stretched — he had that infamous 1-for-33 slump from the arc in February — but he stayed calm, worked through it and made 24 of 62 from deep (38.7%) in March and April.

The 6-foot-10, 250-pounder from Duke won three East Rookie of the Month awards in the middle of the season and was better after the All-Star break than before it. For some historical perspective, only one of the past 11 ROY winners averaged more points than Banchero (Luka Doncic, 2019). His scoring average was more than three points better than the next-closest rookie scorer (Bennedict Mathurin of the Indiana Pacers) and almost six points more than Williams, the rival who gets ROY runner-up status here.

Williams’ debut season was reminiscent of Anthony Edwards’ in Minnesota a couple of seasons ago — tremendous improvement as he left behind his newbie ways. Through November, the Santa Clara product was averaging 10.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game while hitting 29.5% of his 3-pointers. In March and April, those stats were at 18.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg and 4.3 apg and 45.1% on 3-pointers. He gave the Thunder a multi-purpose tool at both ends as they chased (and snagged) an AT&T Play-In Tournament spot.

Kessler plugged the hold left by Utah’s trade of Rudy Gobert better than anyone expected. He had 20 double-doubles, including a 20-21 game in January. He blocked 2.3 shots per game, with four nights of seven blocks and 31 of three or more. And his field-goal percentage (.7198) ranks as the third-highest in NBA history and the best ever by a rookie. His single-digit averages didn’t match his impact, but they turned pretty gaudy when he started games (11.5, 10.2) and on a per-36 basis (14.4, 13.1).

A bigger challenge that ordering the top of the Class of 2022 in the 1-2-3 ROY slots was limiting the All-Rookie First Team to five, given six strong candidates. The final two picks here — Mathurin and Keegan Murray — earned the distinction in different ways: Mathurin embracing a sixth man role with the Pacers, Murray as a great floor spacer and extra threat for the surprising Kings. Jaden Ivey showed his many skills but slots in as a Second Team choice because of Detroit’s aimless season.

Here are those picks for All-Rookie teams (which are not position-specific):

All-Rookie First Team

  • Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic
  • Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Walker Kessler, Utah Jazz
  • Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers
  • Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings

All-Rookie Second Team

  • Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons
  • Jabari Smith Jr., Houston Rockets
  • Jalen Duren, Detroit Pistons
  • Andrew Nembhard, Indiana Pacers
  • Tari Eason, Houston Rockets

Honorable mentions: Shaedon Sharpe, Jeremy Sochan, Mark Williams, Malaki Branham, A.J. Griffin

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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