Top Stories

The future is bright for Orlando's Paolo Banchero

The 2022-23 Kia Rookie of the Year reflects on his first season and looks ahead to his goals for next year.

Paolo Banchero

Paolo Banchero with the new Wilt Chamberlain Rookie of the Year trophy.

It’s been one week since Paolo Banchero was awarded the 2022-23 Kia Rookie of the Year award. He swaggers into New York City’s flagship NBA store for a meet-and-greet appearance.

His massive 6-foot-10 frame fills the room, and he’s wearing a brown sweatsuit with Jordan Brand logos plastered on the chest and upper left thigh. His hair nestles in the hood of his sweatshirt. On his right wrist, he wears two Orlando Magic blue-and-black colored friendship bracelets. Each has white beads that read “P5” (his nickname) and “ROTY” (his latest accomplishment). He awaits the long line of fans that have gathered to meet him.

“It feels great,” Banchero said on taking home the Wilt Chamberlain trophy. “I had my eyes on the award the whole year, and I just wanted to be able to look back and say I won it.”

Nearly a year ago, Banchero was selected by the Magic with the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA draft. The Seattle native played just one season at Duke before becoming the face of the Magic franchise at just 19 years old.

It didn’t take much time for him to announce his arrival in the league. In the fourth quarter of his NBA debut against the Detroit Pistons, Banchero received the ball in transition, saw an open lane and elevated over Cory Joseph to throw down a monstrous poster jam. He reacted with a subtle flex and a menacing stare, perhaps declaring he was here to stay.

Go behind the scenes as No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero hits the court for his NBA debut, which turns out to be a gem.

Banchero finished with 27 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two blocks that night, becoming the first rookie to post at least 25 points, five rebounds and five assists in an NBA debut since LeBron James in 2003.

Banchero’s debut set the tone for his rookie season. He averaged 20 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game and ran away with the Rookie of the Year award, receiving 98 out of 100 possible first-place votes. He joined Shaquille O’Neal (1992-93) and Mike Miller (2000-01) as the only players in franchise history to win the award.

Throughout the season, Banchero was able to beat defenders by blowing by them from the top of the key in isolation and by winning battles on the low block. Among rookies, he was No. 1 in both isolation points per game (2.8) and post-up points per game (1.5).

For someone his size, he has exceptional speed and ball-handling skills. He also uses his length and athleticism on defense to disrupt opposing offenses and rack up steals and blocks. He was fourth among rookies in steals per game (0.8), seventh in blocks per game (0.5) and eighth in loose balls recovered (34).

Banchero’s skill set allowed him immediate success in the league, but he remains hungry to improve his game.

“The focus area is really going to be shooting, just getting my shot more consistent,” Banchero said. “Also trying to get in the best shape I possibly can, getting as much sleep as I can, recovering, eating the right foods – all the little things I can try to do to take it to another level.”

In 2021-22, the Magic went 22-60, which was the second-worst record in the league. They also entered this season as the fourth-youngest team in the NBA. As a result, expectations were tempered for Banchero and his Orlando squad.

The Magic seemed on pace for another rebuilding season after a 5-20 start, but they put together a respectable 29-28 record from Dec. 7 until the end of the season to finish 34-48 and just six games out of the AT&T Play-In Tournament.

Orlando has positioned itself well for the future, and Banchero is at the center of it. Despite the Magic outperforming expectations in year No. 1, he wasn’t entirely satisfied.

“This year was a great step in the right direction, [but] at the end of the day, we weren’t in the playoffs,” Banchero said. “Watching these [playoff] games and series just makes you excited. It makes you want to be there.”

As for himself, Banchero also has high expectations.

“I want to be an All-Star,” Banchero said. “[I want to] get to that top-notch, top kind of section in the league where the great players are. That’s where I want to be.”

Making an All-Star appearance or securing a playoff berth won’t happen overnight for Banchero, so he’s already hard at work. In a Magic social media post, Banchero is seen getting his first glance at the Rookie of the Year trophy after a workout that left him glistening with sweat.

Along with the offseason work that the Magic forward has a head start on, another one of Banchero’s offseason goals is to become even closer with his teammates. He wants to make sure the Magic are a tight-knit unit heading into next season to increase their chances of a playoff run.

For now, Banchero signs autographs, greets fans and flashes peace signs while posing for pictures. He’ll watch the rest of the playoffs from his home in Orlando, but he’s hoping it won’t be too long until he’s there in person.