When the 2022-23 season first tipped-off, it appeared as if Paolo Banchero would be the early front-runner for the NBA's Rookie of the Year Award. During summer league, the Orlando Magic shut him down after only two games, thoroughly impressed with that they had seen. In those two games, he put up close to 20 points per game, five rebounds and six assists. He started out the season on a tear with six straight games of at least 20 points. For franchise that hasn't had too many things to smile about in recent years, Banchero was the key to getting back to respectability.
But in Las Vegas, there was another player preparing to take the NBA by storm. Bennedict Mathurin started a frenzy before he even set foot on an NBA court with his bold stance on matching up against Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James once the season began. A claim like that would certainly put a player under the microscope, but for the most part, Mathurin backed it up with his play in summer league. His numbers may not have been quite on par with Banchero's, but he did put up 19.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.3 steals while shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from three-point range before the Indiana Pacers decided to hold him out for precautionary reasons due to a toe issue.
Once the season began, Paolo Banchero was immediately handed the keys to the franchise for the Magic while Bennedict Mathurin was coming off the bench for the Pacers. But through the first three games of the season, Mathurin was averaging more points per game than Banchero. It took Mathurin only seven games before he dropped his first 30 point game. Banchero didn't hit that mark until his 10th game. And recently, Banchero was out for seven games due to injury which gave Mathurin a huge advantage.
Paolo Banchero is still the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year Award, but don't be surprised if Bennedict Mathurin snatches the award away from him. Here's a couple reasons why.
1. Three-point shooting
In today's era, three-point shooting is as important as it has ever been. Teams put a premium on being able to knock down the long ball and it's tough to win in the league now if teams don't have consistent three-point shooters. As it stands, Mathurin is the better three-point shooter than Banchero. There is enough of a sample size so far to make that claim. Through 24 games, Mathurin is shooting 37.5 percent from three-point range. He's taking around 5.3 attempts per game. In comparison, Banchero is shooting 24.6 percent from distance and taking around 3.6 attempts per game. And it's not just the fact that Mathurin is shooting so well from three-point range, it's how he's making those shots. He's not only excelling in catch and shoot situations, but he's shown an ability to create those shots for himself as well as shoot against closeouts. Their scoring numbers aren't too far apart with Banchero at 21.7 points and Mathurin at 18.3. A few more made three-pointers and Mathurin could inch closer in scoring.
2. Scoring opportunities
The Pacers knew exactly what they were trading for when they acquired Tyrese Haliburton from the Sacramento Kings last season. Haliburton has emerged as one of the top up and coming point guards in the NBA and through 22 games he's leading the NBA in assists at 10.9. Simply put, Mathurin is going to see more opportunities to score and get his numbers up with a point guard like Haliburton feeding him the ball. Even though Mathurin is coming off the bench, he plays a lot of minutes with the starters and sees a lot of playing time alongside Haliburton. Compare that Banchero who is not playing with as competent a floor general. Banchero's scoring opportunities are going to come from his own shot creation. Mathurin has also shown he can create with the ball in his hands, he's just going to get more opportunities to score the ball when he has a real point guard feeding him.
3. Team record
Ordinarily this wouldn't matter. There have been players who have won Rookie of the Year and have been on bad teams. But if the both players numbers remain similar with the Pacers fighting for a top-four seed in the East, that could tilt the odds towards Mathurin. After all, his numbers are clearly having a major impact on winning. One could argue that Banchero shouldn't be penalized for not having as good a team around him. But again, if the numbers remain relatively close, that should play a role in the Rookie of the Year voting.