NBA fans may be tired of the banality of the Most Valuable Player discussion, and rightfully so.
However, a much more interesting race is being held between the leagues new blood, as the Rookie of the Year award race is becoming as hotly debated as it was last season.
In fact, in 2021-22, the ROY debate ended with Toronto Raptors point-forward Scottie Barnes award. However, there was a large chorus of voters, media members, and fans that would have preferred to see one of Detroit Pistons guard Cade Cunningham or Cleveland Cavaliers forward Evan Mobley win it.
This season appears to be no different, as no matter who is picked, there will be debate.
Multiple candidates are making a late surge to at least be named to an All-Rookie team, including Oklahoma City Thunder wing Jalen Williams.
However, there’s really only one guy that should be winning the 2023 Rookie of the Year award: Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero.
Why Paolo Banchero should win 2023 Rookie of the Year over Jalen Williams, Bennedict Mathurin
Banchero, selected with the first overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, hit the ground running and didn’t look back.
Averaging 19.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game for the season, Banchero averaged 22.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game in October. Fresh out of the gate, Banchero displayed advanced shot-making, shot-creation, playmaking abilities. Truly, Banchero looks like someone that’s already been in the league for years, not just someone who will be.
Furthermore, despite his defense being questioned prior to the draft, his intensity and focus on that end quickly put concerns about his two-way ability to bed.
The only rookie that had even close to the start of Banchero was Indiana Pacers wing Bennedict Mathurin, a confident scorer averaging 16.6 points per game on 43.4 percent shooting from the field.
The sixth overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, Mathurin averaged 20.4 points per game in October. A player who loves attacking the rim, he had little trouble getting into the paint. Nor did he struggle knocking down shots from outside, as he converted 42.9 percent of his 3-point attempts that month.
Again, what sets Banchero — and to a slightly lesser extent Mathurin — apart from Williams, is that they’ve playing at a high level since the beginning of the season.
If not for that, the Santa Clara product would have a much better case to win ROY.
The 12th overall pick in 2022, Williams averages 14.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.4 steals per game for the Thunder. Crafty, lithe, and bouncy, Williams has a prototypical guard skillset. This is particularly apparent as of late, as he’s shooting 46.0 percent from 3-point range since the All-Star Break.
In fact, Williams has averaged 19.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.7 steals per game post-break.
For comparison, Banchero is averaging 20.0 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game since the All-Star Break. Hes doing do on 44.7 percent shooting from the field and 33.3 percent from 3-point range.
More numbers, more problems…
Counting stats aside, there are other numbers that help paint a picture of these players.
- Banchero is scoring 0.84 points per possession in isolation in 3.2 possessions per game; 1.06 points per possession in transition in 4.1 possessions per game; and 0.97 points per possession on post-ups in 1.6 possessions per game.
- Williams is scoring 1.03 points per possession in isolation in 0.9 possessions per game and 1.17 points per possession in transition in 2.7 possessions per game.
- Mathurin is scoring 0.90 points per possession in isolation in 1.4 possessions per game and 1.19 points per possession in transition in 3.9 possessions per game.
In essence, Williams is the most efficient scorer on the list while Banchero is the diverse. Mathurin though not quite as efficient as J-Dub, is pretty reliable himself. On the defensive end, all three players are active, but Williams is the best at generating turnovers.
So, the counting stats favor Banchero, offensively.
The counting stats favor Williams, defensively.
The consistency favors Banchero.
The advanced stats favor Williams.
The tape favors Banchero.
What’s more, the Magic, Pacers, and Thunder have each won at least 30 games.
And the winner is…
Williams and Mathurin both deserve to be a first-team All-Rookie selections. However, neither of them has played consistently enough to overtake Banchero for Rookie of the Year.
If Banchero wins, he’ll be the first former Duke player who earns Rookie of the Year honors since Kyrie Irving.
The Duke Blue Devils have had four Rookie of the Year winners, including former Magic forward Grant Hill.