Orlando’s Banchero becomes Duke’s fourth NBA Rookie of the Year, the second most by a college program

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Orlando Magic’s Paolo Banchero has become the NBA’s Rookie of the Year after dominating all of his freshmen colleagues this season, and winning the award almost unanimously, as announced on Tuesday evening. 

With this accolade, the 20-year-old is now the fourth former Duke men’s basketball player to earn this honor. This means that the Blue Devils have the second college program to export the most award-winning rookies as they make their debut in the NBA, and the best in the last 30 years.

Banchero now joins an elite list of former Duke players consisted of Grant Hill (1994), Elton Brand (1999) and Kyrie Irving (2011).

Before he arrived in Durham, the young star was ranked the No. 3 overall prospect in the ESPN 100’s rankings of the 2021 class, but No. 1 at his position. Prior to this, he attended O’Dea High School at the time, and became the first Blue Devil from the state of Washington since Quin Snyder, now the Atlanta Hawks head coach.

“He looked at me and he asked me if I was going to be rookie of the year,” Banchero recalled about Snyder. “I confidently said yes. It was just a goal I’ve always had, something I had my eye on from the second I got drafted. I’m glad I was able to do it.”

After being picked No.1 overall by Orlando in last year’s NBA Draft, he averaged 20.0 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists over 72 games in his freshmen debut. His first game as a professional saw him drop 27 points, win 9 rebounds, deliver 5 assist and earn two blocks, becoming the first athlete since LeBron James with a 25/5/5 stat line in a NBA debut.

And then again on November 5, the 19-year-old at the time hit 33 points and took 16 rebounds, also joining the Lakers star as just the second teenager to score 30 points or more while guaranteeing at least 15 rebounds in an official league match.

Take a look at his highlights from last campaign’s NCAA Tournament as a Blue Devil:

Banchero and his coach Mosley agree he still has many areas in which he can improve

“He had an ability to adjust in-game to whatever was asked of him to impact winning,” his coach Jamahl Mosley recognized. “I think there’s so many ways in which he can grow. I think a lot of times rookies will come in and they’ll try to do everything.

“The biggest talk with him is just to have a focus on one or two pieces for the summer, where he can improve in certain areas — because he’s going to work. I don’t think that’s going to be any question whatsoever.”

The player posted 40 contests with more than 20 points to his name and six of them were with at least 30, the second-most by any rookie from Orlando. He was also named the Kia Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month four times in a row, joining Shaquille O’Neal who did the same from November 1992 to February 1993.

“I want to be more consistent, more dangerous from 3-point range next season,” Banchero admitted. “There were stretches during this year where I shot the ball well.

“I just need to find the consistency. I think expanding my range in Year 2, then just getting in best shape I possibly can — I think I was in good shape this year, but just want to take it to another level. To get to where I want to be, everything’s just going to have to be kicked up a notch. And I’m looking forward to that.”