Rookie of the Year candidate Paolo Banchero nearing return

Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero dribbles. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero dribbles. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

Rookie of the Year candidate Paolo Banchero might be back on Friday after missing three weeks of play with an ankle injury.

The Orlando Magic faithful might not have a lot of stuff to be thankful for on Thanksgiving, but things are about to change with Rookie of the Year near-lock Paolo Banchero about to return to the court.

The freshest no. 1 pick out of Duke, Paolo Banchero, finally got to practice with the rest of the Magic squad on Wednesday. He’s now day-to-day with Orlando hosting the Philadelphia 76ers.

Banchero has been out since getting injured (sprained left ankle) back on Nov. 7 while facing the Houston Rockets. Everything seems to be all right for him to make his comeback ahead of Friday’s matchup or, if he is still not fully fit to dress tomorrow (he is expected to get the “questionable” tag), then on Sunday in the second game of the home mini-series against Philly.

Orlando’s rookie was an absolute bulldozer through the first month of the season, more than living up to the hype and clearly paving his way toward a freshman award when all is said and done in April 2023.

The early race for the Rookie of the Year award could have seen the award engraved with Banchero’s name as early as December had he kept on his ever-rising ascendance. With the Magic point-forward missing time, though, the likes of Bennedict Mathurin, Jaden Ivey, and Keegan Murray have caught a break and they have kept the race alive.

Paolo Banchero’s rookie season should get him into the All-Star conversation

The Magic might have expected some solid production from their freshest addition, let alone after drafting Banchero with the no. 1 overall pick of the 2022 draft. From that to what they’re actually getting there is a wide gap, though, and not precisely for the bad.

Banchero went to the injury shelves on Nov. 7 averaging 23.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. That, simply put, is unheard of in the history of the Association.

Of course, it is still (very) early in Banchero’s career to affirm he will undoubtedly turn into an all-time great basketball player. History, though, says he is taking the right steps in the baby stages of his career.

Since the introduction of the 3-point line (1979-80 season on), only five rookies not named Paolo have averaged 23 or more points per game: Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Terry Cummings, David Robinson, and Michael Jordan. There is a wide range of playstyles in that five-man group, but even favoring each player’s most-suited statistic (rebounds for big men, assists for guards) only Robinson and Cummings matched Banchero’s rebounding numbers and only Iverson topped Banchero’s assists-per-game figure.

All things considered, though, Banchero is the only rookie in the L to average a 23-8-3 per-game stat line. Let that marinate for a second. Drop the bar a bit to a 20-8-3 baseline, and you’d still find Banchero next to only two other rookies: Larry Bird and Blake Griffin.

After putting on such numbers, and barring his injury struggles, it makes sense to find Paolo Banchero’s name sneakily entering the All-Star conversation.

While it wasn’t rare to find rookies making it into All-Star rosters back in the 80s with the NBA still finding its footing, things changed a lot by the 1990s and into the 20th century. Only five players (Robinson, Dikembe Mutombo, Shaq, Grant Hill, and Tim Duncan) made the cut in the 90s while just two, one each in the past two decades, did between 2003 and 2011 (Yao Ming and Blake Griffin).

No rookie has played in the All-Star in the last 12 seasons. Banchero, health-allowing, could be the next to make it there. Orlando wouldn’t complain.

Even while still struggling and going through the growing pains of a never-ending rebuild, the Magic are enjoying a nice renaissance led by Banchero.

The rookie’s return will also be close to those of Markelle Fultz and Moe Wagner (neither has played this season).

Strong contributors such as Cole Anthony, Wendell Carter Jr., and Jalen Suggs have missed time at some points throughout the season. Only three players (Franz Wagner, Chuma Okeke, and a reborn Bol Bol) have appeared in all 18 games played by Orlando through Thanksgiving.

With Banchero coming back as soon as this weekend and a cadre of other young and upcoming talents still to return, things point in the bright direction for a resurging Orlando Magic team that is looking like the strongest and most promising of all rebuilding NBA teams.

Next. Way-too-early NBA Rookie of the Year rankings. dark