No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero is powering right through the ‘rookie wall’

When Paolo Banchero was preparing to join the Orlando Magic, all the No. 1 pick heard about was the “rookie wall” that always seems to creep in around the midseason point of the season.

“That is all I heard,” Banchero told Rookie Wire. “Anyone who gave me advice was saying: ‘Be ready for the rookie wall. You’re going to hit the wall.’ You just have to prepare for it.”

Before any of that could manifest itself, Banchero came out of the gate firing on all cylinders, and was in some elite company to start off the season in Orlando.

He became just the 10th player ever to record at least 25 points, five rebounds and five assists in a debut game on Oct. 19, and the first since LeBron James in 2003. He kept that going and eventually scored at least 20 points in 15 of his first 20 games. He is one of only 12 rookies to accomplish that feat.

The production has now continued past the halfway point of the season.

Banchero is averaging 20.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists and one steal on 43.9% shooting from the field in 41 games. He leads the rookie class in scoring and is one of two first-year players with multiple 30-point games (4). He also has the most 20-point games (26) among rookies and has scored in double figures in all but two games.

The mere notion that Banchero could potentially hit the rookie wall was quickly shot down by teammates Wendell Carter Jr. and Gary Harris. The start by Banchero is something Harris has never seen.

He is not no normal rookie. He ain’t normal at all. He is hungry. He wants to be great. He is willing to learn. He wants to be coached. He is taking it in all on the fly and he is 20 years old so this is a lot for him. In halfway through the season, I’ve never seen anybody come into the league like he has come into the league with just how locked in, focused and how mature he is. He already is special. He is special.

Banchero believes he may have hit that low point recently, though.

“I feel like I kind of hit in a way and got past it,” Banchero said. “I think it was right before the new year that I kind of felt my body and my mind get tired. I had rough games and rough shooting nights and wasn’t feeling explosive.”

The point that Banchero is referring to came during the last three games in December. He finished with a season-low four points versus the Lakers on Dec. 27. He responded with a 15-point outing the next night in Detroit, and 21 points two nights later against Washington. Though he scored in double figures again, Banchero shot 28.6% from the field in those three games, which were all losses.

The Magic then had four days off following the Wizards game, and that period of time allowed Banchero to reset a bit and get back on track. His numbers returned to normal: He is averaging 20.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.4 steals on 45.2% shooting in 11 games since then.

“I just try to have a game-by-game focus,” Banchero said. “You’re going to have bad games. You’re not going to get 25 or whatever every game so when you have a rough game or the team has a rough game, you gotta be able to move on so I just try and do that.”

Standing at 6 feet, 10 inches, and 255 pounds, Banchero has seemingly had no issues adjusting to the physicality of the NBA. It is often a big adjustment for first-year players from the collegiate level, but Banchero has used his large frame to impose his will.

He has taken advantage and has made a living in the paint this year.

Banchero is scoring 8.2 points in the paint each night, and is averaging 9.8 drives per game. Much of his success comes from the free-throw line. He ranks 14th among all players in free-throw attempts per game (7.8), the most by a rookie since Joel Embiid (7.9) in the 2016-17 season.

It is more than just his large frame that gets him to the line, though.

Banchero is better understanding the game each night and learning the different angles that help him create contact at the rim. That can help him get going offensively and further help his teammates.

“It is just a good way to see the ball go in and get into a rhythm,” Banchero said. “Guys are collecting fouls so it makes them guard you differently. I don’t try to focus on getting fouled but I just want to go to the rim aggressively and try (have) it result in a bucket or foul.”

Behind his start, Banchero is the overwhelming favorite to win Rookie of the Year. According to the BetMGM sportsbook, Banchero is listed at minus-1000 to win the award, ahead of Bennedict Mathurin (plus-800) and Jaden Ivey (plus-3500).

There is far too much time left in the season to crown Banchero as the winner, but it is certainly trending that way for the 20-year-old. In the meantime, Banchero will just have to settle for impressing those around him, which is seemingly all he can do at this point.

“He just gets the game of basketball,” Carter said. “We’re at our best when he is aggressive. He understands that. He understands that a lot of weight is on him as the No. 1 pick but he is so calm and collected when he is out there. I mean, I don’t really have nothing else to say than that.”


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Story originally appeared on Rookie Wire