Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero was named the NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for games played in December, the league announced Tuesday.
The No. 1 pick in the draft, Banchero led all NBA rookies in scoring with 19.1 points per game for the month to go along with 6.5 rebounds (fifth) and 4.1 assists (second).
He shot 40.7% from the field, 33.9% on 3s and 78.2% on 7.3 free throw attempts per game in December for a 53.3% true shooting accuracy — a formula that incorporates free throws and higher-value 3-point shots.
Banchero averaged 22.7 points (45.8% from the field, 27.3% on 3s, 73.2% on free throws — 55% true shooting), 6.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists in his 15 October/November games.
“I haven’t felt [December] has been my best month, so that’d be good to win it even though I feel like I could’ve been much better this month,” Banchero said before the league’s announcement after Tuesday’s practice. “Going into the new year, new month of the season, it’s a new focus. Got to refocus on the games we’ve got in front of us. Got a big West Coast trip [coming up]. I’m excited for that.”
Banchero scored in double figures in 13 of 15 December games, including 20-plus points 10 times and 30-plus once — the 31-point performance in the Dec. 18 win over the Boston Celtics.
“It’s huge,” coach Jamahl Mosley said ahead of the announcement. “This young man continues to put a body of work in. Being first in the gym, last in the gym, studying film. Understanding the ebbs and flows of the game and how he can continue to work to get better. That’s what he’s striving to do. Getting that award, if it does occur, that’s a big accomplishment the work you put in pays off in a lot of ways.”
Banchero’s the ninth Magic player to earn Rookie of the Month honors, joining:
- Dennis Scott (March 1991);
- Shaquille O’Neal (four times — November 1992-February 1993);
- Penny Hardaway (twice — January and April 1994);
- Mike Miller (twice — February and March 2001);
- Victor Oladipo (twice — December 2013 and February 2014);
- Elfrid Payton (January 2015);
- R.J. Hampton (May 2021);
- Franz Wagner (December 2021).
Rookie of the Month was awarded to one rookie in the NBA until the 2001-02 season, when the league started giving the honor to one rookie from each conference.
Banchero is averaging 20.9 points (first among rookies), 6.7 rebounds (third) and 3.9 assists (second) entering Wednesday’s home game vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder.
He is the sixth player in NBA history to start his career with six consecutive 20-point games. The others: Wilt Chamberlain (56), Elvin Hayes (10), Grant Hill, Dominique Wilkins and Oscar Robertson (6).
Banchero’s streak of seven 20-point games (Dec. 5-18) tied the franchise record for the longest streak of 20-point games by a Magic rookie set that was by Shaquille O’Neal (1993).
He’s scored 20-plus points 21 times, the most of any rookie.
Banchero has the best odds of winning Rookie of the Year as of Friday, according to VegasInsider.com.
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.