In the season’s opening weeks, it looked like Paolo Banchero would run away with the Rookie of the Year award. When the votes are counted, it may still look that way, but Oklahoma City’s Jalen Williams made it a lot more interesting over the season’s final month.
Here is my Rookie of the Year ballot:
1. Paolo Banchero (Magic)
2. Jalen Williams (Thunder)
3. Walker Kessler (Jazz)
Banchero’s numbers and efficiency slipped as the season went along, but that is a product of being the guy Orlando gave the keys to the car. Banchero finished the season averaging 20 points,6.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists a game. His 3-point shooting faded and finished at 29.8%, and his true shooting percentage of 52.9 was well below the league average, and the Magic were better with him off the court than on.
There was still no question he was the Rookie of the Year, even as his numbers faded some. Banchero wore down because of the wear and tear of being the face of the franchise and the guy at the top of every scouting report — he did as well as could be expected in that role as a rookie. For example, he took the eighth most free throws of any player in the league this season — he was attacking the entire time. Most importantly for Magic fans, Banchero looks the part — watch him play and you see the potential of a future All-NBA player and franchise cornerstone. There are other good players in this class, but nobody who showed that kind of potential over the course of the season. This was an easy call.
Jalen Williams came on later in the season and averaged 14.1 points a game for the Thunder and he shows promise as whatever is ultimately built there around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Williams was efficient, shooting 35.6% from 3 and his 60.1 true shooting percentage is very good for a rookie. He is a good fit next to SGA.
Walker Kessler may have been better this year than the guy he was traded for, Rudy Gobert. Kessler became a force inside for Utah, blocking the fourth most shots in the league (trailing only Jaren Jackson Jr., Brook Lopez and Nic Claxton) and averaging 9.2 points and 8.4 rebounds a game. The advanced stats loved him — he led the rookie class in things like win shares or value over replacement players — and so do Jazz fans, who see the guy in the middle for them for the next decade.