‘It’s not a race:’ Magic make case for Paolo Banchero to win Rookie of the Year – The Mercury News

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Orlando Magic coach Jamahl Mosley isn’t on social media and limits his exposure to external narratives.

With that, he said he wasn’t aware that some prominent media members, including former Magic player and 15-year NBA vet JJ Redick, were making arguments that Oklahoma City Thunder wing Jalen Williams was making a push for the Rookie of the Year award.

So when this was brought to Mosley’s attention, he was — respectfully — surprised.

And had no problem making his case for Magic forward Paolo Banchero, who has been significantly favored to win the award for most of the season.

“With all due respect, it’s not a race in my opinion,” Mosley told the Orlando Sentinel ahead of Friday’s 116-109 road win over the Washington Wizards. “[Banchero] has impacted winning. His ability to help us get to the free throw line [is] huge. Our paint touches have been huge. We talked about the tough month he had shooting — his ability to bounce back from that month and shoot the ball well again.

“For me, it comes back to a young man on a young team that impacted the winning the way he has and the environment the way it is.”

Mosley’s comments came before Banchero finished with 30 points (8-of-17 shooting), 12 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 blocks in Friday’s win. It was Banchero’s sixth game scoring at least 30 points, the most by a rookie this season.

“Exactly what we’ve said from the beginning when asked about why he should be the Rookie of the Year,” Mosley said postgame. “There’s a statement he’s made right there.”

Guard Markelle Fultz echoed Mosley.

“You can just see how our team’s winning, especially from last year to this year,” Fultz said. “Obviously, it’s a lot of guys who contributed to that. But picking him up was a big part of it. I don’t really think it’s any discussion about it, but of course, people got to vote.”

Momentum for Williams picked up in February when Banchero had his worst month.

Williams averaged 14.9 points (59.5% true shooting — a formula that incorporates free throws and higher-value 3-point shots), 5.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 11 February games. Banchero averaged 16.6 points (44.8% true shooting), 7.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 11 February games.

Both picked up their play in March.

Banchero averaged 20.7 points (53.5% true shooting), 7.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists in the month while Williams averaged 19.8 points (66.2% true shooting), 6.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists.

The Magic (33-44 record overall) went 13-13 over the last two months while the Thunder (38-40) went 14-14.

For the season, Williams — the No. 12 pick in the draft from Santa Clara — is averaging 14.1 points (60.5% true shooting), 4.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists. Banchero — the No. 1 pick from Duke — is averaging 20 points (53% true shooting), 6.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists.

Supporters of Williams point to his efficiency, increased productivity and the Thunder’s better record as reasons for him to be considered Rookie of the Year.

Supporters of Banchero point to his consistency throughout the season, carrying a more significant offensive load compared to Williams and his historical statistical production as to why he should win the award.

Banchero has a 27.7% usage rate — the percentage of team plays a player was involved in while they were on the floor that ended with a field-goal attempt, free-throw attempt or turnover. Williams’ usage rate is 18.5%.

If Banchero finishes the season with his current averages or better, he’ll become the 12th rookie in the league’s history to average at least 20 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists for a season. At 33.8 minutes, Banchero is averaging the third-fewest minutes among that group.

Walter Davis (1977-78), Larry Bird (1979-80), Michael Jordan (1984-85), Blake Griffin (2010-11) and Luka Dončić (2018-19) are the only players to reach those statistical benchmarks as rookies since the 1976-77 campaign — the first season after the NBA-ABA merger.

“If you look at, he’s putting up what they’d consider historic numbers: 20 [points], 6 [rebounds] and 3 [assists],” Mosley said. “People forget he’s also doing it in [fewer] minutes. His ability to do that is huge. He’s not chasing a stat. He’s trying to do the right thing to help win. That’s what this kid has done.”

If Williams finishes the season with his current averages and scoring efficiency or better, he’ll become the 65th rookie in the league’s history to average at least 14 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists for a season — though his true shooting percentage would top the list.

Mosley also pointed to Banchero adjusting to the context of the Magic’s team changing as players — including Fultz, Cole Anthony, Gary Harris, Wendell Carter Jr. and Jalen Suggs — returned from lengthy absences because of injuries.

“That’s the great part about him: why I think he deserves it and it’s not even a race,” Mosley said. “Obviously, the beginning of the year it was him handling more, Franz [Wagner] handling more. He was making a lot more decisions to get people involved. Now he’s had to do that with guards back on the floor. His ability to adjust to whatever it takes to win is big for a young guy coming into this league. What he’s done from the regard is huge.”

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at khprice@orlandosentinel.com or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.

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