First choice and Rookie of the Year: why Paolo Banchero’s achievement was not a foregone conclusion

Paolo Banchero was elected Rookie of the Year after being chosen with the first overall call at the Draft.

An achievement that may seem unsurprising but is actually historically anything but a foregone conclusion. The award has been given since 1953 and so far only other 21 first choices had succeeded in winning it. The first to complete the “one-two punch” was Ray Felix in 1954, then other phenomena such as Elgin Baylor, Kareem Abdul Jabbar (who in 1970 was still called Lew Alcindor), Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, and Kyrie Irving. More recently, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and most recently Ben Simmons in 2017.

Since then, the first picks (DeAndre Ayton, Zion Williamson, Anthony Edwards, and Cade Cunningham) had failed to fully meet expectations in their first NBA season. Among the most notable names of first picks who did not win the ROY include the likes of Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Hakeem Olajuwon, Yao Ming, Dwight Howard, John Wall, and Anthony Davis. This is to make the point that the recognition given to Banchero (with Bulgarian percentages) is not to be underestimated.

Wanting to consider Banchero Italian (although his presence with the Italian national team is increasingly in doubt), he is the third European ever to win the award after Pau Gasol and Luka Doncic. In total only six non-U.S. players have won the ROY: in addition to the three from the Old World, Andrew Wiggins (Canada), Karl-Anthony Towns (Dominican Rep.) and Ben Simmons (Australia). Among these six, however, only Gasol and Doncic were not basketball-trained in the United States.

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