Shortly after Paolo Banchero committed to the Duke Blue Devils
back in 2020, then-assistant coach Jon Scheyer connected the
five-star recruit with Jayson Tatum. Banchero would text Tatum,
picking his brain about playing for Mike Krzyzewski and what to
expect at the collegiate level.
The two would remain in touch, which was pretty surreal for
Banchero since Tatum was one of his favorite players and someone he
modeled his game after.
“Coach Scheyer put us in touch when I committed to Duke, so I’ve
known him for about two years now,” Banchero told Basketball News
prior to facing Tatum's Boston Celtics on Monday. “He was always
one of my favorite players growing up. I’ve watched him since he
was in high school [and kept watching him] all the way through Duke
and now throughout his career in the NBA.”
Last offseason, Banchero had some tough decisions to make as he
was declaring for the 2022 NBA Draft. Once again, Tatum was there
for him every step of the way. Looking back, Banchero says that
Tatum was “the main guy” who helped him navigate the pre-draft
“He’s helped me with a lot, mainly when I was coming into the
league. Like during pre-draft, I asked him about signing with an
agent, signing a shoe deal – and I ended up signing with Jordan
Brand, where he’s at,” Banchero told Basketball News. “All of that
stuff [you do] coming into the league is stuff that I ran by him
and tried to get his opinion on, just because he was in a lot of
these same positions that I'm in. I’ve definitely used him as a
“Obviously, during the season I haven’t hit him as much since
we’re both in-season, but he’s a guy who was always open. I mean,
he made himself available to me. He offered me
his number and said, ‘If you ever need anything, don’t hesitate.’
And he just kinda took me under his wing, and I appreciate him for
Tatum, who has referred to Banchero as his little brother in
past interviews, believes it’s only right to pay it forward to the
“I think that’s just our responsibility. Somebody helped me
[when I was younger], and somebody helped the person that helped
me,” Tatum told Basketball News. “[Paolo] is somebody that I was
close to while he was in college. Amile Jefferson is one of my best
friends and he’s an assistant coach at Duke, so all three of us
kind of talked all the time while he was in college.
“I’m a big fan of his; he loves the game and he works hard. And
I know what it’s like to come from Duke and be a top lottery pick
and have a lot of expectations, so anytime I can help, I feel like
I’m obligated to do that.”
Tatum knows what it’s like to enter the NBA and suddenly have
your idols become rivals. He’s just not used to being the one whose
game has been emulated.
“It means a lot. It is funny, I guess. I’m in my sixth year now
and guys are coming in that are 19, so they’ve been watching me all
of their high-school career and first year in college — the tables
have turned,” Tatum told
Rookie Wire earlier this season. “I remember being in
that position and playing against guys I really admired and looked
up to. The best part about it is the respect is always there. The
way you show it is to go out there and compete. No matter how much
I like his game or like him as a person, I’m not going to take it
easy on him at all. I think, even moreso, I’m trying to guard him
and go at him to kind of let him know I respect his game and I know
what he is capable of and things like that.”
In addition to Tatum’s mentorship, Banchero says that other
former Blue Devils have been there for him too. Paolo believes that
this network of support (often called “The Brotherhood”) is one of
the biggest advantages of attending Duke. Entering the 2022-23 NBA
season, there were 25 Duke alumni in the NBA – the second-most of
any program, trailing only Kentucky (27).
“Everyone hears ‘The Brotherhood’ being used and probably thinks
it’s corny, but it’s a real thing,” Banchero said. “Jayson isn’t
the only one [who’s helped me]. I’ve talked to Zion [Williamson]
plenty of times. I’ve talked to Grant Hill a lot and he’s helped me
a lot. A lot of guys would come back [to Duke], like Jahlil Okafor
came back, R.J. Barrett came back. All of those guys, they’re just
around and they try to get back any time that they can. And if they
were in the same city that we were playing in back in college, we’d
have guys coming to the games.
“It’s just an elevator where they send it back down and help the
next guys out. I was definitely helped by that, talking to those
guys in college and hearing from those guys. It helps you a
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Barring injury, Banchero seems
like a lock for the Rookie of the Year award.
He currently leads all rookies in points per game (20.8) while
also averaging the third-most assists (3.8), third-most steals
(1.1), fourth-most rebounds (6.4) and sixth-most made threes (1.4).
Banchero has the most 30-point games (four) and 20-point games (26)
among all rookies too.
“He is just a tough matchup,” Celtics forward Jaylen Brown said
of Banchero. “[In addition to] his skill level, his stature is just
tough in itself. The way they play, and the lineups they play,
allows him to be aggressive. He has been having a stellar rookie
year so far.”
“He’s a bigger wing; he’s 6-foot-10 and he’s got to be 230
[pounds] or something like that. He can create off the bounce, he
can shoot, post up,” Tatum said of Banchero. “He’s had a hell of a
year. I think, obviously, probably Rookie of the Year. He has been
playing at a high level. It looks like he has gotten better every
month and is getting accustomed to the game. I’m happy for
The Orlando Magic went 3-1 against the Celtics this season,
including three straight wins. Banchero seems to elevate his game
against Tatum and other superstars that he once idolized.
“It’s super fun,” Banchero said of facing his favorite players.
“Going against Tatum, Luka [Doncic], KD (Kevin Durant), LeBron
[James]... it’s kinda surreal at first. But then once you get past
it, it becomes even more fun than just playing a regular team
because this is the best of the best. These guys are as
good as you’re gonna see, so you’ve gotta be on your A-game.”
Banchero has been on his A-game for much of the season, and has
stepped in as a focal point for Orlando from Day 1.
He has led the Magic in scoring a team-high 18 times this
season. In December, Banchero scored 20 or more points in seven
consecutive games, tying the longest streak by a rookie in
franchise history (which was previously set by Shaquille O’Neal in
February 1993). Banchero would go on to earn the NBA’s Rookie of
the Month award for December.
Banchero's best game of the season was his 33-point, 16-rebound
performance against the Sacramento Kings on Nov. 5. He became just
the second teenager in NBA history to record at least 30 points and
15 rebounds in a game, joining LeBron James. After scoring 30
points in the following game against the Houston Rockets on Nov. 7,
he became just the fifth teenager in NBA history with back-to-back
30-point outings, joining LeBron, Luka, Zion and Devin
Overall, he has made the prep-to-pro transition look easy.
“It’s been good, it’s just been a learning process. I’m still
learning, but I’m definitely more comfortable than I was at the
beginning of the season,” Banchero said of adjusting to the NBA. “I
think as the year goes on, stuff changes. In this game, you have
ups and downs. I think I started off really hot and then you slow
down and then you heat back up, and that’s just kinda how it
“I think that’s just what I’ve been learning – how to sustain a
solid focus and intensity that you can bring every night. There’s
so many games, so that’s really just what I’ve been trying
to learn and pick up on. It’s been a learning process, but I’ve had
a lot of fun so far.”
The Magic are now
at full strength and they’re playing their best
basketball as of late, showing glimpses of brilliance. In addition
to beating the Celtics three times, Orlando has defeated the
Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors,
New Orleans Pelicans, Atlanta Hawks and Portland Trail Blazers
among others in recent weeks.
Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley has said that his young group is
very coachable and great about responding to the coaching staff’s
feedback. Also, the players do a fantastic job of holding each
other accountable, which is something that Banchero mentioned as
“Everyone is here to help me — all of the coaches and a lot of
the guys on the team, they all hold me accountable,” Banchero said.
“They don’t just let me [do what I want]. If I’m out there making
mistakes or not playing up to my abilities, they’re gonna let me
know about it.
“They’re gonna challenge me, and that’s why I love them. They
don’t hand anything to me. They just make sure I’m always focused.
As a team, I think that’s where we’re starting to come together.
Everyone is keeping that communication and holding each other
Orlando entered this season with the fourth-youngest roster in
the NBA (with an average age of 23.94 years old), and there’s a lot
to be excited about. Banchero and Franz Wagner are clearly
franchise cornerstones that the Magic can build around going
forward. It’s not easy to defend a pair of 6-foot-10 point forwards
who can create for themselves and others.
The Magic also have plenty of talented pieces surrounding their
dynamic duo, including Wendell Carter Jr., Bol Bol, Jonathan Isaac,
Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs. Altogether, they have
13 first-rounders on their roster (including eight lottery picks)
and could end up adding another top prospect in the 2023 NBA Draft
depending on how the lottery shakes out. (Can you imagine Victor
Wembanyama in Orlando? A lineup of Banchero, Wagner, Isaac, Bol and
Wembanyama might break basketball.)
“They’re an unorthodox team to play against,” Brown added of the
Magic, “They’ve got that Toronto kind of feel but longer. Kinda
like how Cleveland was last year. A lot of bigs, a lot of length,
guys who can cover ground and get a lot of deflections. Tough team
to play against.”
With Banchero leading the way, Orlando has emerged as one of the
league’s most entertaining and fun teams, with the potential to be
scary good in a few years.
"We play a fun brand of basketball. We have a lot of young
talent on the team, I think that always gets people excited,"
Wagner said. "I think obviously with Paolo playing well, Markelle
coming back, Bol Bol playing really well and making plays, I think
that just gets people going. And just overall, how we’re playing as
a group, it’s exciting.”