Banchero’s Rookie Magic Gives Hope to Orlando’s Future


For over a decade, Magic fans watched their beloved franchise plummet into disarray after Dwight Howard was traded to the Lakers back in 2012.

Since then, the stats aren’t pretty— two playoff appearances, six head coaches, nine seasons with a below .500 record, and a laundry list of first-round picks that never quite lived up to their potential.

But over five months ago, there was finally a sense of optimism in the air for Magic fans. For the first time since taking Howard first overall back in 2004, Orlando controlled the future of the franchise with the number-one pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.

Before the draft, there wasn’t a clear top choice. What the Magic would do with the pick remained a mystery until minutes before the team made its selection. All pre-draft signs pointed to someone not named Paolo Banchero ending up in Orlando.

But after a little under a quarter of the 2022-2023 NBA season in the books, Orlando couldn’t have made a better choice at the draft.

Banchero is playing as advertised and more. And for the first time in a long time, the Magic finally found their franchise cornerstone.

Solid Sample Size Under Banchero’s Belt

After the draft, the consensus on Banchero was that he would be great on paper if he panned out, but the finished product remained uncertain in practice.

In theory, Banchero was a semi-polished interior scorer who could maybe be the first option on offense. His size, defensive potential and versatility overall were also highly touted.

With a decent sample size under his belt, Banchero elevated his game coming out of Duke. Even physicality, there’s a clear difference between college Paolo and NBA Paolo:

So what’s changed between his time at Duke with his rookie season in Orlando?

Looking at the clips above, Banchero’s on-ball responsibilities exponentially grew. At Duke, he played primarily off the ball to draw attention from the defense. In Orlando, Banchero’s isolation scoring (especially on the perimeter) continues to improve.

The increase in volume translates to the stat sheet. Through 11 games, Banchero is averaging 23.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists per contest. Since his first game in the league, Banchero slotted himself early in some pretty elite NBA company.

Statistically, he’s shooting 46% from the field, which is impressive for any rookie. It’s even crazier considering the lack of go-to scorers on Orlando’s roster, and the mounting pressure of being the first pick overall.

The assist numbers are also a great part of Banchero’s improvement from college. Averaging nearly four assists and being ready on day one to command the offense jumps out the most for Banchero’s start to the season.

The scary part: Banchero just turned 20 years old. The sky’s the limit for Banchero’s ceiling as an offensive creator and reliable all-around scorer.

Banchero went from a quality wing player with potential to a dream selection for Orlando.

Orlando embraces the youth movement

So far this season, it’s been the same old same old for Orlando’s record in the NBA. Through 18 games, the Magic sit with a 5-13 record and way on the outside of the playoff picture. Orlando will probably finish with its 10th losing season in 11 years.

But unlike previous seasons, the franchise has both a franchise star and a game plan moving forward.

The youth movement is fully underway in Orlando. Check out some of the notable players receiving big minutes in the rotation for the Magic.

Orlando Embraces the Youngsters

Terrence Ross is the only player on Orlando’s roster who’s north of 30 years old. 12 of the Magic’s 14 players are 25 or younger.

The best part is that, unlike previous seasons, the Magic’s youngsters still have the potential to grow. In other words, Orlando isn’t playing rookies and unproven young guys to purposely tank its way to the bottom.

Next to Banchero, Wagner gives the Magic another two-way wing with playmaking chops and an ability to get his own shot up. Suggs and Anthony are still young guards who give Orlando an offensive spark plug. Wendell Carter Jr. is looking great with the Magic after a failed tenure in Chicago.

Obviously, there’s still much work to be done. Banchero needs to have a Myles Turner-like center next to him who can be a legitimate shot-blocker and interior defender. The jury is still out on whether Carter can be that.

Banchero’s lack of three-point shooting (26% on 3.9 attempts per game) also means the Magic need to surround him with more floor-spacing. Through 18 games, Orlando sits in the bottom ten in the league in offensive rating and points scored per game. From three, the Magic are 29th in attempts and 23rd in attempts.

This isn’t the ideal team around Banchero. It’s a start, however, and that’s all Magic fans need right now.

Orlando’s outlook moving forward

Moving forward, the plan is pretty straightforward for the Magic this season: find out what works and — more importantly — what doesn’t work around Banchero.

Orlando will have most of its core under contract moving forward. Flexibility will be the key. Don’t expect the team to sign a veteran to an expensive, long-term contract. And don’t forget: Orlando will own a guaranteed pick (probably) in the top 10.

However, the Magic can definitely fill in some team needs next offseason. Orlando’s interest in an efficient scoring guard will remain high. Getting Banchero a legit playmaker could fix the team’s current ranking of 29th in assists and 26th in steals.

Orlando has the ultimate rebuild trifecta going for them: a franchise cornerstone, tons of youngsters and roster flexibility moving forward.

However, we can’t neglect the Magic’s past history with its star players. Shaquille O’Neal. Tracy McGrady. Dwight Howard. In the past, the franchise failed to please its franchise player and put the right pieces around him.

But that was then, and this is now. For the first time in over a decade, hope is in the air with the Banchero Era in Orlando.

As the saying goes: out of darkness, a glimmer of hope.

There’s much uncertainty about what the Magic will do moving forward as its rebuild continues. On the bright side, it’s an absolute certainty that Paolo Banchero will guide the Magic back to success.

About Dominic Chiappone

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