The Orlando Magic’s decision to select Paolo Banchero first overall in last June’s NBA Draft was unexpected, but he has quickly worked towards validating the franchise’s decision to make him the top pick.
The Duke alumnus has scored at least 20 points in his first five NBA games, highlighted by a 29-point performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers in their most recent outing.
Banchero has impressed with averages of 24 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.8 steals, and 1.6 blocks through five appearances. He is proving to be a capable scorer from anywhere within the three-point arc and can get to the free-throw line with regularity.
The 6’10 forward has already taken 11 free throws in two separate games and is averaging eight attempts per game so far. More importantly, he has hit them at a decent clip (80%) and his ability to maximize this is what makes him even more lethal.
The statistics that he has recorded have put his start in historic territory, though they have not translated into wins for Orlando.
The Magic have gotten off to a 0-5 start this season and have lost three of those games by at least 10 points. However, the blame cannot solely be placed on Banchero.
Orlando has faced a challenging schedule so far, playing four of their first five games on the road. Their sole home contest came against last year’s Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics and it was on the second night of a back-to-back.
Two of their next three outings will be against the tanking Charlotte Hornets and the Oklahoma City Thunder which gives them a prime opportunity to pick up their first win.
Aside from the challenging schedule, their lack of a true point guard for most of the past two weeks has also been a major obstacle to success. Markelle Fultz fractured his toe during training camp, Jalen Suggs suffered an ankle injury in their second outing of the season, and Cole Anthony just injured his oblique.
Small forward Franz Wagner, who is fresh off a strong performance in the 2022 EuroBasket during the off-season, has had to pick up some of the point guard duties for them. While he is capable of functioning as their primary playmaker, it has adversely affected his scoring efficiency.
The 6’9 sophomore is shooting just 44.3% from the field and 20% on three-pointers so far after averaging 46.8% and 35.4%, respectively, in his rookie year. He broke out of his slump against Cleveland though and put up his best performance so far with 22 points, five rebounds, and five assists.
Wagner’s ability to wear both hats for the Magic will be crucial to their success moving forward. His partnership with Banchero looks promising and could very well be the one that takes Orlando back into the upper tier of the East.
The rest of this season is likely to be a challenging one for this team as their young prospects adapt to the NBA, yet they are finally headed in the right direction. Banchero has the potential to become a top ten player in the league down the road and gives them a legitimate foundation to build around.
The last two first overall picks of the Magic that suited up for them—Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard—both led the team to one NBA Finals appearance each. The bar has been set high for their latest top pick Banchero and the hope is that he can finally get them over the bump to win this franchise’s elusive first NBA championship.
It is a challenging endeavor for the 19-year-old forward, but if his first five NBA games are any indication, there is no reason to doubt that he is up for the challenge and ready to take on all comers.