Through all the smoke, Paolo Banchero emerges as Orlando Magic’s man

The Orlando Magic surprised much of the NBA by taking Paolo Banchero from Duke. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic surprised much of the NBA by taking Paolo Banchero from Duke. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

Nobody knew what to expect when the Orlando Magic were put officially on the clock.

That was the point. The Magic wanted everyone guessing, even the prospects.

So as commissioner Adam Silver announced the Draft was beginning, Mike Miller gave his client Paolo Banchero the word of advice every player gets from the beginning of their playing careers. Just be ready.

Anything could happen on draft night.

There was a lot of noise when it came to the No. 1 pick. The Orlando Magic played their cards close to the vest and let everyone around them talk. Only some wild swings on the betting markets clued the world into what the Magic were doing.

Nobody else suspected it. Orlando did not even get a workout with Banchero. They had at least one and probably more interviews with Banchero to get their background info.

So it was a surprise even to him when Mike Miller broke the news shortly before Adam Silver announced the pick.

With the first pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, the Orlando Magic selected Paolo Banchero from Duke University, stunning the NBA world. To make it clear that this was their pick, Jeff Weltman and Jamahl Mosley quickly met with the media and confirmed in no uncertain terms this was the guy they wanted all along.

The Orlando Magic shocked the league when they made Paolo Banchero the first pick in the NBA Draft. Orlando got the guy they wanted.

The Magic indeed got their guy. No matter what anyone believed beforehand. They surprised everyone.

"“It was a dream come true,” Banchero said after the draft. “Just really surreal moment. I kept trying to imagine what it was going to be like leading up to this point but I couldn’t do it. That was a great feeling. I’ll never forget it.”"

In Banchero, the Magic get perhaps the best scorer in the draft. He averaged 17.2 points per game and 7.8 rebounds per game. Banchero had shooting splits of 47.8/33.8/72.9. He was a consensus All-American and the leading scorer for Duke on their way to the Final Four.

Banchero is a dynamic scorer able to attack off the dribble and hit pull-up jumpers but also work the low- and mid-post. He was the guy the Blue Devils turned to when they needed a bucket. And he largely delivered for them.

His apparent weaknesses are his defensive focus and attention to detail. That is something even he would admit. But Banchero has shown he can defend at a high level, making several key defensive plays for Duke throughout the course of the season.

He also has to continue improving as a 3-point shooter. He is capable. But he went through some long stretches where he struggled to shoot from the outside. Shooting remains a major need for the Magic.

These are all areas Banchero can improve. It will be up to the Magic and to him to foster those improvements.

Ultimately what sold the Magic on him was that he was the best player in college basketball by their estimation. Sometimes the answer is so simple. The Magic simply took the best player.

Weltman praised Banchero’s versatility for a player of his size. At 6-foot-10, 250 pounds, Banchero is uniquely versatile for how big he is. The team could easily use him as a roller in pick and rolls just as much as they could use him as the driver and scorer.

More importantly, he is still just 19 years old. As polished as he looks, he still has a lot of room to grow. That is what the Magic ultimately were betting on.

Banchero agreed, highlighting his IQ and playmaking ability as things he can add to the team. He said he feels he can fit right in with the team and that Mosley’s style of play fits his style. Orlando does not run a ton of sets, relying on their players to react to the defense. That is where Banchero can thrive as a creator.

The Magic clearly believe there is a lot more to Banchero than he has shown. And they are eager to discover it.

"“I think that’s the one thing we’ve constantly talked about is the versatility and the ability to play both sides of the ball, guard multiple decisions but also be a great playmaker and decisionmaker,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after the draft. “He is a giver and a distributor and that’s going to be a great addition to our team.”"

In that sense, the Magic got exactly the kind of player they often look for. As Weltman put it, there are not players like this walking around. At the top of the draft, teams are looking for something unique. Something that can propel this team forward.

Weltman too put special emphasis on how Banchero stepped up under the pressure of coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final season and in the NCAA Tournament. Banchero averaged 17.8 points per game and 8.0 rebounds per game on shooting splits of 54.1/40.0/65.0 in the ACC and NCAA Tournaments.

How it all develops will be the question.

"“I’m super excited to get out to Orlando,” Banchero said after the draft. “I’m excited about the team. That’s the most exciting part. I feel like they have a really talented team. A lot of guys who are hungry and ready to win. I’m the same way. Stepping in there, I’m going to fit right in and give the fans what they want. Orlando deserves to be back in playoff contention and competing for a championship.”"

There was a lot of noise about what the Magic were going to pick. It was hard to avoid it. Even Weltman had to address it as he began his press conference, clarifying the team had plenty of points of contact with Banchero before the draft, including doing their personality profile and it seemed several interviews.

The Magic ultimately got all the information they needed.

Even though this seemed like a surprise that the team went with Banchero, the fans seemed pretty excited. Everyone is eager to see him arrive and see what he can do.

"“I am so thrilled that they’re thrilled,” Weltman said of the fans’ positive reaction inside Amway Center for the team’s draft party. “I think they should be. I think our team got a lot better tonight. I’m really excited about the direction of our team. I again say Paolo hasn’t played one minute in this league yet. Everything that he gets, he is going to have to earn. Obviously, he has a tremendous future in front of him. As coach was saying, what most excites us about him is the best feature that he brings is he makes it easier for others to play.”"

Through all the smoke and doubt that comes with the draft, Banchero emerged as the guy the Magic liked the best. The guy they believe can transform this team. And the guy they believe checks the boxes for the team they want to be.

Magic select Caleb Houstan in second round

The Orlando Magic also added forward Caleb Houstan in the second round with the 32nd pick in the draft.

Houstan averaged 10.1 points per game and 4.0 rebounds per game with shooting splits of 38.4/35.5/78.3.

Houstan was a five-star prospect from Canada who struggled in his lone year at Michigan. He has good length — listed at 6-foot-8 with a plus wingspan — and was a good defender. He was just inconsistent everywhere despite the good measurables. He is a good catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter, but struggled on the move or when he did not have time to line things up.

Houstan shot up draft boards because of that potential and his measurables. So that is where the Magic will start with him.

dark. Next. Orlando Magic are not picking a player, they are picking their team

The Orlando Magic traded the 35th pick in the draft to the Los Angeles Lakers for a 2028 second-round pick (the better of the Lakers or Washington Wizards’ pick) and cash consideration.