Orlando Magic can only hope Paolo Banchero is NBA Draft’s best

Paolo Banchero is a dynamic scoring option. But in a draft with few clear answers, the Orlando Magic can only hope he comes through for them. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Paolo Banchero is a dynamic scoring option. But in a draft with few clear answers, the Orlando Magic can only hope he comes through for them. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

Draft day has come and passed.

All eyes were on Central Florida before the waning moments of the 2022 NBA Draft. The Orlando Magic had not selected number one overall since 2004 when they picked Dwight Howard. They had not had a pick determined by the Lottery since 2013 when they took Victor Oladipo second.

The pressure was on for an organization who has always left the better player on the board.

Most pundits and journalists around the globe were expecting the Magic to pick Auburn’s Jabari Smith or Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren first overall. But in a shocking fashion the Magic selected the slim 19-year-old, 6-foot-10, 250-pound forward from Duke, Paolo Banchero.

The Orlando Magic set the world on fire selecting Paolo Banchero with the first pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, but did the organization select the best player available?

Banchero has already proven to be a great player on the collegiate level in a short period of time playing for the Blue Devils. He averaged 17.7 points per game, 7.8 rebounds per game and 3.2 assist per game as a freshman.

He is following in the footsteps of Duke’s former number one picks like Kyrie Irving, Zion Williamson and Elton Brand. Other stars from Duke like Grant Hill and Christian Laettner were not selected first overall but were expected to move the needle for an NBA franchise like Banchero.

Banchero, as he put it, is very much part of the Duke Brotherhood and a continuation of that legacy. His pedigree is sterling, having gained knowledge and insight from coach Mike Krzyzewski.

But did the Orlando Magic select the best player in the draft?

That is the question that will play out in the next decade. A question that haunts everyone during the draft. And, indeed, especially this draft where there was no clear-cut number one — so much so that Orlando made a largely accepted pick and still surprised everyone.

At the end of the day, it comes down to getting the best player in the draft to help steer the franchise in the right direction. The player selected number one overall needs to clearly be the best player on your team and a leader of men.

Is that what the Magic have in Banchero? Is Banchero clearly the best player on the roster and will he be able to lead these men? Time will tell.

Before the draft the consensus number one pick was Smith. Banchero was projected to be drafted third overall on most NBA Draft boards. It is not clear what happened in the 11th hour but the ultimate decision is that the Magic wanted to go with the star out of Duke.

The Magic did not bring Banchero into Orlando for a workout, unlike both Smith and Holmgren. But the team was still able to get all the information it needed to complete its player profile on Banchero through teleconference meetings.

Whether that was done to further mislead the rest of the league or just the happenstance of the pre-draft process is unclear. But Orlando kept everything quiet about the team’s draft process, allowing everyone else to fill in the gaps.

There were no bad picks when it came to this draft.

Smith’s presence on the court cannot be denied as he averaged 16.9 points per game 7.4 rebounds per game and 2.0 assists per game for the Tigers in 2022. He jumps off of the screen when watching his collegiate highlights.

Jabari Smith combined with Jalen Green’s dynamic offensive game will be a force for the Houston Rockets in the near future.

Even Chet Holmgren was projected to be selected before Paolo Banchero, and if the Magic would have selected Holmgren they could have paired him with his collegiate teammate Jalen Suggs, whom the organization drafted fifth overall last year.

Holmgren is a unique prospect as a 7-footer who can work off the dribble and on the perimeter while still being an excellent shot-blocker.

So the Magic did not select the consensus number one overall pick or select the player who already has familiarity with one of their core starters (Jalen Suggs).

The Magic’s decision to draft Banchero over Smith and Holmgren has to be in question considering how bad the Magic have been at picking the right player in the draft in recent history.

Before Weltman arrived, the Magic followed convention. The team often missed out on the kind of high-end prospects that could pull the team out of its rebuild.

In 2013, the Magic selected Victor Oladipo second overall (Anthony Bennett went first). No one could fault that selection. Oladipo eventually became an All-Star. But the raw and wiry Giannis Antetokounmpo went 15th. Oladipo ended up playing his best basketball for the Indiana Pacers.

Antetkounmpo was not an option with the second pick that year. But it speaks to how the draft is no sure thing, even at the top.

Again in 2014, the Magic selected Aaron Gordon with the fourth overall pick, missing out on the celebrated trio of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Jole Embiid. The Magic took Aaron Gordon and traded up for Elfrid Payton that draft, overlooking Marcus Smart (a known Hennigan favorite) and Zach LaVine (the 13th pick).

And of course,  everyone in the league missed on two-time MVP Nikola Jokic. Gordon is currently playing as a role player on Jokic’s Nuggets.

In 2015, the Magic selected Mario Hezonja over Devin Booker. Hezonja is not even an NBA player anymore. Booker was reportedly lobbying the Magic to draft him as a Grand Rapids, Mich., native and someone who at least had some connection directly to the DeVos family.

Those are a lot of misses. All misses from the team’s previous regime.

Weltman, like any executive, has had his misses in the draft too.

The Magic were satisfied with picking Jonathan Isaac sixth in the 2017 NBA Draft. But his injuries sure make the pick look worse. As does the emergence of Donovan Mitchell, picked 13th, or Bam Adebayo, picked 14th, as consistent star-level players. Former Magic assistant general manager Matt Lloyd apparently was an advocate for Mitchell within the Magic organization.

The Magic took Mo Bamba in 2018 with the sixth overall pick again. He has certainly failed to live up to his lofty expectations. Orlando ended up giving a rookie extension after acquiring Wendell Carter, the seventh overall pick in that draft. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander fell to 11th.

Every team has draft misses like this. Teams can only work with the information they have at the time and players develop in unexpected ways.

This is not saying Banchero cannot play or cannot start on an NBA team.

But when you grace the first overall selection in the draft you have to go grab the best player in the draft. Only time will tell if the franchise actually selected the best player in the 2022 NBA Draft.

This will be a make-or-break year for the Magic. The younger players have been developing all year and are in need of an alpha dog leader in the locker room to lead them toward their future.

Next. Caleb Houstan aims to stand out again. dark

Hopefully Banchero is that alpha dog that fans in Central Florida have been waiting for since Dwight Howard left for Los Angeles.