The Orlando Magic have finally landed their star player to build around and take the team forward. At least that is the hope for Paolo Banchero.
It was a huge surprise when the Magic selected Banchero first overall. But the front office would have you believe that Banchero was their guy all along.
There is a huge hope for what Banchero could become. He handles the ball incredibly well for someone who is 6-foot-10, can make shots from all over the floor, is supremely athletic and thrives when taking on the offensive load. The Magic have long needed a primary scorer and the 19-year-old has all the tools to become just that.
And while it was a surprise to see Banchero taken with the first pick, it is encouraging to see the Magic’s leaders show confidence in their decision-making.
President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman, general manager John Hammond and everyone else made the simple decision of taking the player they believe will be the best from this class in six or seven years’ time.
They might be wrong. Any of the other two players projected to be the top pick may become the best player from this class with the potential they each possess. But the Magic deserve credit for sticking to their belief that it will be him, despite all the noise around the draft.
But now that Orlando has got its guy, what can the fan base realistically expect in Banchero’s first few years with the team?
The Orlando Magic have hopefully got someone to build around in Paolo Banchero. Here is what the fan base should realistically expect from the team during his rookie deal.
It is important to stress, first of all, the Magic are still nowhere near being a team that can seriously contend in the postseason. This group is incredibly young. And, at 19, Banchero needs to play without too much pressure on his shoulders to allow him to get used to the NBA.
This team is very much still a work in progress. In the backcourt, Cole Anthony is entering his third season but has still lacked the consistency needed to be a reliable starter. Meanwhile, Jalen Suggs struggled a lot during his rookie season and will be looking to make some improvements in key areas, like his shooting, in order to progress.
Markelle Fultz has not long returned from a serious injury, despite looking really good since making his comeback. R.J. Hampton remains a work in progress despite showcasing some important skills during his career so far.
In the frontcourt, meanwhile, Franz Wagner has a big career ahead of him should he continue the form shown in his rookie season and Wendell Carter has proven to be a reliable starter. Uncertainty around Jonathan Isaac remains given how much basketball he has missed, and Banchero will probably slot straight in at the 4-spot to begin with.
The Magic need more time to develop as a team before really being able to challenge for anything. But what is important is they show notable improvement during Banchero’s first season, and he is a key part of that.
Last season, Orlando had the second-worst offensive rating in the NBA by scoring just 103.9 points per 100 possessions, ahead of only the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The hope is Banchero can provide an immediate boost to an offense that desperately needs it.
His ability to create his own shot off the dribble is something this team seriously lacks and offensive improvement during his first year should be the aim for the entire group, with Banchero’s responsibility then growing over the course of the season should everything go to plan.
After a rookie year to adjust to the NBA, the hope is Banchero can begin to mold into the superstar the Orlando Magic believe he can be.
It is pretty likely Orlando will not be in contention for the Playoffs again next season, although you never know, meaning another lottery pick could be coming the Magic’s way.
There might be the temptation to bottom out and go big on the 2023 Draft headlined by a hugely exciting prospect in Victor Wembanyama. But a better path for the Magic would be to try and compete as best they can in Banchero’s rookie season so that this team can improve together, even if that means landing a pick later in the lottery during 2023.
Remember the Orlando Magic also have a top-4-protected coming from the Chicago Bulls to complete the Nikola Vucevic trade. The Magic will have plenty they can add to their roster in the near fuure.
It would still mean the Magic could get another piece who could help the team. And if Banchero shows signs of being the elite player he has the potential to be, then the team’s decision-makers could prioritize drafting a player who is better suited to the needs of the roster or turn those two first-round picks into a player who can help the team more immediately.
Banchero’s second season with the team should be seen as a continuation of the first, with steady improvement being the goal as he continues to develop into, hopefully, being the Magic’s leading man.
There are many ways the rest of the team could go.
Anthony, for example, could find consistency in his scoring as he did at the beginning of last season and become the team’s lead guard, or Fultz could take a leap. It is just too hard to predict, and that goes for all over the floor.
But hopefully, by Banchero’s third year in the NBA, the team has a clear idea of who the guys are that can take the team forward and play effectively alongside their new man, should his career to go to plan. The Magic need to find out who they can trust before seriously shifting the focus toward contending for a Playoff spot again.
There is a world in which Paolo Banchero comes in and makes a huge difference straight away, and the team’s timeline for when they can compete for a postseason spot again comes much sooner than expected.
But more realistically, if Banchero and some of his teammates like Franz Wagner, Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Markelle Fultz, Wendell Carter and Jonathan Isaac develop as hoped, then there is no reason why this team could not be looking at contending for a spot in the Playoffs during Banchero’s third or fourth season in the NBA.
Banchero becoming a star in his own right will not be enough. The team will need others around him to become to get close to their ceilings as well for Playoffs to be a possibility.
But nobody wants this team to be landing in the lottery year after year. Yes, it would be great to land a Victor Wembanyama or another elite prospect again, but what percentage chance is there that it actually happens?
Orlando got lucky landing the first pick and the goal should not be to repeat that. The focus for the team should be on the players it has and figuring out how to help them continue to improve and reach their potential.
With Banchero in place, this team now has to look toward how it should mount a Playoff push in a couple of years’ time. That has to be the focus.
By the time he comes towards the end of his rookie deal, the Magic should hopefully know who out of the current young core is worth keeping around. They should have a clear idea of their identity by playing to their strengths and be more aggressive in building a team that can mount a serious push for glory.
Importance of patience
Patience, however, will be required.
It can be easy to expect the number one pick to come in and make a huge difference right away. But at 19 playing against experienced NBA veterans, Paolo Banchero needs a good couple of seasons to be allowed to make mistakes and learn about his game.
Much of this projected future depends on Banchero actually developing into an elite player. There is certainly a bigger chance that he does than does not, but the latter can happen. Things can go wrong and the team has to be prepared for that.
But the Magic finally have an elite-level offensive prospect to build around. By the end of his rookie deal, the hope is that the front office can start to look at ways to maximize Banchero by putting the right players around him.
It is also crucial that another couple of the young core can take a significant leap forward.
The Orlando Magic finally have a bright future again after years of mediocrity, and at times much worse. All the fan base can do now is remain patient, and hope the potential this team has turns into true, top-tier talent with a superstar in Banchero leading the way.
After that, who knows…