The stage was set.
It was the perfect matchup and time to see what the Orlando Magic’s first pick could do against Oklahoma City Thunder’s second overall pick. It was a rematch from December’s marquee matchup — Duke’s Paolo Banchero vs. Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren.
The debate over the top pick was a furious one between Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith. No one will really know whether the team made the right pick for a few more years. This direct comparison between the three players would give fans something to chew on.
Especially considering most mock drafts had Banchero going third to the Rockets and the Magic selecting Holmgren or Smith with the first overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
The Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas was the perfect venue to see if the Magic made the correct decision in the 2022 NBA Draft as they watch Banchero vs. Holmgren. Right?
But the Magic played spoiler to the fun for fans. The team shut down Banchero after two Summer League games, just hours before the much-hyped matchup with Holmgren and the Thunder.
After the game, Banchero said he wanted to continue playing but the Magic decided it was in his and their best interest to save him for training camp in September. Banchero said he was not going to push back against that.
The Orlando Magic shut down Paolo Banchero for the Summer League, robbing fans of a marquee matchup. With still some things to gain, perhaps they were too cautious with their top pick.
Certainly fans were free to speculate other reasons — it is easy to joke that the Magic were afraid of their top pick losing the individual matchup with the second overall pick and making them look bad. Then again, Banchero just dominated the third overall pick (and the presumptive top pick in the pre-draft process) and the fourth overall pick in previous games.
Banchero, in averaging 20.0 points per game and 6.0 assists per game, did more than enough to make the Magic believe he would shine for the team once the games start to count.
And Orlando is certainly desperate to hit on a star player from the draft for the first time since Dwight Howard left for the Los Angeles Lakers a decade ago.
Banchero certainly looked like a star.
In the first game Banchero matched up against Smith, a player most analysts had Orlando selecting before Banchero, and clearly won the matchup not to mention the game. Banchero finished the game with 17 points and six dimes in a 91-77 victory, outplaying Smith and validating the organization’s decision to draft him first overall.
The next game Banchero played even better, scoring 23 points, grabbing six rebounds and dishing out six assists as the Magic beat the Sacramento Kings 94-92. Banchero defended and blocked a shot at the end of the game that allowed the team to pull off another victory.
Still, there was much more Banchero needed to show. He was coming off a game where he turned the ball over eight times and Banchero was plenty critical of his play, citing some defensive sluggishness after his first game and his desire to continue experimenting with his game following Saturday’s win.
This was not the right decision to sit Banchero in this scenario. The team was just starting to adjust to Banchero’s style of play and had won some close games with him.
Certainly giving Banchero a huge stage to showcase himself on national TV and in front of a packed crowd would give the young player a bit of pressure to play against. This is the kind of pressure Banchero said he thrives in and seeks. He has been playing under this pressure before.
Still, it is not NBA pressure. And a packed crowd with an ESPN audience would be a different experience.
But the Magic shut him down. They played their third Summer Leauge game without him, falling 84-81 to the Thunder. Holmgren had free reign in the paint recording a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Banchero could have helped. After all, he scored 21 points against him in their matchup against Gonzaga in November — and that was with Banchero dealing with cramps for most of the second half. Holmgren scored 16 points and seven rebounds going up against both Paolo Banchero and Mark Williams.
It would have been an exciting rematch for sure. But we will never know. At least not until the Magic and the Thunder face each other in the regular season.
What we do know is that Sports Illustrated reported Banchero was limping after the game against the Kings — there were plenty of Zapruder films fans were parsing over the weekend.
Maybe the organization was playing it safe by shutting down Banchero and not risking further damage to whatever was bringing discomfort to his ankle. The Magic certainly have a history of being overly cautious with injuries. And there is no purpose to throwing a player out there to get injured in a meaningless Summer League game.
As an organization, you want to be careful about snatching out in games that may mean something to them, especially elite talent if you plan on keeping them after their rookie extension.
It can become tricky because you really do not want Banchero to start believing psychologically that he will get yanked any time he has a small bruise once these games start to matter.
At the end of the day, a Summer League matchup is inconsequential. What matters is whether Banchero is ready for the regular season.
The move to shut down Banchero definitely prevents him from getting hurt. But it also prevented him from playing with a couple of players he may need to develop chemistry with.
Ultimately the Magic organization believes it has seen enough of Banchero in his first summer league regardless of what the critics or the fans in Central Florida think.