Orlando Magic have a genuine star in Paolo Banchero

Paolo Banchero has had a strong start to his career and looks like a genuine star for the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Paolo Banchero has had a strong start to his career and looks like a genuine star for the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic were tied with the clock ticking down heading toward the end of the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game.

All the moments and events that had come before it would come down to one final possession. Coach Jamahl Mosley opted not to call a timeout and trust his young team to find a good shot and get the ball to the right player.

The player he and the team trusted to create is the one nobody probably expected would be handling the ball through 10 games of his career. Sure, the top overall pick in Paolo Banchero would almost certainly one day be the guy making the big play at the end of the game.

But 10 games into his career? With this level of trust?

Paolo Banchero initiated that final play, drawing the defense to him and kicking out to a wide-open Franz Wagner, who just missed the shot. It all happened so naturally, calmly and cooly. It might as well have been a play in the second or third quarter. And it was the right read too, setting up a great look (that missed) to win the game.

Ten games into his NBA career, it is clear the Magic have a budding star in Banchero. Draymond Green certainly believed so in comments he made after the Orlando Magic’s win over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday.

Paolo Banchero has turned in an impressive start to his NBA career. None seemingly more impressive than his 33-point effort Saturday as the Orlando Magic aim to build around their star.

One of the points of growth the Magic are watching and examining this year is to see how quickly Banchero takes to this role and just how far he can go. Some of the inconsistency the Magic might well be facing is Banchero beginning to understand when and how to take over games. And just how the Magic can make life easier for him.

At some point, the Magic are going to realize and Banchero is going to realize he is the solution when the team seems stuck and needs to calm down. Maybe that will not come until the team gets Markelle Fultz back and some more consistent guard depth. But Orlando is also spending this season expanding and exploring his game so that they can build a proper team around him.

If the team takes some growing pains and lumps trying to figure that all out this year, then it will be worth it to give this team some direction as it looks to take its next steps. There are still 72 games of learning to go.

But the numbers are staggering from Banchero through 10 games, and most especially Saturday’s game against the Sacramento Kings.

Banchero is averaging 22.9 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game so far this season. He is shooting 48.3 percent effective field goal percentage, but thanks to 7.7 free throw attempts per game, his true shooting percentage jumps to 54.3 percent.

Shooting inefficiency is expected for a rookie. But it is the way he scores that is so impressive.

That was on full display Saturday against the Kings. He scored 33 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, just bulldozing players on the inside whenever he wanted.

"“Just trying to be aggressive,” Banchero said after Saturday’s game. “I knew I had an advantage. Just using my size to get to the rim. I didn’t want to settle. My 3 ball hasn’t been falling. Teams are starting to play me to bait me into those mid-ranges and threes. I didn’t want to let them off the hook. I wanted to close the space and force the issue and either score or find a teammate.”"

Banchero has put on his full physicality through his first 10 games. He is an expert at digging his shoulder into smaller players especially and creating separation. But he is mostly able to stay in control and finish with poise.

He spent a good chunk of his second quarter working bigger players off the dribble and trying to create this separation. And keeping even seasoned defenders off balance. Banchero plays with a poise that suggests he has played 100 NBA games, not 10.

Banchero already recognizes how defenses are changing how he plays him. They are starting to duck under screens and eschew switching knowing he will take any size mismatches into the post where his patience and footwork are already fairly deadly to finish or draw fouls. Teams are going to dare him to shoot over screens until he proves he can hit that shot consistently.

That part is not there yet.

Banchero is shooting just 11 for 33 on mid-range jumpers. He has made only 9 of 39 3-pointers. Banchero is making a living in the paint so far (40 for 59 in the restricted area so far). It is an area he knows he has to improve on and find some consistency.

As Zach Lowe noted on his 10 things column on ESPN, the Magic are running Banchero in significantly more pick and rolls than he ran at any point at Duke. According to NBA.com’s tracking stats, Banchero is 5.9 pick-and-roll possessions per game and 0.86 points per possession on those plays.

The scary part is that Banchero is a boost to the offense without these things. And he should only get better as his career develops.

It should be a reminder: Banchero is just 10 games into his career. What the Magic are watching is something special.

This is a genuine star in the making. And so the question for Orlando as the team continues to develop and develop Banchero is how best to take advantage and propel these skills.

The Magic are developing a host of Banchero’s skills but, at the end, it comes down to his scoring ability and how he lifts the team with his threat off the dribble.

Banchero is someone who can carry the team when needed. He did so in the third quarter of the Magic’s win over the Warriors on Thursday. To some extent he did that Saturday, scoring eight of the team’s 12 points in the third quarter.

It is still imperfect, but the Magic big man is improving and will improve with more experience. That is what Orlando is trying to build.

Banchero was still forcing some of his shots as Sacramento got better at locking in the paint and closing him off. Banchero is still a rookie and is still making mistakes — turnovers most of all early on in the season but still some shot selection issues.

Coach Jamahl Mosley said he still wants his team to attack the basket and make it a point to get to the foul line. He does not want the team to hesitate on open jumpers, but he does not want them to settle for them either. This is a constant battle for Orlando.

And it is an area where the team can still get more out of Banchero.

But Orlando already knows just how good Banchero can be. It is evident how advanced his game is and how much of an impact he is already making. This is just the beginning for him.

"“It’s the whole season in general, he’s just been great,” Bol Bol said after Saturday’s game. “I feel like he has been getting better each game. Like a lot better. He plays like h has been in the league for some time. Every game is just a step forward for him.”"

Banchero has not had many great late-game moments. But those too are coming. The Magic understand that they will go as far as Banchero and his offensive push and attention will take them.

Yes, Franz Wagner will have a say in that too and he will have his games and his moments where he takes over. Orlando is still going to work by committee. But Banchero will play a big role too.

Saturday was proof again of the impact Banchero can make and just where he is going.

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It is still so early in the season. But Banchero looks truly like a star already.