Winning without Paolo Banchero a plus for Orlando Magic

Franz Wagner helps up Paolo Banchero of the Orlando Magic (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Franz Wagner helps up Paolo Banchero of the Orlando Magic (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

It is clear the most exciting player on the Orlando Magic’s roster this season is rookie Paolo Banchero. He has taken the NBA by storm, should easily win the Rookie of the Year award and even has an outside chance of making the All-Star game.

He has been an offensive revelation for the franchise.

When he was diagnosed with an ankle sprain that would cause him to miss a few games, fans were understandably downbeat. Whether you watch in the Amway Center or at home, Banchero has made the Magic exciting once more. Alongside Franz Wagner, it is clear they are building something sustainable.

Still, the Magic have had to carry on the last two games with Banchero sidelined with an ankle injury. While nobody anticipates he will be out long — Banchero participated in the Orlando Magic’s practice Saturday and remains a game-time decision for Monday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets — it has still been valuable to see how the Magic play without him.

At the end of the day, this time too will be valuable for when the Magic do add back their potential All-Star.

The Orlando Magic have won two impressive games over the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns without their budding young star in Paolo Banchero. The games will prove valuable for a Magic team eager to take its next step forward.

This obviously was not an addition-by-subtraction situation. The Magic would have loved to have had Banchero available for both games.

But with the most field goal attempts (17.5) and usage rate (30.3 percent) on the roster, there was always going to be growing pains handing the keys to Banchero right away.

With Banchero out of the starting lineup, three things have quickly become clear.

The first is that the Magic play more by committee without him. This was a stated goal from the team throughout training camp. But the ball has moved more effectively as players have had to step up.

This was especially evident in the impressive 114-97 win over the Suns. Wendell Carter and Jalen Suggs played 32 minutes each, Bol Bol and Wagner 31, and Chuma Okeke 30. They all contributed meaningfully as the team spread out the scoring and attacking responsibilities.

Carter led the team in scoring with 20 points, scoring 15 in the second half. But all five starters, plus sixth man Terrence Ross, scored in double digits.

Again this is not to diminish the importance of Banchero, who is already their closer in tight games. But to know other members of the roster can step up and pull out some wins when needed is the next step to becoming a playoff-level group.

The second notable element of these games without Banchero is how the players who have been pushing for a bigger involvement have attempted to step up.

Chuma Okeke was the main individual in the Suns game, starting the game and getting 30 minutes to show what he could do. He was a +13 and did a little bit of everything with his 11 points, two made 3-pointers, five rebounds and three assists.

Okeke has turned in a pair of impressive defensive performances drawing at least the primary assignment on superstars Luka Doncic and Devin Booker. Both players were held below their season averages in the Magic’s win.

The team has seen a bit more from R.J. Hampton in these last two wins too. While Caleb Houstan has not been far behind.

It has long been believed the Magic had some underrated depth on their roster this year. With Banchero out, it was nice to see some truth to that statement. Another positive to lean into when their cornerstone is unavailable.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the fact Wagner can absolutely be the guy when Banchero is not around. He is already the perfect number two here and is second behind Banchero in shots per game (15.1) and usage (24.4 percent). Scoring 18.3 points per night is huge in year two, and you get the feeling it would be more if this was Wagner’s team.

But it is not, and the fact he does not seem to mind that is just as crucial.

Achieving this while only shooting an awful 23.1 percent from deep (a number that has to start moving in the right direction eventually) only illustrates more how comfortable Wagner is cutting, moving and scoring at a high level in so many other different ways.

The Magic have really turned their seven-game homestand around and now sit at 3-2 during this period in the Amway Center. With games against the Charlotte Hornets and Minnesota Timberwolves still to come next week, there is no reason the Magic cannot win both of those games and inch closer to .500 and the Play-In picture.

With or without Banchero.

They have beaten the Hornets at Amway Center already. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves do not look like a cohesive unit right now.

Despite the early season losses, the Magic still feel like a team who are playing for one another. Coach Jamahl Mosley still has not figured out his best rotations and substitutions and most nights, it shows.

But he has done a nice job in his time with the organization of holding players accountable in his quest to build a culture. Another positive bubbling up below the surface, and one to keep an eye on, is how the three bigs are working together over the course of 48 minutes. Bol has surprised us all, and alongside Wendell Carter., they are a handful for opponents each night.

They have started more than half of this year’s games together. Against the Suns, they were able to really punish them inside, outrebounding their opponents 50-38 on the night. They should have joy against Karl-Anthony Towns next week too. But behind them both, Mo Bamba is having a quietly solid year.

He has finally found his place on the roster, and the ability to balance all three of these bigs, and their minutes and touches, is a far cry from the disastrous experience of figuring out how to implement the trio of Nikola Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo and Serge Ibaka five years ago. Dark days.

To discover all of this while Banchero has sat out (he looks like he will return soon) has given the franchise an unexpected boost.

Orlando Magic earning confirmation of their belief. dark. Next

Back-to-back wins against Western Conference playoff teams will do that anyway, but without Banchero, the Magic have begun trending the right way. Now they need to get him back and start climbing the standings as one.