Orlando Magic’s offense will get a boost from Paolo Banchero’s return

Paolo Banchero is set to return for the Orlando Magic after a seven-game absence. His return will provide a huge boost to the team offensively. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Paolo Banchero is set to return for the Orlando Magic after a seven-game absence. His return will provide a huge boost to the team offensively. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

For the last few weeks, one thing has been abundantly clear about the Orlando Magic: They need some healthy bodies and some more of their top-end talent to return to the rotation.

More specifically, they really could use their super rookie Paolo Banchero.

The good news then is that he returned to practice Wednesday. And Thursday the Magic officially took Paolo Banchero off their injury report (along with Moe Wagner) signaling he will be available to play Friday against the Philadelphia 76ers.

The light at the end of the tunnel is here for the Magic and their injuries. Or at least a few of them.

Banchero has elicited genuine excitement from fans.

The top overall pick has been doing some pretty historic things and was the front-runner for Rookie of the Year, averaging 23.5 points per game and 8.5 rebounds per game. His mix of size, finesse and playmaking has already made him difficult for everyone to defend.

In many ways, getting Banchero back will give the Magic an elite attacker and someone who can relieve some pressure on the Magic’s lineups — whether that is helping move Franz Wagner off the ball more or allowing the team to balance lineups some more to keep more of their key players on the floor longer.

But a lot has changed for the Magic in the last seven games with Banchero on the bench. And while bringing Banchero back is undoubtedly positive for the team, the Magic will still need to make some tweaks and avoid the pitfalls that hurt their offense early in the season.

Paolo Banchero is set to return for the Orlando Magic. He will help shape the Magic’s offense for the better but he will not fix all of its woes alone.

Orlando has an overall offensive rating of 110.1 points per 100 possessions. But in the last seven games, the team has only decreased slightly to 109.6 points per 100 possessions. The team’s effective field goal percentage has stayed roughly the same.

With Banchero on the floor this season, the Magic have a 108.2 offensive rating, almost two points per 100 possessions worse than the team’s overall averages.

There is no doubt Orlando still has some major offensive issues to work out. A lot of it revolves around the team’s shooting and passing. But there are certainly some areas where Banchero will help and areas where the team will still need to find some answers.

The first positive is undoubtedly involving Banchero’s ability to get to the foul line.

Banchero is averaging 8.3 free throw attempts per game. That is a number for a rookie that has already put Banchero in a class among some all-time great players. Only 18 rookies have averaged 8.0 free throw attempts per game as a rookie in NBA history.

For the Magic, those have been opportunities left on the board that they have often struggled to overcome.

The Magic have an overall free throw rate of 28.8 percent, fifth in the league. In the seven games Banchero missed, the Magic dropped to 25.3 percent. That was 20th in the league during the last seven games.

To put that in a raw-number perspective: The Magic averaged 24.4 free throw attempts per game this year and 19.3 free throw makes per game. In the last seven games, Orlando averaged just 21.3 free throw attempts per game at 17.0 makes per game. Even adding two more points per game considering how close many of the Magic’s games are is a huge boost to this team.

It is much more about the pressure someone like Banchero puts on his ability to get into the paint and collapse the defense.

Orlando has come to expect Banchero to be able to parade himself to the line. That has helped in some of the Magic’s best offensive games. It is also a big boost to the team when the offense is struggling to get going.

Beyond just having the depth to play Paolo Banchero in minutes when Franz Wagner needs to sit on the bench and rest, he gives the team a constant offensive attacker.

Still, Banchero has had his struggles offensively.

Some of them are expected as a young player with a high usage rate — he is in line to be the first rotation Magic player with a 30-percent usage rate since Nikola Vucevic in 2021, the last one before him was Tracy McGrady in 2004. But some of them can be a drain on the offense.

There are still areas Banchero can obviously improve. And many of these growing pains Orlando is happy to go through to give him the experience to grow from.

This is specifically in Banchero’s pull-up game.

Banchero is hitting on just 33.8 percent of his pull-up jumpers, shooting a team-high 6.5 pull-up field goal attempts per game. These are supposed to be low-percentage shots (Wagner is also shooting 33.8 percent on 3.9 attempts per game). But Banchero hits these shots at a pretty high volume.

That Magic did not really change their shot diet without Banchero on the floor. Others filled in these shots. So the team will have to change some of its processes.

For the season, the Magic shoot 21.9 pull-up field goal attempts per game at 37.7 percent. In the seven games Banchero missed, the Magic’s pull-up jumpers dropped to 21.6 pull-up field goal attempts at 37.7 percent.

But this is not a shot the Magic can clearly settle on. The area where things really changed for the team was beyond the arc where the Magic shot 43.9 percent on pull-up jumpers during Banchero’s absence. That is a credit to Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs for adding a bit more shooting to the team — Suggs seemingly cannot hit a catch-and-shoot jumper but he is good at hitting shots after a dribble or two to gain his rhythm.

Banchero will not help a ton with his 3-point shooting yet. He is shooting 25.6 percent on 3-pointers this year.

At this point, Banchero settling for a jumper is a victory for the defense even if he hits the shot. And Banchero has noted how he sometimes settles for jumpers and has not been able to find his rhythm.

Orlando’s biggest weakness offensively has come from settling like this in general.

The Magic are 15th in the league with 49.7 points in the paint per game. But in the last seven games that has dropped to 44.9 per game (25th in the league). Again with so many close games, those drops take the Magic out of games.

This is clearly an area where Banchero will help since he is so effective at putting pressure on the rim and in the paint.

Further, Orlando is struggling to move the ball effectively still.

The Magic are still 25th in the league with 266.2 passes made per game, according to data from Second Spectrum. With Banchero out of the lineup, the Magic jumped to 271.9 passes per game. Orlando’s assists remained fairly flat at a little more than 21 assists per game.

Orlando has had a lot of problems moving the ball and creating passing opportunities. It is interesting to see how much the Magic passed more without Banchero in the lineup, but still had little in terms of assists.

Banchero can help here.

While he is not great at creating assists yet, Banchero is one of the high-volume passers on the team. He is third behind point guards Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony with 43.3 passes per game (Franz Wagner is behind even Wendell Carter with 41.9 passes per game).

This is an area where Banchero will give the team a major boost. He is a willing passer and can get the team moving again.

But obviously, that is all about balance. And it has been a big balance for the rookie to manage to look for his own, getting to the foul line to keep pressure on defenses and helping the team move the ball.

A lot has changed for the team in the last seven games. But still very much has not.

Banchero will undoubtedly prove to be a needed boost for the team. More than anything, the Magic need more offensive weapons and consistency and Banchero should be able to help that.

Next. 5 reasons for the Orlando Magic to be thankful. dark

But there is obviously a lot more the team has to work on that Banchero is not going to be able to fix on his own.