Paolo Banchero goes through his first professional slump

Paolo Banchero has had a stellar rookie year. But the Orlando Magic rookie is hitting his first wall of the season. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Paolo Banchero has had a stellar rookie year. But the Orlando Magic rookie is hitting his first wall of the season. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

Paolo Banchero has done some incredible things through the first half of his NBA career.

He had 29 points in his professional debut, putting an exclamation point on it with a jam over Cory Joseph in the third quarter. From there, Banchero has been a steady drumbeat scoring 20 points even on his worst nights. He is averaging an insane 7.9 free throw attempts per game. No rookie has averaged that many free throw attempts per game since Blake Griffin in 2011 and he is the only one since 2000.

Banchero is doing some historic and incredible things to average 20.9 points per game on a 47.3-percent effective field goal percentage. He has been an incredible force driving to the basket and putting pressure on defenses.

Through all the injuries the Magic have faced throughout the first half of the season — including a seven-game absence himself from a sprained ankle — the Magic have put a lot on his plate. He has had to be post presence, main creator, point guard and leading scorer. The Magic have done a lot and Banchero has succeeded with almost all of it.

Still, sometimes you have to take a step back and remember that Banchero is a rookie. Even though he has scored 20 points or more in 21 of his first 30 games and has three 30-point games already under his belt, Banchero is still prone to the mistakes that any young player will go through.

Paolo Banchero has turned in an incredible rookie season to begin his career. But his minislump is a reminder of how much he still has to learn as a young player in the league.

That may indeed include the dreaded “rookie wall,” now that Orlando has climbed close to the 39 games Duke played for all of last season.

Banchero has hit what might be the first real slump of his career. And one that the Magic are eager to see how he responds to and works his way through.

It may simply be about taking a moment to understand the work ahead and all he has accomplished so far. And seeing what he needs to do to keep getting better.

"“You sit down and you remind him when you were 12 years old that you would be in this situation,” Mosley said after practice Monday. “Sometimes I think it’s important that he reflects on that he is here and he is in this moment and appreciates it and enjoys it. Understanding he is going to be hard on himself because he wants to be great. And I think that’s great. But also understanding the reflection that I’m here and there is still more work to do but I can appreciate this moment.”"

Banchero has only two 20-point games in his last six outings, including one game with fewer than 10 points (just his second game with fewer than 10 points this season). He is shooting 38.0 percent from the floor during this run, averaging only 16.5 points per game and a “paltry” 5.3 free throw attempts per game. He is shooting just 27.3 percent from beyond the arc.

This is coming off of a run during the six-game win streak where Banchero averaged 22.8 points per game and shot 44.3 percent overall, 46.7 percent from beyond the arc and 8.8 free throw attempts per game.

It is saying a lot that all of Orlando’s recent struggles are on a downturn from Banchero. But it is certainly part of the issue.

Teams are starting to load up on Banchero more, sending more bodies toward him with double- and even triple-teams going at him at all times. Banchero is getting the star treatment.

"“When my shot is not falling I still need to be able to set guys up and get other guys looks,” Banchero said after Friday’s loss to the Wizards. “I don’t think I did a very good job of that at all tonight. I felt like once my shot wasn’t falling, I was trying to make reads but was slow on a lot of thohse. it wasn’t a good game. That’s all I can really say. I just have to bounce back and be better.”"

Banchero will be the first to say he has to do better job reading defenses and improve as a passer. Right now, Banchero almost has a single-mindedness toward getting to the rim and getting to the foul line.

For the season, Banchero is shooting 65.0 percent (91 for 140) in the restricted area, averaging 4.7 shots at the rim per game. Banchero is shooting 52.6 percent in the paint overall with 5.1 attempts per game. That means nearly one-third (32.3 percent) of his attempts are coming at the rim.

Further according to’s tracking stats from Second Spectrum, Banchero averages 11.0 drives per game, scoring 7.4 points per game and shooting 45.4 percent on those drives.

Banchero is a constant engine for this team getting to the basket.

"“He’s been great becuase in real time he is actually talking about what I see, this is how they are going, this is how the adjustments are, this is how they are playing it,” Mosley said after practice Monday. “That’s been great his level of communication and what he’s seeing. As we go on, that feel and that comfortability will get better.”"

Banchero is still learning the league and that has been evident as the team has struggled the last week. He has seen a downturn in many of the attributes that have staked such a special start.

During this six-game slump for the team, Banchero has made only 22 of 47 (46.8 percent) from inside the paint. Of note, Banchero has made just 5 of 22 shots in the paint but outside the restricted area in this time.

That looks even worse after Friday’s loss to the Washington Wizards. In that game, Banchero still managed to score 21 points and get to the line for seven free throw attempts. But he made only 7 of 27 attempts. In there is included a 6 for 18 performance in the paint, including 3 for 13 in the paint but outside the restricted area.

This is a clear place where Banchero will continue to get better. But also clearly an area where things are proving to be much moe difficult for him of late.

"“I couldn’t make a shot,” Banchero said after Friday’s loss to the Wizards. “That’s on me. I had some point-blank looks, some jumpers that I usually hit. I have to shake this little whatever you want to call it slump and move on. Sometimes that’s what happens. That’s what I’ve been learning. Sometimes you have early success and you think that’s whatit’s going to be like all the time and then you ahve games like this where it’s like damn, I suck right now. Just have to learn from it and be better.”"

The Magic know how vital getting to the rim is to their success. As Mosley said after the Wizards game, it was good that the Magic are getting there. Even if the shots are not falling.

For Banchero, they certainly were not falling. And there has to be every faith now that he will find his way out of this minislump.

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There is no reason to think he will not. Because even bad games for Banchero are incredibly impactful. The team and the player just have to find a way to work through and around it.