Orlando Magic Grades: Paolo Banchero makes a statement to finish Oklahoma City Thunder

Paolo Banchero stepped up in a big way to lead the Orlando Magic past the Oklahoma City Thunder for a big win. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Paolo Banchero stepped up in a big way to lead the Orlando Magic past the Oklahoma City Thunder for a big win. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

115. 149. 126. 38. Final

Paolo Banchero was announced to the Amway Center crowd as December’s Rookie of the Month to a loud ovation. But Banchero would tell the media and would say he did not play his best in December. His scoring average dipped below 20 points for the month, well below his standard for himself, and he struggled especially to end the month as he hit what felt like a mini-slump.

Consider that slump a bit busted. The rookie started the night with the ovations for winning that monthly award. He ended the night with M-V-P chants at the foul line.

And he earned them too.

There was the highlight-reel dunk over Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for sure that will get plenty of repeats on social media:

When the lane opens up like that for Banchero and he has that look in his eye and momentum, there is not much defenders can do. He spent a good chunk of his first half bullying the Thunder inside and getting to the foul line.

As Oklahoma City trimmed Orlando’s lead from as much as 22 points down to seven, it was Banchero who stepped up with critical buckets and plays to keep them alive.

Paolo Banchero made his statement with several big shots late to propel the Orlando Magic past the Oklahoma City Thunder for a big win.

Banchero was not settling and he was not backing down after the struggles he had. He was determined, it seemed to be the aggressor in this one. With every step back and fade-away jumper he left the Thunder seeking answers that were not going to come.

Orlando might have been somewhat shaky closing it out, but the team had every play the team needed to close it out and score a 126-115 victory.

Banchero was brilliant with 25 points to go with eight rebounds and seven assists. The Thunder really had no answers for him when he had the aggressive mindset he displayed. They gave him the star treatment, attacking him on screen and rolls and doubling him when they could.

Banchero did well most of the night to find teammates and the Magic had the ball moving. This was a team effort with several players throughout the roster — from Markelle Fultz to Caleb Houstan to Terrence Ross to R.J. Hampton — making key plays to keep the Magic in the lead after they built an early lead.

And the team was solid defensively throughout the night, shutting Oklahoma City out of the paint to the tune of 30 points on 15-for-40 shooting. That was enough to stymie the Thunder’s run and extend the Magic’s lead.

Player Grades

Paolo Banchero – A

When Paolo Banchero is cooking, it is really impressive and difficult for any defense to stop him. The only things slowing him down right now are intensity and focus and defenses trying to load up on him and get the ball out of his hands.

Banchero was certainly cooking in this one, hitting pull-up jumpers with ease and aggressively hunting his shot with the confidence that he knew it was going in. He was everywhere throughout the game, making 8 of 17 shots and 7 of 9 free throws for 25 points, adding eight rebounds and seven assists for good measure.

These kinds of games have become commonplace for Banchero. And that is something that deserves recognition. Because rookies are not supposed to be doing this with the ease Banchero is doing this.

Gary Harris – A+

It is easy to forget how effective Gary Harris can be. Injuries have been the story of his career. But when he gets consistent playing time, all he does is make positive plays. All anyone needs to do after this game is ask Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Harris’ defense on the probably All-Star guard was one of the key differences in the game. The Oklahoma City Thunder live in the paint and on their scoring in there especially with Gilgeous-Alexander.

But Harris largely locked out Gilgeous-Alexander, helping hold him to 33 points on 8-for-18 shooting. Gilgeous-Alexander made most of his money on teh foul line with 17 of 18 free throws. Harris had a few of those fouls. But he largely kept Gilgeous-Alexander in front of him, funneled him to the areas where the Magic could give help and contested every shot.

The bonus was the Harris provided a ton of offense, scoring 18 point son 5-for-10 shooting with three 3-pointers and 5-for-6 shooting from the foul line. This is what Harris can provide when he is healthy. He is a steady scorer and defender.

Caleb Houstan – A-

The Orlando Magic were still very shorthanded Wednesday night with the suspensions lingering from a week ago. So it was still all hands on deck with only nine available for the game. That gave some playing time to players who have been out of the rotation.

That gave Caleb Houstan the opportunity to start. The rookie forward has shown flashes of what he can be but has rarely had the chances to put it all together.

He put a lot together in Wednesday’s win, scoring 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting with three 3-pointers. Houstan’s shooting got going in the second and third quarters to keep the Orlando Magic afloat as the Oklahoma City Thunder inched closer in the game.

But Houstan’s real value continues to be from his defense. He was everywhere defensively throughout the evening, providing critical paint help and close out help. This is where Houstan is giving the biggest boost at the moment. And that is something, like with Paolo Banchero, rookies are not supposed to do.

R.J. Hampton – B+

R.J. Hampton, like Caleb Houstan, has been looking for playing time. And credit to him, he took advantage of the minutes scoring 12 points on 4-for-7 shooting. Hampton wa splenty aggressive looking for his shot and trying to make an impact. He largely made a positive impact too.

Hampton was willing to mix things up and stay competitive defensively too. Whle he had his share of fouls (two on the game) and turnovers (two as well), he did not let those mistakes get to him too much. He stayed engaged and active throughout. And that put the Magic in a good position ultimately to win.

Next. Franz Wagner is crucial to every lineup the Orlando Magic have. dark

The Orlando Magic are back in action Thursday against the Memphis Grizzlies at the Amway Center.