Orlando Magic’s Paolo Banchero refuses to be stopped

Paolo Banchero had a star-turning performance lifting the Orlando Magic up in the third quarter and getting them back into the game. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Paolo Banchero had a star-turning performance lifting the Orlando Magic up in the third quarter and getting them back into the game. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

Paolo Banchero completed a 25-point effort that included several key shots down the stretch to ice Wednesday’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. He got whatever measure of vengeance people looking for narrative can write when he stuffed a dunk over Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and gave him a staredown in the second quarter of that game.

Banchero is spending a rookie year not simply learning the league but showing he can dominate it, putting in dominant performances and gaudy stat lines that rookies do not regularly put up.

How is Banchero doing this?

Paolo Banchero continues to put in an impressive rookie year where star-like numbers are becoming commonplace. The young forward is not going to stop any time soon.

How does Banchero have the bravery yet again to go up against one of the best shot blockers in the league in Jaren Jackson and jam it on him, drawing the foul and a hard foul in the process?

How does Banchero have the gumption and the leadership to put the team on his back and score 20 points in the third quarter to keep the Magic almost single-handedly in the game and give them at least the belief they could climb back into it?

How is this how Banchero introduces himself to the league?

"“I just wanted to come into this league and make my presence be felt,” Banchero said after Wednesday’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. “Obviously being the number one pick there are going to be expectations. Jayson Tatum before I got to the NBA, he kind of said something to me that stuck with me throughout getting to Orlando and building up to the season. I remember him telling me I had everything I needed to be a good NBA player but it was up to me how good I wanted to be. I was going to have to go out and take it.“He made that very clear. Nothing is going to be given to you when you get to this league. I just never forgot that. Every game, every day I’m trying to prove that I’m a problem and you are going to have to deal with me.”"

The league has quickly found out what a problem Banchero can be as he continues to wrack up impressive scoring numbers and impressive performances. The league has quickly found out as Banchero is the one making key plays and leading a burgeoning young team in scoring already.

The league quickly found out Thursday as Banchero proved to be the spark to lead the Orlando Magic and nearly led the Magic on a 20-point comeback in what became a 123-115 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

These are not things rookies are supposed to do.

Yet with his fourth 30-point game, in a 30-point, 10-for-20-shooting, nine-rebound effort, Banchero is making these things feel far more common than they should.

"“Our whole thing with these young guys is going to continue to be growth and development,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Thursday’s game. “Process over the results a lot of time. Yes, we do want the win. But to see our guys continue to grow, get better and go against a team with the caliber of Memphis, for us to be able to understand that and continue to fight is something we have to continue to learn and grow from.”"

The team has had fits and starts as they figure things out. But this was an undeniable moment of growth, especially the way Banchero lifted the team and his teammates up.

It was a rough night for the Magic for most of the game. The team struggled to crack Memphis’ interior defense and get much of an offensive rhythm.

In the second half, they suddenly came alive. Or better yet, Banchero came alive giving the team the energy and shot-making they so desperately needed.

Suddenly he had his rhythm, hitting pull-ups over smaller defenders and draining threes over the bigger ones. He was getting into the lane again and scoring over the Grizzlies’ massive size or getting to the line.

Orlando was dead in the water after a poor second quarter. The team was climbing uphill. Banchero was the one that finally got them moving. Somehow a rookie was the one the team turned to and needed.

"“You’ve got to step in and shoot it with confidence and make shots,” Banchero said after Thursday’s game. “That was kind of our message to each other at halftime. They are giving us these looks, step in and knock them down. When they commit, get to the rim. We just did a good job of that. Obviously, it was a little short and we weren’t able to get the win but we made much more of an improvement in the second half.”"

The Grizzlies were forcing the Magic to stay on the perimeter thanks to the defensive efforts inside of Jaren Jackson Jr. The team struggled to hit shots and gain confidence. It took simply hitting a few shots to build that momentum.

Throughout the third quarter, it was Banchero helping build that momentum. He started, as things always do, with a drive to the basket, rocking Steven Adams to sleep before exploding to the rim for a lay-in. He followed that with a confident 3-pointer with a secondary transition three off a Markelle Fultz handoff.

He was off to the races from there, getting to the basket in transition or finding his way in the paint to score. The Grizzlies were suddenly the ones searching for answers and the Magic finally had the aggressive mindset it takes to win.

Banchero, with a +10 in a game the Magic trailed by 20-plus for good chunks, was indeed a problem. One the league is gearing up to handle as he improves for a long time.

"“Paolo is going to be a problem for many years in this league,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said after Thursday’s game. “He’s just got great poise and feel. He hits his spots on the floor. I talk about guys that have gravitational pull in this league, and there’s not a whole lot. He’s definitely going to be one for them that’s going to create so many problems.”"

Of course, no man is an island. The Magic want to get others involved and this only served to loosen the wheels and get the team churning again.

He needed help.

Orlando did not really begin making a push to cut into the lead until Terrence Ross hit back-to-back 3-pointers to end the third quarter. Then in the fourth quarter it was Markelle Fultz making critical shots and Franz Wagner seemingly matching Paolo Banchero’s third-quarter output with 19 points in the final quarter after scoring just three in the first three quarters.

The Magic cut what was a 25-point lead down to six and really put the pressure on the Grizzlies before they ran out of gas, time and stops to close the deal.

This would have been a blowout until Banchero stepped up to the plate.

He proved to be an equalizer. Bancher has had these moments throughout his young career so far. Moments where he put up tons of points in a hurry. He is increasingly having these star moments where he takes over games and lifts the energy of his team.

There were so many things working against this team. But the Magic’s rookie led the charge and refused to be stopped.

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

And that is impressive from a rookie. Really impressive.