With the first half of the NBA season now in the books for the Orlando Magic, there are two players who have stood head and shoulders above the rest for the organization.
They are Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner. Although that is not to say others players have not impressed. Bol Bol has been such a nice surprise, while Markelle Fultz continues to show out.
Bol Bol and many other players on the roster have struggled for consistency, while both Markelle Fultz and Wendell Carter have missed considerable time through injury.
Which brings us back to Banchero and Wagner, and trying to decide who the Magic’s first half MVP for this season has been.
In a razor thin decision, Paolo Banchero gets the nod. Both because of what he has done on the court, and how he has changed the Orlando Magic in 37 games played.
Wagner was right there, and has already been named the first-quarter MVP for the Magic this season. We have gushed about his fourth-quarter abilities, how he positively impacts all lineups and his underrated defensive game.
But Paolo Banchero, as a rookie no less, has done something that no player since Dwight Howard has been able to achieve. He has got members of the media, and more casual fans, actually talking about the Magic.
Paying attention to their games, and in particular Banchero’s already amazing ability to score in a variety of ways. He has the body of a grown man, and uses it to get to his spots on the court. He refuses to be bullied.
Bar a small slump that some jokingly thought may have coincided with a change in hairstyle, Banchero has been a model of consistency already for the franchise. Among rookies, he ranks highly in the following categories;
- 21.1 points per game (first among rookies)
- 16.9 Player Efficiency Rating (second among rookies)
- 6.6 rebounds per game (fourth among rookies)
- 3.8 assists per game (third among rookies)
Banchero has an offensive rating of 109.5, and although that puts him at a lowly 13th among first year players, if you look at who is above him on the list he is clearly the only person on it who already has an entire offensive scheme revolving around him often.
Interestingly Magic rookie Caleb Houstan, who is with the Lakeland Magic at the moment, leads all rookies in that category at 120.3, which shows how misleading this particular number can be.
No matter where Banchero ranks in offensive rating though, he is already a massive scoring help.
It is more than just the scoring on display nightly, as Banchero handles himself with a poise that many veterans wish they had.
His interview with former Magic player J.J. Redick is also a must listen in order to get a better understanding of how well Banchero conducts himself and what that means for the Magic.
It has not been all bad on the defensive end either, and although Banchero has a lot to learn, he is already willing and uses his big body to make it difficult for opponents to score against him in one-on-one situations.
A player like Jayson Tatum is always going to get his, but the frame and footwork of Banchero ensures that players have to work some to score on him. Add to this the lineup versatility Banchero creates, and it is no wonder he is the first half MVP.
The Magic are actually marginally better in defensive rating when Banchero is on the court (114.0, compared to 114.4 as a team for the season), but it would be fair to say that this is a number that needs work for both player and team. It is not something to brag about.
Still, you cannot argue with a rookie coming in and being the kind of scorer the franchise have needed for a decade, while also not being a complete liability on the defensive end either.
One of the few knocks on Banchero coming out of college was that he had lapses in concentration when defending. That may still be true, but he has done his best to exist and be a proactive part of the schemes head coach Jamahl Mosley has fought hard to engrain into the group.
We have not seen a ton of Banchero as a proper closer yet for two reasons. The first is that the Magic have not been in close games that really count. Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic does not even think the Orlando Magic are a good team yet.
The second is that Wagner has emerged as the best option to close out games that they have right now.
It may yet be that Banchero one day assumes that role, but even being cool with Wagner getting the ball in those moments, despite this clearly being Banchero’s team, again speaks to the maturity and level-headed type of player that he already is.
Really then it makes sense that Banchero would win this award. He has been outstanding from the jump, excites fans and sells tickets, and makes the Magic worth checking in on again.
On the court, he is going to be a special offensive player, and there is more to come defensively. He exists smoothly in the Magic’s eco-system, and clearly loves playing with Wagner.
He should win Rookie of the Year, and to be in the All-Star discussion in his first season in the league and have that not seem ridiculous or “homerism” is exactly why he is your first half MVP for the Orlando Magic.