The Orlando Magic have returned home from a four game road trip in which they went an impressive 3-1, and look like they are going to continue hunting down a play-in spot.
There has been much to like about the fight of the roster during what could have been a trying period, and how they have beaten opponents like the Philadelphia 76ers and Minnesota Timberwolves on their own floors.
As positive as all of this has been, rookie Paolo Banchero has not been at his best during this stretch of games.
It was always going to happen, but after more than half of the regular season, Paolo Banchero has finally hit his rookie wall. Yet he is still having a positive impact for the Orlando Magic.
Banchero has been by far and away the best rookie in the NBA this year. So much so he could be handed the Rookie of the Year award now and nobody would complain.
He even had an outside chance of making the All-Star game. And although he did not, there were plenty of non-Magic fans who made the case that he should be included in the midseason showpiece.
In his last three games, Banchero has only averaged 15.3 points and he has missed every 3-pointer he has taken (0 for 12). Most rookies would love to put up 15.3 points per game across an entire season, but with Banchero sitting at 20.3 per game, this represents a drop-off.
Yet this can all be viewed as a positive, as the Magic have won two of their last three when Banchero has been far from his best. Even more impressive, he had 22 points in their last win over the Charlotte Hornets, including 11 in a critical third quarter that put the Magic up for good.
If there is such a thing as a quiet 20-point performance in the NBA, then Banchero did just that in that game. He made only six shots from the 20 he took, which is poor, and he was nowhere near as influential on the offensive side of the ball as he typically is for the Magic.
So for the team to be pulling out wins while Banchero does not have it to the same high standards he has set himself is really promising for a group that already relies on him as their best offensive player.
It gets better though, and that is because Banchero has remained aggressive and gotten to the free-throw line a lot during this tough period.
Getting to the line 26 times across three contests is a great return for a first year player, and continued proof that no matter how badly he might be playing, Banchero will be able to generate easy points at the charity stripe.
Banchero unsurprisingly leads all rookies in free-throw attempts at 7.8 per night, but he also ranks 10th in the entire NBA in that category as well. Coming in ahead of superstars like Kevin Durant and LeBron James here is huge and such a positive for the Magic.
So even when his shot might not be falling or he is experiencing a slump in play, to get to the free-throw line at a rate few others can compete with, and as a first year player no less, means Banchero will always have a chance to positively influence games.
If you want to point to another stat that shows how willing Banchero is to jump over the first hurdle of his professional career, you need only look at his rebounding numbers over the last three games.
Banchero has averaged nine rebounds a night, way up on the 6.6 he is posting for the season (fourth amongst all rookies) as a whole.
To recognize his shot is not falling, and to instead play as hard as he can on the boards, is the sort of attitude that will elevate Banchero to superstar status quickly.
It is only one small number, and yet to also average four assists during this span (posting 3.7 per night on the season) is further numerical proof Banchero wants to do whatever it takes for the Magic to win.
The organization have now won 22 games, the same amount as last season. They have a record of 17-13 in their last 30 contests, and have seen Jonathan Isaac return to the lineup after over two years out injured.
It is also no coincidence this uptick in more consistent play and winning games has coincided with Markelle Fultz’s return for an extended period of time. But Banchero is the player who is raising the franchise’s floor and powering them to important wins.
No matter how long this slump lasts, and really with the level of productivity he is showing elsewhere, it is a small slump, Banchero is still having a positive impact.
Four games ago he put up 29 in a win over the 76ers, and his 13 and 11 points games that came afterwards were bad only by his lofty standards.
The rookie wall has appeared before him and yet, unlike so many before him, Banchero is still finding ways to help his team win. This is a small roadblock that will not take long for the player to overcome before he is back to his best.