Paolo Banchero shines with his willingness to win in Rising Stars Challenge

Paolo Banchero never quite dominated the Rising Stars game. But he was still a presence in his team's win. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
Paolo Banchero never quite dominated the Rising Stars game. But he was still a presence in his team's win. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) /

On one of Team Pau’s first possessions, Paolo Banchero got the ball on the wing and stared down a familiar face in an unfamiliar position.

There was Franz Wagner in his white jersey facing his teammate in Paolo Banchero in his yellow jersey. They were on opposite sides and this was not a playful opportunity either could pass up. Something that was inevitable when the two Orlando Magic young players went first and second in the Rising Stars Challenge draft.

Maybe there is a bit of alpha posturing going on — there always is during these All-Star showcases, among their peers, the best players naturally come to the front in one way or another. But Banchero asserted himself.

He went into his usual dribble moves to try to set up his jumper, rocking Wagner to sleep along the baseline. He then pulled up right at the three-point line and buried a long two over Wagner, pointing to him and smiling as he ran down to the other end of the court.

That might as well have been a statement to everyone that this was his court on this evening. If he wanted it to be.

He certainly made that known in silencing Wagner and whatever good-natured trash talk he had for his teammate before the two played each other (Wagner, for his part, again faded into the background as he seemingly often does, missing all three of his shots in a 40-25 loss in the opening game).

Paolo Banchero was not the superstar of the Rising Stars Game. But he made his presence known in several facets as his team took home the trophy.

That is the thing about All-Star Games, you have to want it to be. And in helping lead his team to a Rising Stars championship, Banchero was certainly one of the major storylines the TNT broadcast tried to push. But Banchero seemed happy to do some star shots and make some cuts, but not to take the lead.

That went to New Orleans Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado, whose braggadocious words on the broadcast’s mic’d up section and daring play and defensive energy were more than enough to push the team to a win. He hit the game-clinching basket as Team Pau defeated Team Joakim in the final.

But Banchero contributed plenty with 13 total points and six rebounds across the two games.

He spent his first game after that big basket over Wagner locking up the glass (for whatever that is worth in an All-Star Game). He cut hard to the basket, receiving a few passes to finish at the rim. Banchero getting downhill is still where he has his most important impact.

And in an All-Star Game like this, getting the motivation to get downhill is half the battle when the defense is not intense enough to stop you from pulling up for jumpers.

This has been the battle for Banchero all season hasn’t it? He is so good and so skilled it can be easy for him to settle at times. The defense is just hoping he does not bury his shoulder in their chest and force his way to the rim.

This was not a game filled with highlights though — OK, there was one more when Banchero hit a big fadeaway jumper over Evan Mobley to remind everyone he can beat any strong defender.

No matter the level or intensity of a game, winning takes the little things. And this is where Banchero made his biggest contribution to winning this mini-tournament — and winning is always important no matter the level of competition or intensity.

Paolo Banchero blocked a Jalen Williams shot in the early stages of the championship game right at the rim. This is the kind of defensive play that Banchero always seemed to have the potential to make and why some people saw him as a potential option to play center.

It was an oddly good defensive game for Banchero. As much as this game featured any kind of defense or rotations or cohesion contains.

Banchero controlled the glass and that limited the damage that comes from the relaxed nature of this game.

Still, Banchero contributed to winning. And that says a lot too.

Alvarado was rightly the MVP for injecting his energy into the game. He has one speed to play at and he is a point guard with the ball in his hands. The defense of a Rising Stars Game is not ready for someone attacking with that much frenetic energy.

Banchero is more about looking, seeing and surveying the defense. He is not about his explosiveness or the highlights he can create that are the norms in these All-Star settings (although despite some sloppy play, this game did not feature too many breakaway dunks or fast-break chances).

Still, he was a steady presence. His 13 points just came at a steady beat. Only Bennedict Mathurin and Jose Alvarado score more than him. If Banchero wanted to take control, there was still the sense he could.

This was not Banchero’s showcase game. He did not clearly announce himself on the national stage as the next unquestioned star.

Not doing that is not some failure either. There is still a game and he still needs someone to feed him the ball. He is also still a rookie seemingly deferring to a more veteran point guard.

He never took over or got the ball enough to put the game truly in his hands.

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That was not in the cards. Banchero still found ways to contribute and make an impact. But he did not make this his game or dominate it. Instead, he did what his team needed to get the win and took his moments when the ball came to him.

That was enough for this experience. And all he needed to do.