Orlando Magic Playbook: What the Orlando Magic can steal from Nikola Jokic

Jan 15, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) steals the pass from Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero (5) as forward Zeke Nnaji (22) defends in the first quarter at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 15, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) steals the pass from Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero (5) as forward Zeke Nnaji (22) defends in the first quarter at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

Paolo Banchero has gotten at least a little taste of what the NBA Finals are like.

Beyond meeting the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the Miami Grand Prix earlier this month, he was NBA.com’s correspondent at Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday and soaked in the whole atmosphere.

The Finals are indeed different.

He got to walk around and sit in on the press conferences. He got access to some of the players including a one-on-one interview with Nikola Jokic where he asked some fan questions. Banchero got to get ushered around and experience the Finals in full.

That included a brief meeting with Denver Nuggets head coach Mike Malone before the game where Malone praised the rookie and the young team he plays for — remember: The Magic split the season series with the Nuggets and the Nuggets only won in Denver on a Jokic buzzer beater.

Then came the game itself. A masterclass from two of the best players in the league putting on a historic performance. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic became the first pair of teammates in NBA history with 30-point triple-doubles as the Nuggets took a 2-1 series lead with a 109-94 victory.

This series has not been a coming-out party for Jokic. He is a two-time MVP after all.

But it has served as a confirmation of his brilliance and proof he can do it on the biggest stage. For the general NBA fan, watching him play has been a true treat.

And he has certainly delivered.

The Finals, and especially its champions, have a way of telling everyone the direction the league is going. Inevitably, there will be copycats that emerge trying to do what the great teams do.

Success provides lessons for every team around the league. While there is no one who can do all that Nikola Jokic can do. The Orlando Magic should be watching and thinking how to use some of his concepts to expand Paolo Banchero’s game.

There is no copying Jokic, of course. There just are not many 7-footers with his size, force, physicality, touch and passing ability. But the league will take what it can and learn from the victors and those who made it here.

The players are watching, including the Magic’s Banchero as he told NBATV from the Finals on Wednesday.

Banchero is absolutely right here.

One of the things that made Banchero such a promising force through the draft process and into his rookie year was his skill at his size. There just are not many 6-foot-10 forwards with his ball-handling, scoring and passing ability all in one.

The Magic have almost made it a joke on how these are the kinds of players they seek. Banchero is a problem, as Malone hinted at in that clip above.

Banchero is right too though. There is a lot he can learn from a player like Jokic.

Banchero may not be a 7-footer, but his size did make him unique. Teams could not figure out how to handle his pace and his composure driving to the basket and drawing fouls. And his passing was a lot better than everyone expected.

As the Magic watch the Finals, there are a lot of things they can be learning from these team’s success. Perhaps one of the bigger things, as they experiment with what to do with their lineups, is how to use Banchero more like Jokic.

Jokic, as Banchero notes, plays at his own pace and has the experience to know what the simple play is. Banchero will gain that more as he gains more experience. But there are areas where their games are similar. And the Magic, with a little trust in Banchero, could look to expand his playmaking responsibilities.

It is certainly something they should test.

What is incredible to watch about Jokic is that, yes, he has all the crazy touch passes that he puts on the spot with incredible accuracy. But so much of what Jokic does is quick decisions and reads.

Players are completely in sync and cut into space as the defense collapses around him. Everything just happens so quickly.

So many of Jokic’s assists too come off dribble handoffs and screens. He is an elite screener with his size. And Jamal Murray is an expert at receiving the ball and running his man around the screen to set up his shot or get downhill to the basket.

Screening is absolutely an area Banchero can improve. According to data from NBA.com, Banchero recorded only 0.8 screen assists per game last year. He averaged only 0.8 possessions per game as the roll man in pick and rolls, scoring 0.89 points per possession.

He did not even have enough possessions for Basketball-Index to track his screening tendencies.

The Magic used him more as the ball-handler in his rookie year rather than the screener. He averaged 4.8 possessions per game as the ball-handler, scoring 0.85 points per possession.

This could well be an area where the Magic start to expand Banchero’s usage. Using him in handoffs and as a screener could be a way to unlock some of his playmaking and his decision-making. Not that this is easy. And it is probably something the team expands slowly.

A lot of Jokic’s assists in this series come from him being taller than his defender and knowing just the right arc or lob to put on a pass to lead to an entry in the post. It is really beautiful to watch.

Every decision is so quick, built from the precision of his passing ability and the trust and knowledge he has of his teammates and his teammates have of him.

That takes a long time to build. And the Magic are obviously still in the beginning phases of it. They spent Banchero’s rookie season putting the ball in his hands and getting him used to where he can attack and what moves he can make.

There is still a lot to unlock in him — there were very few 4/1 pick and rolls with Markelle Fultz, a set the Magic could easily run similar to the Nikola Jokic/Jamal Murray 5/1 pick and rolls the Nuggets use.

That is the beauty of Banchero. He can be used in multiple ways. That versatility is why he was so attractive to this team.

That is the same with his ability to pass as defenses load up against him. This is where Jokic is so good too. And so much of what Jokic is good at is absorbing double teams and making the right play over and over again.

A set like this one from Game 1 is one the Magic could easily run with Banchero in Jokic’s spot:

Nikola Jokic gets a mismatch on Jimmy Butler (a really good defender, whom the Miami Heat often set up to guard Jokic or Jamal Murray anticipating a switch on a screen). He starts to back him down with Duncan Robinson and Haywood Highsmith already shading over to him.

Jokic initially reads this correctly and spins away from Highsmith on the high side. That could have easily been a basket past Butler at the rim. But Highsmith goes a long way from his man. And Jokic always seemingly finds the hole in the defense.

He whips the pass to the opposite corner and Bruce Brown drains the three.

If there is a goal for this season and if there is an easy way for Banchero to increase his assists, it will be in learning how to absorb double teams, something that he expectedly struggled with as a rookie.

Then again, he had plays like this one against the New Orleans Pelicans in January (one of my favorite highlights of his rookie season):

You can see the difference though in how Banchero attacks and anticipates a double team and the way Jokic does, even if the result is the same. Banchero made two of these passes in this game alone, which shows his vision and passing ability.

Now it is just about getting comfortable with it.

Still, that potential is what made Banchero such a highly sought-after prospect ahead of the draft. And why the Magic should believe he can be the same fulcrum in the offense that Jokic has become — that any star player becomes.

One more example then, from Banchero’s career-high nine-assist outing in March against the Miami Heat:

Banchero does a good job setting up in the high post and turning quickly to attack his man. The double team comes quickly and it looks like Banchero does not quite know where to go. Perhaps he expected Cole Anthony to stay in the deep corner and was surprised when he was not there as he went into the air.

But Banchero is so big and so skilled, he adjusts in mid-air to find Anthony for the open three.

There are clearly a lot of creative ways the Magic could use Banchero with this budding passing ability — a lot of his passing stats are not great overall (he has a -4.05 roled adjusted points per 75 possessions although he has tremendous scoring gravity). Banchero will continue to improve and further expand how the Magic can use him.

He can take a lot of cues from Jokic because of his skill and his size. He certainly has a long way to go to reach the levels of precision that Jokic has (if he can even reach that).

Next. Orlando Magic have to decide when to push their chips in. dark

For now, the easiest thing Banchero can do and the biggest area for growth he can make this year is to learn how to absorb double teams better by attacking them quicker or making more seamless passes when the double inevitably comes.