2023 Orlando Magic Time to Step Up: Paolo Banchero’s efficiency

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 24: Paolo Banchero #5 of the Orlando Magic in action during the first quarter of the game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on October 24, 2022 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 24: Paolo Banchero #5 of the Orlando Magic in action during the first quarter of the game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on October 24, 2022 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images) /

Paolo Banchero took the league by storm in the 2023 season, albeit quietly and with very little attention from the national media.

As his season progressed he was mentioned in the same breath as some all-time greats when comparing rookie seasons. And when awards season came around, Banchero brought home the hardware, securing the Rookie of the Year trophy with 98 of a possible 100 first-place votes.

But the honor did not come without critics and pundits arguing against his standout play with one of the only holes in his game: his efficiency.

Paolo Banchero had a stellar rookie season that previews a strong career. But the next evolution for him will be to shed rookie decision-making and become more efficient.

At Duke, Banchero was the guy (just like most top overall selections). And for the Blue Devils, he did not have a problem with the workload.

Over the course of his one-and-done season, he led the ACC in points and made field goals, was sixth in PER, and was 11th in field goal percentage while being third in attempts. And he did all of this while leading the team in points and rebounds. He had shooting splits of 47.8/33.8/72.9. It was a good showing for such a high-usage player.

So going into the NBA, aside from the routine questions about how a prospect’s game will translate to the next level, there was not a concern with Banchero filling up the stat sheet at the expense of his efficiency.

Nonetheless, player trends do change when moving to the NBA. So just because it did not happen in college does not mean it cannot happen in the pros (instead it may indicate that it is not a built-in trait but we will dive into that later).

In the first half of the season, Banchero was elite. And any mention of his low-efficiency numbers were blown off as a byproduct of something more or less out of his control.

Bursting onto the NBA scene, he opened with a 27-point, nine-rebound, five-assist and two-block performance in his first regular season game, becoming the first player since LeBron James with a 25/5/5 stat line in an NBA debut.

He continued the pace with 40 games of 20-plus points and logged six games with at least 30 points (both the second-most by any Magic rookie).

Compared to other rookies, Banchero led in points, ranked third in assists, fourth in steals and fifth in rebounds.

I think you get the point.

Amidst winning four consecutive Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors, any criticism, no matter the validity, was chalked up to being a hater.

But one hole in his game continued to persist–the aforementioned efficiency issue. Banchero’s shooting splits would be considered a work in progress at best.

He averaged 15.6 field goal attempts per game while making just 6.7 per game (42.7 percent). That mark puts him at No. 373 in the league for field goal percentage. And while he led the Magic in attempts, his percentage was only better than four other players on the roster.

His long ball also left something to be desired. Banchero came in even lower at No. 386 in the league for a three-point percentage, weighed down a by 1-for-32 showing from deep in February as he dealt with a nerve issue. Compared to his teammates he only shot better than Bol Bol and Goga Bitadze.

Related Story. Time to Step Up: Franz Wagner's free throws. light

His free throw numbers were fine. Banchero shot 73.8 percent from the line on 7.4 attempts per game. One would expect a decent improvement from the charity stripe in his second year but if that number stayed near the mid to low 70s then there would be cause for concern, especially considering that would mean he is leaving points on the board if he keeps getting to the line at that rate.

Overall, he just was not efficient and during the homestretch of the Rookie of the Year race that critique did not fall on deaf ears anymore even if that was expected for his high usage rate (27.5 percent).

This is not to say that it had any effect on the Rookie of the Year race — 98 out of 100 first-place votes shows that — but watchers of the game realized Banchero was not perfect.

Fans of players like Jalen Williams of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Walker Kessler of the Utah Jazz pointed directly at the efficiency numbers to make their case. Williams made the bigger argument especially as he played a role for a postseason team in the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Williams shot 52.1 percent from the field, 35.6 percent from three and 81.2 percent from the free throw line. Williams though had a usage rate of just 18.4 percent. The ball just was not in his hands nearly as much.

The Magic made Banchero their star immediately and he predictably had his struggles. Struggles he is surely learning to improve upon.

Taking a deeper dive into the numbers from his previous year, there is an argument to be made that he will come out on top.

First, it can not be overstated how much responsibility Banchero had last season. Now, it was not LeBron James in Cleveland — this Magic team is still much more talented than that — but from day one this team leaned on him.

In the opening matchup against the Detroit Pistons, he shot the ball 18 times which was tied for the most in the game with teammate Franz Wagner. This trend continued as Banchero did not have a game where he shot less than ten times until December and he only had six games like that all season.

Any young player much less a rookie would have lower efficiency numbers if he was thrust into such a large role so early. So it is not far-fetched to think that next season, with an entire year under his belt, he will be able to improve.

Another byproduct of such a heavy workload for Banchero was that he went through a slump in his rookie season.

And yes, that is a good thing because he made it out alive. He was able to make it through and it did not completely destroy his confidence.

Over an 11-game stretch in the month of February, he shot 37.4 percent from the field and 3 percent from beyond the arc. He also only averaged 16.6 points which was the lowest out of any month in his rookie season.

February was obviously a big drop off from the usual shooting splits but he did not shrink towards the end of the year,

In March, Banchero bounced back having one of his best months as a pro averaging 20.7 points per game on 44.5 percent shooting from the field and 37 percent from three (that percentage from the three-point line was the highest out of any month excluding April where he only played in two games).

During this time, Orlando had finally clawed its way back into the play-in race after starting 5-20 so these games meant something.

It is a promising sight to see a rookie get through a slump during meaningful basketball and that can’t go ignored.

Related Story. 5 teams the Orlando Magic will fight for a playoff spot. light

Circling back to this comparison because there was plenty of it during the season, Banchero was not playing the role of a rookie James on the Cleveland Cavaliers.

There were plenty of players who contributed mightily to the offensive production seen in 2023 that includes the likes of Markelle Fultz, Wendell Carter and Jalen Suggs.

But the most important piece to offensive output was Wagner. And it was not just in the opening matchup where he led the way with Banchero. It was the entire season.

Wagner is an iron man. He has only missed three games over his first couple of years in the league and averaged 18.6 points per game which was second on the Magic last season.

In fact, that is the theme for Wagner currently.

He has been able to stay on the floor consistently and with the insertion of Banchero into the organization last year, he has continued to improve at the expense of neither player.

There are not many combinations of players in the NBA who could develop alongside each other especially when they are similar in size but this duo is one of them.

So for Banchero attempting to take a second-year leap, pay attention to the support he gets from Wagner. It was there last year, and if they continue to grow together, it’s a guarantee the efficiency –among many other things–will improve.

Hopefully, for the Magic and their fans, next season will be full of meaningful basketball so the improvement in Banchero’s efficiency can be felt to its full effect.

Time To Step Up: Jalen Suggs' shooting again. dark. Next

Going into his second year, alongside Wagner, and with a years worth of experience, expect to see Banchero squash his efficiency deficiency.