Paolo Banchero gets his test at center in first U.S. Basketball showing

Paolo Banchero showed some good signs in the United States' win over Puerto Rico. Banchero logged significant minutes at center as the team starts to come together. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Paolo Banchero showed some good signs in the United States' win over Puerto Rico. Banchero logged significant minutes at center as the team starts to come together. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /

When the Orlando Magic drafted Paolo Banchero, the ideas of what he could do were part of the reason and possibilities he would provide.

There was a 6-foot-10 forward who could handle like a guard, pass deftly over defenses and stop and hit all the superstar kind of shots from the mid- and low-post. In fact, the Duke Blue Devils used him almost exclusively as a center with screens and post-ups. It lacked the imagination the NBA typically has for its teams and players.

The Magic changed that really quickly. They put the ball in Banchero’s hands on the perimeter and quickly put him in more pick and rolls in his first month with the team than he had his entire freshman season at Duke.

Orlando though focused on Banchero’s work as a ball-handler and scorer more than anything.

In trying to simplify his responsibilities for his rookie year, Banchero never returned to the center position — he played only 3 percent of his minutes at center according to Basketball-Reference and 241 minutes (out of 2,430) without Wendell Carter, Mo Bamba, Moe Wagner or Goga Bitadze on the floor (and all but 66 of those were all with Bol Bol on the floor).

Perhaps Orlando will consider experimenting with lineups with Banchero at center in smaller lineups. Certainly, the Magic may want to see what all three of their young forwards — Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and Jonathan Isaac — look like in lineups big and small this year.

Team USA though does not have that luxury. The roster is limited to the players they have brought. And these exhibition games are their chance to experiment. And Steve Kerr is not afraid to play funky lineups.

Paolo Banchero had a solid showing in his Team USA debut. He logged significant minutes at center as he gets used to a new position and a new role with the national team.

Banchero will see time at center it would appear as part of Team USA’s preparation for the FIBA World Cup beginning August 25 in the Philippines. Whether that will unlock new dimensions to Banchero’s game or give the Magic some clue of what they can do with their second-year player.

The early returns after a 117-74 win over Puerto Rico in Team U.S.A.’s first exhibition game to prepare for the FIBA World Cup? Color everyone intrigued.

Banchero tallied seven points on 3-for-4 shooting in 16 minutes. He made only one of four free throws and grabbed only one rebound with one assist. Those stats do not quite capture how impactful Banchero ultimately ended up being.

He had a few passes that did not end up in shots, including a behind-the-back look to Tyrese Haliburton that he hesitated on before shooting. His lone assist came in transition on a drop-down pass to Mikal Bridges while he was in at center during the third quarter.

The potential of a big man leading the break with his speed and strength is going to be tough for any defense to handle. But he was not done.

After turning it over on an outlet pass, Banchero recovered to erase a shot in transition. Only the team’s lack of hustle getting back prevented the U.S. from using that block to generate another fast break — Kerr immediately called a timeout to change that.

That just showed a lot of the potential he had in this position.

His size was noticeable on the court as was his speed moving through the lane. It is easy to see why everyone from Kerr to the broadcast were gushing over Banchero and his potential, although acknowledging there is still a long way to go.

Still, it remained clear Banchero was still getting comfortable with everything that was being asked of him. And that probably went double for his time playing center.

The U.S. went 17-11 in the time Banchero played center in the third quarter. The team did not really run Puerto Rico out of the gym until he was on the bench. But the potential of what Banchero was doing was evident.

He would set screens and roll through the lane, taking defenders with him concerned with his size and scoring ability. He still was able to draw contact and finish through it because of how big and fluid he is with the ball.

He only had one rebound, but he was more attentive with his boxing out to set others up for rebounds. He did something he did not really do with the Magic — he greased the wheels.

There are still a lot of areas Banchero has to improve. He has to be more proactive at chasing rebounds. His defensive attention to detail and rotations were not always on point, although the effort was certainly there and he made some excellent plays nonetheless. And when he was not involved in the play, Banchero seemed a bit unsure what he was supposed to do or where he was supposed to go.

A lot of that has to do with the team still learning each other and still learning the system Kerr wants the team to play.

That will include more experiments like what the team did Monday night in Las Vegas. Playing Banchero at center seemed like an inevitable conclusion somewhere down the road. Even as a changeup for a rotation.

It is something the Magic will consider doing.

It is something Team USA definitely appears considering doing. And it is something that has earned at least another look with the competition stiffening up for the team’s trip to Spain — Saturday the U.S. plays Luka Doncic and Slovenia before playing World No. 1 Spain on Sunday.

Banchero at least passed this first test at center. He showed some proof of concept that he could handle and succeed in this role. Certainly within the constructs of what Team USA is trying to build.

Next. Time To Step Up: Paolo Banchero's rebounding. dark

Like everything else, now Team USA hopes to grow from this first game and get more effective in their next set of games.