The Orlando Magic knew they were getting something special in Paolo Banchero.
That is always the hope when you take a player with the first pick. You want a player you can build your franchise around. Someone who is the foundation for a brighter future.
Nobody wants to be in a position to pick first. It is not supposed to be a state of permanence. And considering the Magic’s last decade, winning the top pick felt hard-earned.
It is hard to remember how much debate there was at least outside of the Amway Center about who the Magic should take with that top pick. There were three legitimate choices.
Perhaps the answer should have been obvious. Banchero had the temperament and scoring chops that a typical starring player has. He revealed that over and over again throughout his standout rookie year.
Paolo Banchero had a historic rookie season, but he does not seem to be stopping there. He seems eager to improve and eager to listen to get there.
It helps too that he seemed to fall into the Magic’s lap considering the typical things they like in a player. They love positional and skill versatility and Banchero seemed to embody that as a 6-foot-10 scorer who can take players off the dribble and attack one-on-one but also pass the ball at his size.
There are plenty of ways his game can grow. And that is perhaps where he differentiates himself from the pack.
Banchero has not spent his offseason thumping his chest or celebrating his rookie season. He has been working — meeting up with Jayson Tatum and Kevin Durant for workouts. He has joined Team USA, foregoing the chance to be the star with Italy to be a role player for the United States.
To hear it from people close to Banchero, this is part of who he is.
Isaiah Thomas, a fellow Seattle native and one of the godfathers of the Seattle basketball scene, told this story on Gilbert Arenas’ podcast:
That seems to track with what Banchero has worked on this offseason. There was never the sense that Banchero felt like he arrived. Going to Team USA to take a secondary role and learn new skills to add to his game without the ball furthers that humility.
What has become clear is how much the NBA world believes in Banchero. They all see something special in this player and what he is going to become for the Magic.
The Athletic has started off its player rankings for the upcoming season and has Banchero in their Tier 4. Do not take that as an insult, the rankings are purposefully lower on younger players because of their inconsistency.
They wrote about Banchero:
"“He wasn’t particularly efficient as a rookie, weighed down by his sub-30 percent from deep, but simply being able to carry high-20s usage without being an utter disaster illustrates his potential to grow into an offensive hub.”"
They highlighted Banchero’s incredible ability to get to the foul line — 7.4 free throw attempts per game and a 47.6 percent free throw rate. Those are not usually stats that go away — although they may fluctuate some year to year.
As they write, the easiest way to become a high-usage, high-efficiency big is to get to the foul line and have some playmaking chops. Banchero’s 3.7 assists per game is certainly a sign he can make those kinds of passes.
And a lot of his passing stats suggest he has plenty of room to grow on that end.
According to data from Basketball-Index, Banchero averaged 9.47 assists per 75 possessions (in the 71st percentile), 17 potential assists per 100 passes (70th percentile), 3.51 high-value assists (3-point assists, rim assists or free throw assists) per 75 possessions (73rd percentile). He had scoring gravity that ranks him in the top quarter of the league.
There is still room for improvement. He has a -4.05 role-adjusted assist points per 75 possessions suggesting he should be accumulating more assists for the heavy usage role that he plays (that is in the 16th percentile according to Basketball-Index).
But all of that is to be expected from a rookie. Rookies rarely fulfill all of their potential. They merely show hints of what they can become and spend the next few years refining and growing.
Those players cannot rest on their laurels. And plenty of second-year players — Evan Mobley and Scottie Barnes come to mind — can stagnate some as the league adjusts to them. That is part of the evolution necessary in the league.
That is what is in front of Banchero. And that is why it feels so important that he is willing to listen and grow. He is not done getting better.
And everyone cannot wait to see where that takes him.