5 things to know after the Orlando Magic’s FIBA World Cup first round
Paolo Banchero is making gains defensively
Everyone knew when Paolo Banchero signed up to play for Team USA that he would be asked to do something different. He was not going to be the team’s primary scorer. The question for everyone was: How would he carve out his role? What would he learn in the process?
If anything, Banchero’s offense has taken a back seat and has been slower to develop during his run with the national team. He has been focused intently on his defense and trying to be engaged on that end. He has been a surprising shot blocker too with four blocks in his first game against New Zealand.
Banchero has quietly become a decent defender for Team USA. He has at least done everything coach Steve Kerr has asked him to do. And now he is one of the first guys off the bench for a second unit that tends to expand leads.
Banchero’s defense is quite a surprise. The Magic had a 115.3 defensive rating with Banchero on the floor last year. He was as bad defensively as you expect a rookie to be.
He showed some signs of improvement throughout the year. And there are at least a few things he could build upon as he got more comfortable.
Banchero though is not going to be known for his defense. The Magic drafted him knowing he might have some defensive questions to answer. And those questions still need some answering at the NBA level.
But with so much of his focus on improving his defense, Banchero has shined. It is not just the blocks that deserve highlight-reel notoriety, he is in his spots better and holding his ground within the switching schemes and against bigger players.
It will be interesting to see how much the U.S. uses him in the next two games going up against Nikola Vucevic and Montenegro and Jonas Valanciunas and Lithuania. But Banchero has established himself as a part of this group and key part with his ball-handling at his size.
Offensively, Banchero has been a foul machine, averaging 5.7 attempts per game in 16.1 minutes per game. He is struggling to shoot — 64.7 percent from the line and 63.2 percent from the floor overall mostly on dunks and shots around the basket. He is averaging 12.3 points per game (37 points with 21 coming in that first game against New Zealand).
But all of that will return when the ball is in his hands more. He is looking comfortable and confident and getting a lot out of the experience.