Orlando Magic 2023 FIBA World Cup: This is the pressure Orlando Magic want young players to feel

Paolo Banchero struggled in the United States' loss to Lithuania in a pressure-packed game to close the second round. (Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)
Paolo Banchero struggled in the United States' loss to Lithuania in a pressure-packed game to close the second round. (Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images) /

This is the moment the Orlando Magic will be hopefully playing out later in the season.

A regular season game with huge stakes for their postseason seeding and positioning. The pressure of both teams really trying to get out of it but some of the safety net that there will be another chance the next day to learn and grow.

When the FIBA World Cup rosters were announced, this was the biggest benefit players like Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner could get from their trips overseas. The Magic’s two young players were going to be on teams heading deep into the tournament — playing different roles but still both would be on the court when the pressure was ramping up.

Welcome to playoff practice.

For Paolo Banchero that lesson was something he had to learn both by watching his team struggle and by struggling himself with late-game decisions.

The U.S. lost to Lithuania to end the second round and head to the quarterfinals of the FIBA World Cup. That lesson and pressure is exactly what the Orlando Magic wanted Paolo Banchero to feel.

With the U.S. trailing Lithuania on Sunday, they were desperately trying to get back into the game and hitting just enough threes to make things interesting.

Down four, the U.S. was pressing when Lithuania tried a deep pass. Banchero expertly stepped in front and pushed the ball back on offense. He had the opportunity to hit a pull-up three. Instead, he fed the ball to the corner to Josh Hart, standing right next to Mikal Bridges. Bridges missed his three and that was really the last chance the U.S. would have in a 110-104 loss.

The defeat does not eliminate the U.S. They will play in the quarterfinals Tuesday against Italy and potentially Germany in the semifinals a few days later.

Still, there were a lot of hard lessons for a young team that is still working to come together and learn the FIBA game as much as each other.

Early in the game, the U.S. fell into the trap of trying to go at it alone and isolate, settling for jumpers and driving into the teeth of the defense without moving the ball to get them in rotations. Lithuania feasted on its inside-out play making its first eight 3-pointers to build as much as a 21-point lead.

The U.S. fought back admirably. The team got the deficit down to four points before Mindaugus Kuzminskas seemed to put the dagger in the U.S.’s hearts with a difficult three over Anthony Edwards’ strong defense to put Lithuania up nine with about three minutes to play. It was a shot all Edwards could do was tip his hat.

This U.S. team is young and also short on NBA Playoff experience just as they are short on international experience. Many have played in the playoffs, unlike Banchero (or Wagner for Germany). But they still need their pressure-game reps.

That was what was on the line for the team in this second-round game with Lithuania. And it was a test the team struggled with. A lesson the team can only get once now that they have reached the knockout stage — the single-elimination part of the tournament.

Banchero had his worst game of the FIBA World Cup with just six points, albeit on 3-for-4 shooting. He looked a bit overmatched when he had to come in early after Jaren Jackson Jr. got into early foul trouble. Lithuania just overpowered the U.S. physically at nearly every position.

This was always the apparent weakness in this U.S. team. And choosing to use Banchero at center only made that bigger. The U.S. spent the first half trying to find the right combination of bigs to handle that size — Walker Kessler got his first first-half minutes of the tournament.

Worse than that, the uncertainty of being down big and the physicality of the game itself (Banchero had zero free throw attempts, something that rarely if ever will happen with Banchero in the game), seemed to take away Banchero’s aggression.

His role is not to shoot and take a ton of shots. But he still needs to be aggressive and looking to score. And that did not happen. The U.S. needed everyone to think about scoring, albeit doing it responsibly and within the team concept.

The pressure, it seemed got to many players, including Banchero.

But this is what Banchero needs to experience. He needs to be in pressure games where he has to perform and has to play his role at its highest levels. When he returns to the Magic, they will be spending this entire season getting to that point and seeing how he and his teammates respond to that kind of pressure.

That is why this World Cup is so vital for Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner, if he returns from his ankle injury for Germany’s quarterfinal game with Latvia on Wednesday. They are getting the chance to play in meaningful, pressure-packed games. That will prepare them for the challenges that coming this season for this team.

That will undoubtedly help them grow.

For now, though, Banchero and Wagner need to do what will help their teams wins. For Wagner, that is trying to be healthy enough to play — he remains listed day-to-day as he tries to get back. For Banchero, that is defending and rebounding well while helping that second unit push the pace.

Next. Moe Wagner vs. Goga Bitadze. dark

The pressure will be on both teams now as the tournament gets to this knockout stage and the chance for a medal is clearly within their grasps.