The summer is winding down for the Orlando Magic and the teams around the league. The FIBA World Cup is over and training camp is just two weeks away.
Everyone around the NBA is starting to focus in a more real way on the upcoming season. Training camp plans are being finalized. Players are mostly working out together at the team facility. The season is almost here.
And there is definitely a new vibe about the Magic this season.
There are expectations for this team to take an important step forward as a group and compete for the postseason. That is what happens after a stellar rookie season from Paolo Banchero, further growth from Franz Wagner and a 29-28 finish to the season.
There is a lot of optimism and belief within the Magic.
There is a lot of belief in the Orlando Magic to take a big step forward this season. It starts with their star in Paolo Banchero who showed growth in a surprising way this offseason.
But the team still needs to get better. That remains the big challenge for this young Orlando team. And it is the overarching goal for the team — as generic as that sounds.
A lot of the focus for Orlando’s growth has turned to the team’s star players. They are both growing steadily and should have big seasons.
The FIBA World Cup gave everyone a preview of that. For Wagner, it showed his start potential as he slid in and out of the lineup with his injury but still made a major impact on their way to the gold medal.
With Banchero, that growth was much harder to see. He was coming off the bench and playing backup center. He was not asked to score. For a lot of Magic fans, there was some frustration that he was not scoring as much.
That was not his role. His coach though saw lots of growth from Banchero with Team USA.
As coach Jamahl Mosley told Michael Scotto of The HoopsHype Podcast, Paolo Banchero grew with his defensive communication and leadership this offseason. Both of those things will help the Magic tremendously:
"“I think the sky is the limit. I think him being with Team USA and then seeing the different aspects of how people had to adjust their game in order to fit into what was trying to be accomplished,” Mosley said of Banchero. “He’s capable of doing so many things. At the beginning of the year, he played basically point for us at times between he and Franz.“More importantly, I just watched his jump defensively. His ability to switch the pick and roll as well as to stay in the coverage. They had him playing the 5 and mixed with the 4. I thought it was great that he expanded his game and it was real time he had to experience this and apply it right away. I think it does wonders for him on the court.”"
It was easy to see the kind of leap Banchero made defensively. Some of it was certainly by necessity with Team USA going into the tournament with few big men. But Banchero had to make a sacrifice to play his role.
And he did it well. He suddenly became a solid shot blocker and while he may have still been late on a few rotations, he competed hard and his versatility to defend on the perimeter certainly stood out during his time this summer.
Mosley shared another story that should be encouraging.
As the U.S. Select Tam Coach, he was part of Team USA’s training camp and traveled with them to Spain and to Abu Dhabi for the warmup games.
Mosley said during the practices he could see Banchero finding his voice on defense and communicating better. As a center, especially, they act as the back line for the defense, calling out coverages and switches.
That was a lot to put on a player coming off his rookie year.
That Banchero did so well at this was astonishing. Especially considering he was not considered a strong defender coming out of the draft, nor was he a particularly great defender (albeit still underrated) during his rookie year.
Mosley said this level of leadership is something that Banchero will be able to bring back to the Magic. There is definitely a new level of expectation put on Banchero.
Teams ultimately go as far as their stars will take them. So seeing a leap from Banchero is certainly something the team is expecting to happen.
That it seems set to happen on the defensive end — an area that will be essential to the Magic’s success — and as a leader makes the potential for this season all the more promising.