The Orlando Magic were not going undefeated in 2022.
How can a team go undefeated when its best player averages fewer than 12 points per game?
With how positive the first two games went, the team was going to crash back to Earth. Every team is going to lose a game eventually. But most times the best player gets his average in a loss. They can point to their star player making or missing a shot and depend on him to show up night in and night out.
The Magic dropped a tough loss to the Western Conference finalist Los Angeles Lakers at Crypto.com Arena on Monday in a tight 106-103 defeat. The Lakers needed both of their stars to beat the Magic in a tight affair where Orlando’s late-game execution came under question.
The game saw both LeBron James and Anthony Davis, along with D’Angelo Russell, come up with big shots and big plays late in the game. The Lakers’ stars were the show and led them to a come-from-behind win in the final minutes.
Paolo Banchero was noticeably absent. He missed all four of his shots and took only one attempt in the final two minutes, a rushed shot at the rim against Davis where Banchero failed to draw a foul.
Paolo Banchero has struggled to get himself going early this season. The Orlando Magic’s budding young star has to find his way to help the Magic achieve their goals.
Orlando was missing both its young stars late with Franz Wagner also struggling with 16 points on 5-for-17 shooting. Wagner also failed to score in the fourth quarter, missing all three of his shots in the final frame.
Orlando played decent enough to compete with Los Angeles, but there is another level that the Banchero must go to in order for the Magic to compete at the highest level. That was evident after this loss and throughout the season so far.
What also was evident is that Banchero, for whatever reason, has not played like the Paolo Banchero the team saw average 20.0 points per game last year.
The level of competition does not matter, he just simply does not look like himself. Banchero has to at least get his average when playing against potential Playoff teams in the Western Conference.
And this is not the modest 11.7 points per game Banchero has averaged through three games or the putrid 39.1 percent effective field goal percentage for the season so far — 12 for 32 overall and 1 for 6 from three. The only saving grace has been Banchero hitting 10 of 18 free throws through six games. Still, that is a lot of misses and he had just two attempts against the Lakers.
The Magic see Banchero growing in other areas of his game. So there is not panic within the organization yet.
"“The great part about Paolo is that he is a winner and he is trying to find ways to win,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Monday’s loss. “Whether he is making shots, whether he is helping rebound, whether he is defending, he is doing all the little things to put his teammates in the right position to be successful. I don’t worry aobut his shot. He is doing the right things to try to make winning plays for this team.”"
Gary Harris added the team wants him to stay aggressive and they trust him to make the right play. He has been a selfless player for the Magic so far this season.
But certainly this is the missing piece for a Magic team that is struggling offensively. They need their star player. And they could be off to an even better start if Banchero had picked up where he left off in his Rookie of the Year campaign. Magic fans certainly expected him to take a sizable leap.
It is further concerning because this year’s Magic team looks good and is providing a supporting cast like no other team in the NBA is.
Six Magic players finished the Lakers game in double figures. Wendell Carter, Franz Wagner, Cole Anthony, Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs and Gary Harris all finished with 10 or more points in the game Monday.
This is a dream scenario for Banchero’s supporting cast to play this well. All they needed was for Paolo to come to the party with the same energy from last years ROY season.
Banchero is finding other ways to contribute. He added five rebounds and five assists in Monday’s loss. He is averaging 5.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game to start the season. His defense has also noticeably improved, growing from his time with Team USA in the summer.
"“I think he impacts the game in many more ways than just shooting the basketball,” Markelle Fultz said after Monday’s loss. “I need him to keep being aggressive. But don’t let that dictate everything else. He is a great defender, great passer and great playmaker. Keep affecting the game in other ways and that is something he has to keep locking in on.”"
That is all positive. And Banchero has rounded out other parts of his game.
But Banchero is on the team to be a scorer and shot-generator. Mosley and his staff will need to find ways to get him going for the team to achieve its goals.
The Magic are doing fine for now staying afloat and competing. But that may not last without the team’s budding star finding his way.