Zach LaVine did what stars can do. Just because they have struggled all game does not mean the team will go away from them late in games. It does not mean they will not rise to the occasion.
LaVine buried a deep three with seven seconds left to complete the comeback and tie the game at 94. The young Magic were getting a hard lesson. But they knew they had one more chance and plenty of time.
And everyone seemed to know where the ball was going and who was taking the shot. LaVine is a former All-Star and a player on that level. The Magic quickly appear to have their own player of that type.
Everyone knew the ball was going to Paolo Banchero. The question was whether they could do anything about it.
In this case, they could not.
Paolo Banchero continues to add to his star lore with a second game-winning basket this year. This poise is exactly why the Orlando Magic made him the centerpiece of their team.
Banchero took a screen to get to the mid-post. He felt Alex Caruso on him and immediately attacked the basket, waiting a beat to read how the defense would collapse and pressure him. With a few dribbles he had the defense collapsed around him.
That is when he turned and shot over the smaller Caruso. The ball hit seemingly every part of the rim before dropping in with just more than a second to play.
Ball game. Magic win 96-94.
Banchero delivered again, his second late game-winning basket of this young season. The second time he did what stars do and delivered a win.
"“You don’t want to catch and survey,” Banchero said after Wednesday’s game. “You want to catch and have your mind made up. I wasn’t sure if they were going to double. So when I caught it I took the first dribble and they didn’t, I knew I had two or three more dribbles. I got the shot up in time and it dropped.”"
Cole Anthony said after the game that the shot was downright impressive, something of a blind shot where Banchero turned and fired before he even saw the rim. It was a “360 no scope” from Banchero.
Even if the NBA does eventually come out and say Banchero traveled in its Last 2 Minute Report, it was an impressive shot and yet another time when Banchero rose to the moment. When the Magic needed a basket to decide the game, Banchero was the one who delivered.
This is of course the hallmark of a star. Stars have the ball in their hands at the end of games. They are the ones everyone knows is getting the ball late in games and are still powerless to stop.
Banchero seemed to confirm that he was the right guy to pick with the No. 1 pick in that hotly debated and contested 2022 NBA Draft with his Rookie of the Year campaign. He looked like a dominant scorer capable of carrying an offense.
His 20.0 points per game seemed to confirm that. But there is obviously more to it.
It is taking over these games late. That is what he showed in a February win in New Orleans when he scored eight points in the final two minutes to secure that win. That kind of shotmaker is what separates the good players from the great players.
So too is stepping up in these moments.
Banchero has the two game-winning baskets for Orlando, but the team has turned to him more and more.
In 16.5 clutch minutes (when the game is within five points in the final five minutes), Banchero leads the Magic in clutch scoring with 15 points (Markelle Fultz is second with four). He is hitting 6 of 11 shots (although just 1 of 5 threes). His five turnovers in those minutes are the only sign of his youth — and part of the problem of the Magic’s poor spacing.
But these are the responsibility of stars. And that is what the Magic are hoping Banchero continues to develop and become. This is what they saw in him over Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith back on draft day. This ability to be the hub around which all things turn.
The kind of player they can give the ball to and have deliver.
"“There’s a lot of maturity,” Anthony said after Wednesday’s game. “He had a great summer and came back an even better player which is impressive because he had a great rookie year. He just works extremely hard. He has become a better defender this year, he’s become a better passer, a better scorer, a better shooter. He has improved his game in every aspect. It has been impressive to see his journey.”"
Banchero’s scoring is down this year. He is averaging 18.7 points per game and 7.0 rebounds per game.
He has improved in a lot of areas though. He has shooting splits of 45.5/40.0/65.8. His overal field goal percentage and three-point percentage are better than his rookie year. He has also averaged 4.9 assists per game so far this year.
The Magic can use Banchero more as a hub and while he has struggled to shoot in some regards, he has found his groove. Now it is just about the Magic creating space for him to create. But you can see his wheels turning on how to make his teammates all the better.
A lot of this season has been about figuring out how to be better for his teammates and using those skills while still making sure he gets his own scoring in and provides that steady drumbeat for his team. That is what all stars have to figure out at some point.
To be sure, Banchero still has a lot to figure out. And the Magic have work to do to make things easier for their budding star. But things are coming together.
And being able to rely on Banchero for these exact moments is exactly what they saw in him back in June 2022. This is what differentiated him from those other players. He was the most ready and played the most like the superstars that win late in the season.
Banchero is that guy. Now it is just watching him and his team learn.
"“I loved our guys resolve at the end,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Wednesday’s game. “Understanding we’ve been in these scenarios before. It’s why we do the two minute drills. Did it go perfectly? No. That’s the will of this team. They find a way. That was a big time poise play by Paolo to get in there and finish the play at the end of the game.”"
That poise is everything about Banchero. That is also what separated him. He always looked comfortable late in games even at Duke. That is the hint of stardom.
There is still a lot for Banchero to develop. He has turned the ball over a lot — not just in clutch moments, he is averaging 3.3 turnovers per game this year. But a lot of that comes from exploring the limits of his game, absorbing more attention from defenses and having the ball in his hands more.
Defenses are throwing two and three players at him, they are certainly treating him like a star.
More importantly, the Magic as a team are that much better. That goes to Banchero’s commitment to his teammates. And how much his teammates trust him to close the game and get the job done.
"“It tells us more that we already know about our team,” Banchero said after Wednesday’s game. “Obviously we would like to maybe save the dramatics at the end of the game. A win is a win. We’re learning how to win. That’s the motto right now. We’re 6-5 and we get a chance to be 7-5 on Friday.”"
There is still a lot of season left. But the Magic have led in every second half this season and led in every fourth quarter except for the losses to the LA Clippers and Dallas Mavericks. That is growth. But there is still a lot more to come.
Orlando though has put the ball in Banchero’s hands a lot. And with the game on the line he continues to deliver in meaningful ways. That is a hint of what is in store for Banchero moving forward and what this young star might become very soon.