2024 Orlando Magic First Half MVP: Paolo Banchero became him

The Orlando Magic have been looking for a star for the past decade. In the last 20 games, they got confirmation they may finally have one in the fold.
Paolo Banchero made his claim to be an All-Star and centerpiece player in the first quarter of the Orlando Magic's season. That is all this team could have ever asked for.
Paolo Banchero made his claim to be an All-Star and centerpiece player in the first quarter of the Orlando Magic's season. That is all this team could have ever asked for. / Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately, the lasting image of the Orlando Magic's second quarter of the season is disappointment. There is a bad taste in everyone's mouth as they stare at the standings and wonder how the Magic found themselves outside the huddled pack fighting for a sure Playoff spot.

The hot start from November has faded into the background. The grind of a playoff chase and the pain of injuries set in during these past 20 games. The Magic are facing some hard truths about their roster and how far they still have to go to get to the level they want to be at.

Those truths also revealed something else. Something that will be far more important have wider reaching effects for the Magic.

Yes, there was frustration. Nothing probably symbolizes the Magic's second quarter of the season more than Paolo Banchero cursing at himself for missing two opportunities to deliver a big win over the Miami Heat on the road just a few weeks ago.

Then again, nothing symbolizes the potential for the Magic to continue growing from their second quarter of the season more than the position Banchero consistently put the team in again and again and the burden he feels to carry this team through everything else.

Walking off the floor in Miami, the Magic would not have been in that situation without two ridiculously tough shots over the defense to give the Magic a brief one-point lead. Just as Banchero was quiet the entire game against the Atlanta Hawks until hitting a crucial three that would have delivered the Magic a win if not for Dejounte Murray's final possession heroics.

There is a lot to stay about the Magic and how they need to improve. There is a lot to say even about Banchero and how he can continue to evolve and get better.

But one thing everyone can say about the Magic through the first half of the season is that they have a star in Banchero. They have someone who can suck in the defense's attention and overcome it. They have a clutch player able to hit big shots in big moments and lift his team when the clock is ticking down.

They have a true star player.

Banchero is the MVP of the Magic's first half of the season (and consecutively the second quarter of the season, just as we named him MVP for the first quarter of the season) because he showed everyone he could be the superstar the Magic have been missing since Dwight Howard's departure in 2012.

In the first half of the season, Banchero averaged 22.9 points per game, 7.0 rebounds per game and 4.9 assists per game. All of his numbers jumped from his historic rookie season. That includes his shooting efficiency, which might have been the biggest knock on his rookie campaign. He shot 45.0 percent from the floor and 35.2 percent from deep.

During the season's second quarter (from Dec. 8 through Jan. 17), Banchero averaged 25.4 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game and 5.1 assists per game. That included his first career triple-double, a 32-point, 10 rebounds and 11-assist effort in an upset win over the Denver Nuggets with only eight players available for most of the game, and his first two career 40-point games.

That is even more impressive considering the amount of attention he got.

With Franz Wagner out for the final eight games of the first half of the season, teams sent him constant double teams to try to force the ball out of his hands. And without that secondary scoring option, Banchero had to carry the team a lot offensively.

The Magic may have faltered in the standings -- the team went 8-12 in the second quarter of the season -- but it was not for a lack of effort on Banchero's part. The team would have been in much worse shape without him.

There is still something important for Banchero to learn there, though. The Magic needed to see whether their young star could be the kind of player who could take over games and become something of a point forward. They needed to know if he could elevate his game when the defense was so intensely focused on him.

This is what Banchero did throughout the second quarter of the season. He was everything for the team and the Magic could barely function offensively when he was off the floor.

That is not something the Magic wants to continue. They need some balance and additions to the roster to make his life easier. Wagner's return would go a long way.

But it is also abundantly clear the Magic have not had a player who could do all the things Banchero can do consistently in quite some time. Probably not since Tracy McGrady was in the Magic's star-pinstriped jerseys.

That is the kind of company Banchero is keeping and the kind of comparisons we have to make.

Coach Jamahl Mosley has been doing his best to promote Paolo Banchero as an All-Star for much of this season. The numbers certainly suggest it, and Banchero has done all he can.

Whether he makes it or not might depend on how strong his closing kick is or whether the Magic can start winning enough to sway the coaches to vote for him -- he has four games left before the reserves are announced.

Getting Banchero in the conversation in his second year is a significant victory. Seeing him establish himself as a player who demands a double team is a big deal.

This first half of the season confirmed what Banchero is capable of. And what the Magic can build around in him. He elevated all parts of his game, from his shooting to his scoring to his passing and even his defense.

Banchero showed the Magic in the first half of the season. He is a primetime performer and someone this team can build around.

Now comes the difficult task of building around him and making good on the promise the first half of this season showed.

Banchero made clear in the first half of his second season that he could be an All-Star player worth building around. That is all the Magic needed to see from him. It is a key part of this team's overall development and growth.

Next. OMD Mailbag 01.21.24. OMD Mailbag: Looking past the midpoint of the season. dark

Now it feels like the sky is the limit. And now the pressure to win is only going to grow (as it should). That will be the ultimate judge for this team.