2024 Orlando Magic Season MVP: Paolo Banchero is the future

Paolo Banchero had high expectations as the No. 1 pick. To see him meet and surpass those expectations in just two years has completely changed the Orlando Magic's trajectory.
Paolo Banchero followed up his stellar rookie season with another strong sophomore year that propelled the Orlando Magic into the Playoffs.
Paolo Banchero followed up his stellar rookie season with another strong sophomore year that propelled the Orlando Magic into the Playoffs. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

When did you know that Paolo Banchero was the kind of star to build a team around?

Were you among the group that believed it wholeheartedly ahead of the 2022 NBA Draft, fighting off the arguments for Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith Jr. to advocate for your guy?

Did you know after Banchero's incredible 27-9-5 debut in Detroit for his first game? Did you know after he walked to the Rookie of the Year Award and averaged 20.0 points per game in his rookie season?

Did you know after he hit game-winning shots in Utah and Chicago in the first month of his second season? Did you know after his triple-double carrying an injured Magic team to a win at Denver? Was it after he pulled through illness to hit the game-winner in Detroit?

Were you still a non-believer until he showed up in the Playoffs with 30-point games in Games 3, 5 and 7? Did it take getting to Game 7 and Banchero's 24 points in the first half to convince you of his stardom?

Was it all of that? Was it the culmination of the best two-year debut for a Magic rookie since Shaquille O'Neal in 1993 and 1994 to affirm what this team's future is and how critical Paolo Banchero is to that future?

The Orlando Magic made the Playoffs and made a statement to the entire league in taking the more veteran Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in their postseason debut. Even with the NBA burying the series on NBATV and secondary channels until the very end when it was the last first-round series standing, everyone had to take notice of Banchero.

Everyone had to take notice of the Magic.

The story for the Magic's season was about taking that next step and learning how to win as a young team for the first time. It was about getting to the Playoffs and experiencing what the Playoffs would be like.

It became about so much more than that because Banchero improved so dramatically. He was more than an All-Star, he was a superstar for the Magic. And he showed this season that this Magic team will be competitive and could compete for much more than Playoff scraps.

The Magic's future is an optimistic one—the kind that other star players look at and want to be a part of. It always starts with the star player setting the tone and identity for the team.

Banchero set that identity with his scoring prowess but with his leadership and buy-in to everything the Magic are doing. There is no other choice for the Magic's 2024 season MVP.

Banchero not only helped deliver the Magic to the Playoffs, he stepped up his game at every turn and suggested superstardom is in his future. Everything for the Magic now sprouts from Banchero's growing list of accolades.

"How can you not be wildly impressed with Paolo man," president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said during the team's exit interviews last week. "To be able to lock in and process through the season, within a game as quickly and efficiently as he does at age 21. I don't know what to say. It's uncommon. You just don't see that happen that often in this league. Those obviously coupled with his physical ability and gifts, he has tremendous potential and a tremendous future in front of him. Most importantly he is 100 percent motivated by winning and lifting up others whatever it takes."

Paolo Banchero followed a historic rookie season with a better sophomore year

Paolo Banchero improved on his stellar and historic rookie season in almost every way.

He averaged 22.6 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game and 5.4 assists per game, all improvements from his rookie year. He shot 45.5 percent from the floor and 33.9 percent from three. He shot 72.4 percent from the foul line on a still-robust 7.0 free throw attempts per game. That was about the only area he saw his numbers decrease.

The Orlando Magic put the ball in Banchero's hands and trusted him to make decisions. They ran Banchero essentially as their point guard throughout the season. He got his first 40-point game with a December outing in Cleveland. But his most impressive game was a 32-point, 10-rebound, 11-assist effort that willed an undermanned Orlando Magic team to a win in Denver against the Denver Nuggets.

Banchero showed throughout the season he was as likely to pour in 40 points as he was to record a triple-double.

If there is an area Banchero has to improve, it is protecting the ball and reducing turnovers. He averaged 3.1 turnovers per game during the regular season. He had 4.6 per game in the Playoffs as his playmaking responsibilities and defensive attention increased.

But Orlando wanted to explore every facet of his game. They envision having a 6-foot-10 forward who can run pick and rolls as both the ball-handler and the screener. Banchero is the ideal for the versatility and jumbo-sized lineups the Magic tend to prefer.

These mistakes are important to make now as he continues to grow and improve.

Still, there is no denying what he is in the present. In the biggest games, Banchero stepped up in a major way. He averaged 27.0 points per game, 8.6 rebounds per game and 4.0 assists per game in his first Playoff series.

He scored more points in his first three Playoff games than even O'Neal did. Banchero kept putting himself among the best players in the league for a Playoff debut.

The Magic know they have a very special player.

"Special. There's a reason why he's an all-star. There's a reason why he will be all-NBA," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Game 7. "Big moments, he never shies away from them. He never backed down, wanted every ounce of whatever they were throwing at him. He did a great job attacking the rim, did a great job trying to find guys, did a great job rebounding the basketball. All the big things we asked him to do in these big moments, he did."

That was something that stood out about Banchero all year long. Facing constant double teams and exotic traps, he kept attacking and he kept beating the defense.

He got stronger as the Magic's Playoff series went on, scoring 24 of his 38 points in the first half to power the Magic to an early lead. He was playing to exhaustion as he tried to carry the Magic to the second round.

Banchero showed his chops late in games doing the things stars do. He was 14th in the league in total scoring in clutch situations (ignore the turnovers for now). He hit late go-ahead baskets in wins over the Utah Jazz, Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons. He had the big and-1 to double the Magic's lead from three to five in Game 6 (he missed the free throw, there is always something to improve).

Banchero is someone who steps up to the plate. That is exactly what the Magic need.

The Orlando Magic gained a lot of respect for their playoff performance and Paolo Banchero's showing

Orlando Magic fans likely would say the next thing Paolo Banchero deserves is the respect of the national media. That should come with wins and it should come with his playoff performance.

Banchero was voted into the All-Star Game by the coaches. He received constant double-teaming and star players lined up to pay their respects to what Banchero was doing as a 21-year-old both publicly and privately directly to him.

Everyone sees Banchero as a future star. That is what he built this season. That is what he became.

Banchero earned the respect of his peers. That is what matters to him as he finds his place in the league's future.

"I have always taken respect from my peers as the highest level of respect because those guys know what it looks like and what it takes just to play at this level and do the things that we do as players," Banchero said at exit interviews last week. "Guys saying that, it just means a lot. That's all I really wanted since I got into the league is to get the respect as a player, as a competitor."

That is what he always was. And that is why the Magic have such a bright future.

His sophomore season still feels like only the beginning for him as this team continues to build and grow. Banchero is aiming to get back to basics this offseason with few obligations.

Next. 3 reasons Magic lost Playoffs. 3 reasons Orlando Magic lost their Playoff series. dark

Everyone is eager to see where he grows next. And where he takes this team with him.