NBA fans are still sleeping on Paolo Banchero as All-Star returns debut

Paolo Banchero turned in a heroic 43-point effort against the Sacramento Kings. But NBA fans are still sleeping on the second-year Orlando Magic forward as All-Star returns prove.

Paolo Banchero scored 18 straight points in the fourth quarter and overtime as he tried to carry the Orlando Magic to a win in Sacramento.
Paolo Banchero scored 18 straight points in the fourth quarter and overtime as he tried to carry the Orlando Magic to a win in Sacramento. / Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
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Everyone in Golden1 Center knew exactly where the ball was going on every possession. With the Orlando Magic down by one in the dying seconds of regulation, the question was not whether Paolo Banchero would get the ball, it was whether the Sacramento Kings could stop him.

They found it difficult to chase Banchero around, ultimately throwing double and triple teams at him as Banchero willed the Magic into overtime on the road with a severely injury-depleted roster.

But with 15 seconds left, Banchero did not do anything complex. He isolated his man on the wing, stepped into a three and drained it in cold blood. The Magic led by two points and were in position to win.

If that was not enough, the Magic had the ball under their basket with six seconds left in overtime, trailing by two and needing a basket to extend the game. Banchero broke free along the baseline and powered through for a layup to force a second overtime.

In all, Banchero scored 18 straight points in the fourth quarter and overtime on his way to a career-high 43 points. Banchero carried the Magic as far as he could in a 138-135 double-overtime defeat -- one the Magic were still encouraged and proud of considering all the injuries.

This was a stellar game. But Banchero has been this good for a while now and consistently putting up star performances.

But is anybody noticing? Is anybody in the NBA world seeing what Banchero is doing night in and night out? Is he that removed from the spotlight?

The Magic are currently sixth in the Eastern Conference in the logjam that is the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference -- the 4- through 8-seeds are separated by one game at the moment. They are in the conversation in the bigger story of the league.

But Banchero is still working in anonymity. The Orlando Magic had their third NBATV game on Tuesday against the Golden State Warriors. Their lone national TV appearance is not coming until February against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Even then, somehow Chet Holmgren is getting more publicity and hype than Paolo Banchero (not that Holmgren has not been good for the surprising Thunder).

Look no further than the first returns of NBA All-Star voting. Banchero is going to be heading to Indianapolis as a reserve, barring injury or a Magic collapse. But Paolo Banchero still sits in 10th among the East's frontcourt players, behind former Los Angeles Laker Kyle Kuzma.

Banchero is still looking to gain attention.

Fan voting is fan voting. The list is dotted with popular players and players who are in the national consciousness.

Kuzma has put up solid numbers for the woeful Washington Wizards, but his history as a Los Angeles Laker is likely why he has staked a 15,000 vote lead over Banchero. The Boston Celtics have five of the 20 players listed as a popular team and the leaders in the East.

Franz Wagner does not show up on the top-10 list at all. He might be among the favorites to be an injury replacement.

Fortunately, this list is not reflective of how the reserve voting will go. The coaches vote on the reserves and coaches have been repeatedly gushing over Banchero's future.

Games like Wednesday night's will go a long way to putting Banchero in the national spotlight. All the national shows spent Thursday morning talking about his 40-point performance. Banchero was the star -- regardless of the result of the game.

And games like Wednesday have become even more common. Banchero is demanding attention for those that are watching.

For the season, Banchero is averaging 22.4 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game and 4.7 assists per game. He is shooting 46.5 percent from the floor and 37.9 percent from three (up from 29.8 percent his rookie year). He still gets to the line a robust 7.1 times per game.

Since Dec. 1, Banchero is averaging 26.3 points per game, 7.9 rebounds per game and 4.9 assists per game while shooting 45.2 percent from the floor and 33.8 percent from beyond the arc. In his last eight games, Banchero is averaging 28.4 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game and 5.3 assists per game.

In that stretch since Dec. 1, Banchero has three 30-point games, joining only Shaquille O'Neal and Tracy McGrady with three 30-point games in a season for the Orlando Magic. Every statistical measure we have for Banchero puts him in the class of the Magic's elite scorers. This does not feel like a flash in the pan.

All this while taking on more playmaking responsibility and having to direct a playoff-contending team. Banchero has just been stunning this season. It has been hard to remember this is just his second season in the league.

Banchero has just been that good.

He will be an All-Star this year. At this point, the coaches would be insane not to vote him in especially considering where the Magic sit in the standings.

Kuzma will not be an All-Star. Mikal Bridges' case weakens with every Brooklyn Nets loss. Banchero is in the pool of players among the contenders and his numbers suggest he will get the reward for his efforts because of the team's success.

Just how do we get the rest of the NBA world to see his brilliance? The Magic winning has clearly not been enough. Orlando has been the best story in the Eastern Conference this season. That has not turned into All-Star votes.

Banchero needs a stage to perform -- not to put too much pressure on the Magic's Feb. 13 game against the Thunder on TNT. The league executives need to do a better job featuring their young players on the rise and making new stars.

Banchero is doing all of that as best he can to put the Magic in a position to make the playoffs and get that stage. That is ultimately where everyone will learn his name. Indianapolis in February will be an appetizer for what is to come from him.

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The league is sleeping on him though. Somehow Banchero has to turn out more votes to get the attention he deserves.