Orlando Magic's future stars shining on the Playoff stage

Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner each took turns making historic scoring performances as they continue to shine in their Playoff debuts.
Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner have learned how to play together and share the burden as each steps up on the Playoff stage.
Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner have learned how to play together and share the burden as each steps up on the Playoff stage. / Jamie Sabau/GettyImages

The Cleveland Cavaliers had every reason to be fearful of Paolo Banchero after the shooting performance he put on them in Game 3. Banchero scored 31 points and kept finding his spots and rhythm in the mid-range, leaving the defense helpless and the Kia Center crowd in a frenzy. The Cavs had no answer for that.

The Cavs brought the pressure in Game 4. They brought blindside double teams to try to force Banchero to slow down and question his decisions (forcing him into four turnovers). The same shots that were there for Banchero in Game 3 were not there in Game 4.

If the mission for Game 4 was to slow down Banchero and force him back into tight spaces, the Cavs might be wiling to say mission accomplished after his 4-for-14 performance.

Of course, the mission was not accomplished. Banchero accepted that Game 4 was not his day. He trusted his teammates. And the Magic got another star going.

Franz Wagner did not have the season everyone expected of him. The 3-point shooting seemed to abandon him for whatever reason. But Wagner still is someone to put pressure on the defense. Everyone can see he is a future All-Star.

And, in the end, all anybody wants is to see players perform in the Playoffs.

"He is so special," Jalen Suggs said after Saturday's game. "I told him coming off the court, kochen means cooking in German. That's exactly what he was doing all night. The "can't see me", the threes, the lays, he was just flowing offensively. When you are having tough nights it's great to have not only a team like this with special players like Boog [Franz Wagner] who can create for himself, create for others and cause problems. That is one of those ones where we will take care of the defense and just let Boog go to work down there."

Wagner got downhill and weaved his way through multiple defenders. He scored 34 points on 13-for-17 shooting, adding a pair of mid-range jumpers for good measure. Wagner was not just barreling to the paint, he put all of his skills on display.

And for the first time in his NBA career at least, Wagner seemed to be embracing the joy that defines this team. He picked up a technical foul for pointing at Georges Niang on a spin move and floater in the first half. He gave the John Cena "You Can't See Me" after hitting a pull-up three during the team's third-quarter run. He capitalized an and-1 by pointing at the crowd in the fourth quarter.

Everything was rolling. It was Banchero in Game 3 and Wagner in Game 4.

The realization for the Cavs might be that they are dealing with two stars because both of the Magic's young future stars have stepped up on the Playoffs -- these past two games only making a major statement in critical games to tie the series.

They are both playoff performers.

"Obviously [Franz is] incredible," Moe Wagner said after Saturday's win. "His awareness, his control of the game is just great. He started off the game by distributing the ball and letting the game come to him. He plays with great energy and he was locking up defensively. Again, I have to drive home with him, so I have to keep it in check. But not to exaggerate, that was one of the best games I've seen him play."

That is saying something considering Moe played with his brother in the FIBA World Cup where they took home the gold medal. Franz Wagner has been in big games before.

Saturday's game was simply a breakthrough for him on the NBA stage.

Wagner is averaging a team-high 21.5 points per game with 8.0 rebounds per game and 4.3 assists per game. He is shooting 50.8 percent from the floor and 38.9 percent from three (7 for 18).

Considering the small four-game sample size, Game 4 was his first game scoring more than 20 points, but he bounced between 16 and 18 points in the first three games. Outside of his 5-for-17 showing in Game 2, Wagner has been effective finding his shots.

He has done his part to pick up the Magic and give them a shot to win all four games, even with the struggles in Games 1 and 2.

"That's what it's all about, especially this time of year," Banchero said after Saturday's win. "When you are able to have an off game and your teammates pick you up. I was just going through my head was to forget scoring. As long as we got more points than them at the end of the game that's all that matters. Just watching my teammates do what they did, it was special tonight."

Banchero has not been a slouch either.

He scored only 9 points on 4-for-14 shooting in Game 4, his first time scoring fewer than 10 points in a game since Nov. 29. But he is averaging 21.3 points per game, 7.0 rebounds per game and 4.5 assists per game while shooting 45.5 percent from the floor this postseason.

He too has stepped up and performed on the Playoff stage with a lot of responsibility on his plate.

He had scored the most points in a Magic player's first three games in the Playoffs in the team's history (yes, more than Shaquille O'Neal's 62 in the sweep to the Indiana Pacers in 1994).

Young players typically struggle in their first postseason. Banchero and Wagner have both found how they can still perform and step up on the stage.

Banchero has had to eat a lot of the attention and has seen a lot of double teams. He has shown his inexperience with his turnovers -- nine in Game 1, six in Game 2 and another four in Game 4.

But the Magic have come to rely on both and both have stepped up. An impressive thing at such a young age -- 21 for Banchero and 22 for Wagner.

"They are extremely special," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Saturday's win.
The beauty of two stars who can play off of each other and celebrate the other star. That's a beautiful thing. When you can watch that unfold in real-time and watch each guy celebrate the man next to them. I think that's fantastic."

The macroscopic view of this series is that these Playoffs are meant to give this young team exposure to the postseason and be the introduction to a long Playoff run. This series was meant to show a sort of proof-of-concept for what the team is building as they figure out how to make the role players around them work.

To see both Banchero and Wagner have strong performances and play off each other in this way is a good sign for the team.

Wagner let the offense come to him in Game 4. The ball swung to him as Banchero struggled and Wagner scored nine points in the first quarter, stepping up when Banchero got into foul trouble early. Everyone on the Magic understood this was his day. And so Banchero deferred to Wagner and let his teammate cook.

That defines the team and the relationship between Banchero and Wagner as future stars as much as anything.

"That's the type of person he is," Wagner said of Banchero after Saturday's game. "He truly cares about the team first. I think that sets the tone for the rest of the group. When your all-star is doing that, it makes it easier for everyone else to sacrifice for the whole group. I think he has been doing that since he got here. That's honestly the cool part about playing with him."

Everything grows from the team's two stars. Two stars who are finding their way on the postseason stage and proving they are the players this Magic team can build around.

There is still work to do, of course. This is a best-of-three series now and the Magic have to find a way to win one game in Cleveland to advance in the series.

Magic find flow regular rotation 04.27.24. Orlando Magic find their flow with regular rotation. dark. Next

If the Magic win this series, it will be on the back of their two stars. And that is exactly what the team wanted to see.