Orlando Magic's Paolo Banchero in rare territory with Playoff debut

A few more great performances will cement Orlando Magic's power forward Paolo Banchero among the greatest second-year players in NBA history.
Orlando Magic v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Two
Orlando Magic v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Two / Jason Miller/GettyImages

Remember that you are watching greatness when Paolo Banchero takes the floor.

For however much the Orlando Magic have struggled so far in their series with the Cleveland Cavaliers and all the frustration this series has engendered, Banchero has played like an All-Star in many ways. More than that, he has played like a superstar trying to force his team through the Cavaliers' tough defense and back into the series.

His turnovers -- 15 total through two games -- have been frustrtaing. But in a series with precious little offense, Banchero is still averaging 22.5 points per game, 5.0 rebounds per game and 5.0 assists per game while shooting 48.6 percent from the floor, a 52.7 percent effective field goal percentage and a 54.3 percent true shooting percentage.

Banchero's debut game on Saturday that saw him score 24 points to go with seven rebounds and five assists made him the third player in NBA history 21 or young to record a 20-5-5 game. Banchero is quite literally making history every time he touches the floor as he learns the Playoffs and tries to lead his team back into the series.

Game 3 of the first-round series between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Orlando Magic is must-see television in every sense of the word because the storyline of one of the best players in franchise history continues.

For all the hand-wringing about the series so far, Banchero has largely shown up even with the constant attention and double teams he has faced. Banchero has looked like a star. And he has placed himself in the company of other NBA legends.

First, you have one of the youngest teams in the league in the Magic led by a young superstar in Paolo Banchero competing against a veteran Cavs team with a superstar that has something to prove in Donovan Mitchell.

Secondly, you have two up-and-coming coaches in Jamahl Mosley and J.B. Bickerstaff who are trying to show the NBA they are here to stay.

And finally, there is a 21-year-old superstar who has the opportunity to do something that not even Michael Jordan or LeBron James could ever do. Win a Playoff game in their second year in the league.

Pump your brakes, the truth is the truth.

Michael Jordan scored 22.7 points per game, 3.6 rebounds per game and 2.9 assists per game in an injury-filled second season, helping rally the Chicago Bulls to a 30-52 season including wins in four of their final six games to sneak in as the 8-seed.

The Bulls were then unceremoniously swept by the Boston Celtics (with Larry Bird proclaiming Michael Jordan's greatness after a 62-point performance in an overtime loss in Game 2). Jordan averaged 43.7 points per game but also had 4.7 turnovers per game in that short three-game series.

In contrast, Paolo Banchero averaged 22.6 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game and 5.4 assists per game while leading the Magic to a 47-35 overall record and the 5-seed in his second season.

That is a more impressive stat line and 17 more wins than Michael Jordan could lead his team too in year two. Banchero is certainly not the natural perimeter scorer Jordan is but like Jordan, Banchero is carrying a lot of weight on his shoulders. And he is not going up against an all-time great team like the 1986 Celtics.

There is certainly still levels Banchero has to reach. Especially if the Magic want to get back into this series.

But Banchero's accomplishments should not go unnoticed, although the national media still has not fallen in love with what is brewing in Central Florida yet.

Similarly, LeBron James was a beast in his second year in the NBA, but his heroics were not enough to get his Cleveland Cavaliers enough wins to make a Playoff appearance.

James was able to lead his team to 42 wins in his second year but came up short of the postseason by one game.

During that year James averaged 27.2 points per game, 7.4 rebounds per game and 7.2 assists per game. Banchero's stat line is not as great as James' was but he was able to carry his team to more wins in the regular season thus, making the Magic a top-five seed in the Eastern Conference.

Banchero did not stuff the stat sheet like James did in year two, but he led his team to five more wins and a top five seed. Banchero had an opportunity to lead his team to the second seed, but fell short with losses at the end of the season.

In James' playoff debut in 2006, he averaged 30.8 points per game, 8.1 rebounds per game and 5.8 assists per game. He also had 5.0 turnovers per game, a reason why Banchero's early turnovers should not be concerning as it seems every young star goes through this in their early playoff runs.

Similarly, Luka Doncic made his playoff debut in his second season and averaged 31.0 points per game, 9.8 rebounds per game and 8.7 assists per game (with 5.2 turnovers per game) in the 2020 series against the LA Clippers.

Banchero is in the company with Doncic and James, but, again, there is still clearly a level Banchero has not reached to truly be in their league. There is still something to work toward.

But Banchero has an opportunity to do what neither Jordan nor James could do in winning a game in the Playoffs and getting his team back into the series. At the end, team success is what matters in defining a player's legacy.

Of this group, James is the only player to win a Playoff series in his postseason debut, albeit in his third season.

A home victory will not only put the Magic back firmly in position with an opportunity to tie the series at two games apiece after Saturday's Game 4, but it also would allow the team to reset its mindset. But more importantly, it puts the second-year superstar in a rare place in a historical context.

If Banchero can lead his team to a win Thursday, he would place himself in a conversation of being one of the greatest second-year players in NBA history. The fact that he has no bona fide All-Star teammate as a running mate makes this opportunity just as special.

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Banchero is already forming his legacy with the Magic in year two and a win Thursday places him before some of the greatest second-year players in NBA history.