Paolo Banchero is an All-Star and continues to help Orlando Magic grow

Paolo Banchero earned his first All-Star bid as he continues to impress with his numbers, lifting a franchise that has spent a decade in the desert and given them a reason to believe again.
Paolo Banchero broke through and was named an All-Star for the first time. It will probably not be his last.
Paolo Banchero broke through and was named an All-Star for the first time. It will probably not be his last. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

The television broadcast for these announcements sure knows how to stretch out the drama.

There was only one spot remaining for Ernie Johnson to announce. He undid the envelope (dramatically brought to the stage in a metal briefcase) and paused, mentioning three players were hanging on his every word for the final spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team.

Then he did the unveil: From the Orlando Magic, Paolo Banchero.

The Magic's players and Banchero's family went wild inside a Minneapolis hotel ballroom. Another dream checked off for the 21-year-old forward.

Paolo Banchero is an NBA All-Star.

This is indeed quite an accomplishment. One that has been earned through the first half of the season, one that speaks to Banchero's emergence among the best players in the league in just his second year and one that hints at what his future could be.

Banchero earned it first on the court before anything else.

He is averaging 23.0 points per game, 7.0 rebounds per game and 5.0 assists per game. He is shooting 45.3 percent from the floor and 35.8 percent from beyond the arc, both significant improvements from his rookie year when critics tried to ding him for his efficiency.

They are still trying to ding him for that efficiency while ignoring that he has been a heavy-usage player (30.0 percent usage rate) and that he faces double teams nearly every time he touches the ball while carrying his team into the postseason picture.

That is probably the most important thing in this consideration. The coaches value players on winning teams. They know which players are helping teams push their way into the postseason and the time of season that matters. They know which players are merely empty stats.

Banchero is not that at all. He continues to be a driving force for the Magic and the player that has elevated this team into the postseason picture and put it at a level they have not been at for more than a decade.

Banchero has done that plenty, whether that was recording his first career triple-double for an undermanned Orlando Magic team to defeat the Denver Nuggets on the road or the two buzzer-beating shots he had in wins over the Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls earlier this season.

If stepping up to take the big shot is a sign of being an All-Star, Banchero has undoubtedly proven himself capable of that. He is sixth in the league in total scoring in clutch situations. Banchero is not afraid to score.

And while he still has that penchant to score, the most impressive part of his game is how he works to get others involved. It is how nothing ever seems to phase him or throw him off-balance. He has always expected to be at this level and this stage. He never seemed to force his way onto it.

This will be the biggest stage he has ever played on -- thanks to the Magic's lack of national TV appearances. An All-Star showing should bring him to the front.

But there is no denying what this means for a Magic franchise that has struggled to find its relevancy and footing after losing its last megastar. What Banchero has done from the moment he stepped on the floor for the Magic has been historic.

His first game was something that no rookie had done since LeBron James. Every mark Paolo Banchero seemed to set was only comparable to Shaquille O'Neal's rookie season -- every mark since has seemingly only been compared to the eight other All-Stars in Magic history.

And, quite frankly, he is compared to the elite players in franchise history.

Beyond that, Banchero continues to put himself on lists and among Hall of Famers in their first two seasons. The 21-year-old will undoubtedly continue to get better from here. And that means the Magic's future looks bright if this is just his first trip to the All-Star Game.

Everyone has tried to temper expectations as much as possible. But it has been impossible not to think about what Banchero's presence has meant for the franchise.

Orlando has been lost in the desert since trading Dwight Howard in 2012. The team was playing the Lottery and hunting for a star. Getting the number one pick brought some life into the franchise.

Getting the pick this right though has changed everything.

This year, the Magic are doing things they have not done since Howard left. Orlando has its best record at this point of the season since Howard's departure in 2012.

The team is aiming for its first playoff appearance since 2020, but just its second record better than .500 since Howard's departure (it would be just the franchise's third playoff appearance since 2012).

There is still a long way to go. But everyone can feel the organization's positive direction.

And unlike the Magic's last All-Star in Nikola Vucevic, Paolo Banchero has a bright future ahead of him. When Vucevic was an All-Star in 2019, he was among the oldest first-time All-Stars in league history. Banchero is in his second year and seemingly has several more All-Star appearances ahead of him.

That, more than anything, is what this All-Star trip represents. It represents the start of something big. Banchero does not seem anywhere near done. It feels like he is just getting started.

That has reinvigorated an entire franchise. Basketball can be an individualized sport. One player can have that kind of effect on the team.

Banchero has had that kind of effect on the entire team. He has completely changed the outlook for this team and this franchise.

That is the power an All-Star can have. That is what Banchero has brought to this team.

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This is a first step. This award is the first of many for Banchero. And it is the surest sign of a bright future for the Magic.