Paolo Banchero's balance lifting him to All-Star Game, Playoffs

Paolo Banchero spent his first year trying to figure out what he could do in the NBA. His second year has seen his game expand and his Orlando Magic team grow in unexpected ways.

Paolo Banchero has become much more than a scorer this year and that has elevated him to the All-Star Game and the Orlando Magic to into postseason contention.
Paolo Banchero has become much more than a scorer this year and that has elevated him to the All-Star Game and the Orlando Magic to into postseason contention. / Rich Storry/GettyImages

Paolo Banchero's welcome to the NBA moment is one that he did not even realize as it happened.

We all saw the dunk that introduced him to the league when he went soaring over Cory Joseph in the opening night game last year against the Detroit Pistons. That seemed to suggest there was something bigger and more special about the No. 1 pick of the 2022 NBA Draft.

But Banchero said he did not realize what he had done until after watching the replay. As he has told it repeatedly, that whole game felt like a haze because he was more disappointed the Magic lost that game than anything else. He did not realize the history he made in his debut.

To some extent, all of Banchero's first season was played in that haze. He was free to be inefficient and explore the contours of his game. There was no concrete direction. They just wanted him to play.

He still produced -- 20.0 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game and 3.7 assists per game. He was still the runaway Rookie of the Year. He was the Magic's star, and they were willing to ride the ups and downs of being a rookie.

Critics still pointed to his inefficiency. This is where Banchero would have to grow.

But the Magic had their plan for him. They had ideas of what he could be as a versatile 6-foot-10 forward. They, too, wanted to see what he could do and give him the freedom to be anything.

Keeping everything so open-ended with a player like Banchero is likely why he is in Indianapolis this weekend. Not just to participate in the Rising Stars Game on Friday night but to play in the big game on Sunday -- as the youngest All-Star in the game, too, for good measure.

Banchero has evolved this season. He has become someone who can do everything. And much of that came from learning how to control the areas he struggled with throughout his rookie year. It has been about finding a balance between all the various skills he brings to the game.

"I think when I first came into the league, I wanted to dribble around and see what I can do," Banchero said before practice at the Rising Stars Game in Indianapolis on Friday. "In year two, I have been a lot more intentional with how I get to my spots and how I'm being used and where I'm trying to get to on the floor. Even if I do have it as a handler, I'm still trying to get to that spot on the floor. That's been a big learning curve for me."

The results speak for themselves.

Banchero is averaging 23.0 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game and 5.3 assists per game. His efficiency has jumped to 46.2 percent shooting (from 42.7 percent). He has a 54.9 percent true shooting percentage, up from 52.9 percent last year.

It has been a season of tremendous growth and purpose for Banchero. He spoke about learning from Kevin Durant and his workouts with him this summer. He saw how intentional and tight his workouts were and how no movement was wasted.

That is something Banchero has worked to incorporate into his game as he gets more precise with his movements and how he views the game. The team can still see him learning the correct times to attack and the right times to assert himself.

That has been the balance he has sought as he sees more exotic double teams with defenses knowing what a weapon he is attacking the basket. Banchero has had to become a smarter and more deliberate playmaker to be successful.

But that is also an important evolution of his game, as his passing and assists have increased this season.

"I'm not going to sit here and say that I'm a point guard," Banchero said Friday morning. "But I definitely think I can handle the ball and initiate a lot of things. I'm growing a lot as a playmaker, being able to set up my teammates. That's something I take a lot of pride in is playing whatever position that's needed.

"Obviously, I know how my size is an advantage. I don't want to get too much into staying on the perimeter. I always want to mix it up and keep the defense off balance. That's something me, my coaches, we always try to balance and work on is how much I'm handling, how much I'm inside and trying to find that perfect balance."

Finding that balance remains the biggest challenge. It is something Banchero has fought throughout the year.

He said Friday he came into the season a bit behind. After the FIBA World Cup, Banchero said he did not touch a basketball leading into training camp. It took him a few weeks and games to get himself back to rhythm -- remember that hand-wringing?

Things did not click for him until that breakthrough 30-point game against the Utah Jazz early in the season. A game that included his first go-ahead clutch basket of the season.

That game came after a dinner with coaches on the Magic roster, as he had to find himself again after playing a supportive role in the World Cup.

Still, that experience has helped him be a better teammate and defender. It has helped fill out the other parts of his game and helped him be a player who can affect the game in different ways.

According to data from Second Spectrum, his drives are up (from 10.0 per game to 12.9 per game). He is forcing more attention on him and dishing back out. That is what stars do. And the Magic have put the ball in his hands more, boosting his usage rate from 27.5 percent to 29.6 percent and his overall touches from 64.8 to 76.3 per game.

Orlando is trusting his decision-making more and more. He is often the de facto point guard. And so the challenge for Banchero has been to find balance.

"When you are out on the perimeter, with my size, I don't want to be on the perimeter too much because then you can become inefficient or taking bad shots," Banchero said Friday morning. "You want to stay around the rim, but also, you want to use your versatility to keep the defense off-balance and make plays from the perimeter. Just finding that for me has been a challenge since coming into the league."

Everything has been a new experience for Banchero. Despite the Magic's success this season, it is important to acknowledge how Banchero is still learning to find the right moments to attack and be assertive. He may not fully internalize or improve upon it until he gets to a Playoff series and sees what the team will ask of him for success.

There is still a lot of trial and error ongoing in his development. There are still a lot of things he is trying to figure out. And there are still a lot of areas for his game to grow.

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What has helped elevate him to an All-Star level is how he has figured out so much of this balance. It has opened the world to what he and the Magic can one day become.