Paolo Banchero's career-high 42 points showcases his superstar potential

On an otherwise rough shooting night, Paolo Banchero continued to preview and cement himself as a future star for this Orlando Magic team, pouring in 42 points to carry a struggling team through a difficult game.
Paolo Banchero turned in a career-high 42 points as he elevated his game to try to keep the Orlando Magic in the race.
Paolo Banchero turned in a career-high 42 points as he elevated his game to try to keep the Orlando Magic in the race. / Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

156. Final. 111. 38. Magic Cavs 12.06.23. 121

For the entire third quarter, everyone knew what the Orlando Magic were going to do.

Every fan inside Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse knew. Every fan watching at home knew. The Cleveland Cavaliers certainly knew. The questions was whether anyone was going to be able to stop it.

Paolo Banchero was playing at a pretty steady drumbeat for most of the game. But with the Magic shooting laughably poor from beyond the arc and having to climb out of a 23-point first-half deficit, the product of another hot-shooting start and lethargic opening to the game, Banchero had to take the reins.

He knew from the beginning that he had something. And with the team finding few answers offensively and needing something to get their energy back up, the responsibility fell to Banchero.

In the end, Banchero showed exactly what he was capable of doing and what he could become, scoring a career-high 42 points and keeping the Magic afloat on an off-shooting night for the entire team.

The team ultimately fell short 121-111 to the Cavaliers, but the team saw a clear superstar performance a from a young player who is growing very quickly.

"Obviously being a young player, you want to prove yourself against the best," Banchero said after Wednesday's game. "I want to be at the top. it takes having great game after game, season after season, performance after performance. I'm just trying to be consistent and help this team get wins. Superstars are judged by not only stats but whether their team wins. That's always the main thing.

So in the third quarter, Orlando whittled what was a 23-point deficit and a 13-point halftime deficit to as little as six. They did so by putting the ball in the second-year forward's hands and letting him work.

He targeted Jarrett Allen for much of the game, beating him off the dribble and drawing contact for and-1 finishes or exploding quickly to the basket. When smaller players went on him, he took them to the block and hit quick mid-range jumpers, shooting over them as if they were not there.

This is the benefit of being 6-foot-10, 250 pounds with the speed and dexterity of a guard. There is no bad matchup for him and he is increasingly improving his ability to attack double teams.

"I loved his aggression and his ability to get downhill, finding mismatches, not afraid to take contact, getting to the free throw line and all those pieces of what he was doing," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Wednesday's game. "His level of confidence and his teammates trusted him. He was attacking the basket in the right way."

The Magic could not get completely over the hump, of course. That disappointment still tinges the evening as the team could not overcome its poor 3-point shooting or a terrible 37-20 first quarter. There simply was not enough help for Banchero with Franz Wagner especially struggling to 14 points on 3-for-16 shooting.

But Banchero was a star. A star in all the ways the Magic have been missing for so long.

He scored a career-high 42 points on 16-for-26 shooting, becoming the youngest Magic player to score 40 points since Shaquille O'Neal in 1993 and the first 40-point scorer for the Magic since Nikola Vucevic in Dec. 2021.

He paced the team with half of their 20 points in the first quarter and then added another 10 in the second quarter and 12 in the third to help the Magic try to climb back into the game.

On a night when nobody's shot could fall, Banchero just kept plugging away. Orlando had no choice but to keep going to him on every possession and trust him to make the right decision and aggressive move to the basket. Nothing else seemed to be working offensively.

This is what everyone envisioned when Banchero was the first overall pick. The ability to take over a game and dictate his will. The ability to impose his will on the proceedings and score wherever and however he wanted regardless of the defense thrown at him.

Banchero is on track to be a star. Perhaps he will be a player that can win championships -- the Magic certianly hope so. But in this second year, Orlando is still looking to see him grow into that player and understand the leadership role he has to take on to get there.

"We've talked about who he is as a player as a teammate, he is willing to do whatever is necessary to try to get the win," Mosley said after Wednesday's game. "Tonight, it happened to be trying to score the ball. It was a tough matchup for him and he took those challenges on. He's more about winning and finding the right ways to do that."

To say the least, this is the kind of reputation Banchero is building. He has built that with a 30-point effort and a game-winning basket against the Utah Jazz earlier this year. He did it again when he hit the game-winner against the Chicago Bulls to start the Orlando Magic's nine-game win streak.

Banchero has built up his early star bona fides in his short career. He has looked the part as he won the Rookie of the Year. But this was a new level for him. A level for him where he could simply take over a game. Where he was feeling so good and so dominant that there was nothing anyone could do to stop him.

There is obviously still more places for him to grow. The Magic still lost the game. His efforts were not enough to bring the team all the way back even though he did plenty of heavy lifting to get them there.

But it has been a long time since the Magic had a prodigiously dominant scoring performance. It has been a long time since the team had a jump shooter and ball-handler who could create so seamlessly and consistently.

"It's an honor just being a part of a very storied organization with the Magic who have had a lot of great players come before me," Banchero said after Wednesday's game. "I just wanted to be aggressive. I felt good coming into the game having a couple of days off. I felt good."

Passing the 40-point barrier is new territory for Banchero. It is territory everyone expected him to reach and break through at some point if he was to fulfill his potential. It is safe to say Banchero is fulfilling his potential. And it still feels like he has more to give.

What is important for this season is for Banchero to continue expanding what is possible in his game. It is important to get him in must-win situations and into the postseason to see just how far he can take and grow his game.

Next. 3 goals first quarter 12.06.23. 3 goals to reset after Orlando Magic's first 20 games. dark

There is more work to do for him and for this team. That is where Banchero began to explore in his game Wednesday.