Paolo Banchero was struggling through Thursday's game against the Milwaukee Bucks. The frustration was written on his face that he was not getting to the foul line. It did not help that Giannis Antetokounmpo was guarding him and unleashing his full defensive arsenal on him.
There have been a lot of humbling moments like this for Banchero this season. He has gotten a lot of attention and had to deal with a lot. And he has done this all while trying to be a good teammate and all while trying to be a great passer.
Then there comes a certain point in every game where Banchero gets that look or finds that matchup and things just come easily for him. Banchero can score in bunches and is unstoppable once he gets that look in his eyes.
Even some of his bad games come across as solid scoring lines.
Banchero was not at his best Thursday but still managed 23 points, seven rebounds and four assists. He was active on the glass and still trying to be a factor even with his shot not falling. He was doing all the things a star is supposed to do.
And if that is a bad game . . . what is a good game?
Like his 42-point pefrormance against the Cleveland Cavaliers a few weeks ago or his 36-point game against the Boston Celtics. Banchero has shown he can be a star-quality shot-maker. And defenses are treating him as such.
That should be the bigger point. All-Star voting is now open. And Paolo Banchero is deserving of your vote and certainly deserving of a place on the Eastern Conference's All-Star team.
Banchero is averaging 20.7 points per game with 6.9 rebounds per game and 4.5 assists per game, all improvements from his rookie year. His shooting has seen a significant jump too going from splits of 42.7/29.8/73.8 last year to 46.7/38.3/68.8.
Banchero has stepped his game up a lot in December, averaging 24.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game in nine games even though his 3-point shooting has dropped back to earth.
Banchero has not just had great individual games, but has been fairly consistent as a playmaker and lead scorer for the team throughout.
Nobody is going to be unrealistic. Vote for Banchero so we can make sure he is well-represented in the All-Star voting returns and make clear he is a future All-Star starter. But it will be tough for him to break through with the seasons Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jayson Tatum are having.
Paolo Banchero's -- and to the same extent Franz Wagner's -- All-Star bid will come down to team success. Despite losing six of their last eight games, the Magic have been strong in that department too.
The Orlando Magic are tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference with the New York Knicks. They are one game clear of the Cleveland Cavaliers to avoid the Play-In Tournament and 4.5 games clear of the Chicago Bulls for the final Play-In spot.
Barring a wild losing streak or extended period of losing, the Magic are going to be in the mix for a playoff spot by the time the coaches vote for the reserves in January.
Paolo Banchero is in the conversation for sure, competing with other potential All-Star forwards like Kristaps Porzingis, Julius Randle, Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Jarrett Allen, Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam. Banchero is certainly in the mix with all of those players and the Magic's superior record will give him a leg up on all of them.
All Banchero has to do is keep grinding and keep putting up solid performances to help his team win.
What has turned now that voting has opened is the Magic are seeing Banchero turning in scoring performances the Magic have not seen in decades.
Banchero has had two games of 35 points or more this season, the first Magic player with multiple 35-point games in a season since Nikola Vucevic in 2021. The team has had only 25 35-point games since the 2014 season.
Orlando has had only 13 40-point games since Tracy McGrady left the team in 2004 and only eight 40-point games since Dwight Howard's departure in 2012.
Paolo Banchero is working on consecutive 20-point-per-game seasons, something the Magic have not had since Dwight Howard's final two seasons in Orlando.
If Wagner sticks to scoring 20 points per game, he and Banchero would be the first Magic teammates to average 20 points per game since Shaquille O'Neal and Anfernee Hardaway in 1996.
In other words, even with perceived struggles and maybe a few too many duds from the second-year forward, Banchero is doing things that only the All-Star players in Magic history do. That is evidence of the level of play he is at this year and what he is capable of.
Banchero still has a lot of places to grow and develop. He has to reduce his turnovers where he can still -- a product of his being on the ball more and trying to be a better playmaker. He has to continue shooting efficiently and become better from beyond the arc -- and especially at the foul line.
Banchero is not an All-Star yet but he has gotten the whistle like he is one with how he forces his way to the line. Despite 10 free throw attempts in Thursday's game in Milwaukee, he was looking at the refs and frustrated with the officiating looking for calls. Perhaps an All-Star appearance can get him to some 15 free throw games that he is not getting quite yet.
And bigger than that, Banchero needs to continue understanding what his team needs and when and how to provide it. A lot of this season for him is about Banchero learning how to be unselfish but remaining aggressive and putting pressure on the basket. A lot of his mistakes this year have come from trying to be too much of a playmaker and getting caught without an aggressive mindset.
No one should be worried about Banchero not being a good teammate. But sometimes his best choice is to seek out his own.
Banchero though is still playing like a bona fide star. It will be hard to find enough forwards in the Eastern Conference better than him that deserve a spot.
There is still work to do. But Banchero is deserving of your All-Star vote and All-Star consideration at this point.