Paolo Banchero eager to prove he has next

Paolo Banchero is enjoying the time in Indianapolis, keeping busy this All-Star Weekend. He is hoping to show he has next and will be among the mainstays at the NBA's showcase weekend.

Paolo Banchero is enjoying his busy weekend in Indianapolis. He is putting himself among the greats in the game today and eager to prove he belongs.
Paolo Banchero is enjoying his busy weekend in Indianapolis. He is putting himself among the greats in the game today and eager to prove he belongs. / Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Paolo Banchero told the media Wednesday that he was most looking forward to gaining some redemption in the Skills Competition after a poor showing last year. It was something he made sure to highlight before leaving for Indianapolis.

So he was visibly frustrated when he met the media after the Skills Competition ended. His team of first-overall picks, alongside Anthony Edwards and Victor Wembanyama, finished last, failing to win any of the three competitions.

Banchero did not live up to the promise of taking it too seriously, making a critical error on his first obstacle.

Banchero did not follow the bouncing ball at his feet on the LED Court at Lucas Oil Stadium and went the wrong side around a cone. He had the slowest time in the relay race portion. Then again, Anthony Edwards was disqualified for starting too soon -- he also shot all of his 3-pointers left-handed to horrible results.

It is all in good fun, though. Nobody will lose sleep over a Skills Competition that nobody quite understands the rules for -- Team First Pick did not have the right strategy to game the passing competition.

Even in last place, it was a good chance for a trio of players who expect to have long runs in the Sunday game to get their names and faces in front of everybody. Banchero, Edwards and Wembanyama expect to be at All-Star Weekend for a long time.

This is the future of the league.

"All of us are next up in the league," Banchero said after the Skills Competition on Saturday. "This is a chance for us to get in front of the world and show what we can do."

Banchero has been showing everyone around the league what he can do. He is averaging 23.0 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game and 5.3 assists per game. He is in the Skills Competition because, at 6-foot-10, there are not many forwards doing what he can do from not just a scoring perspective but all-around.

This has not necessarily been Banchero's showcase weekend yet -- he took it easy in the Rising Stars Game with five points in the Friday game as his team got eliminated in the first game. But Banchero is getting comfortable with the idea of being an All-Star. He is starting to figure out where he belongs in the league's pecking order.

As the youngest All-Star in Sunday's game, Banchero very much feels like he and his generation are starting to stake their claim to the league.

"I think there's just a lot of young talent in the league," Banchero said after practice Saturday morning. "I think it's interesting because guys like LeBron [James], KD [Durant], Kawhi [Leonard] and Steph [Curry] are all still elite. . . . There is just a ton of young talent. These older guys are still elite. You've got to compete. You've got to go after them to catch up. Our time will come eventually."

There is a feeling that this could be one of the last times James is an All-Star -- this is his 20th All-Star Game! The NBA is preparing to hand the baton from its stars of the 2010s to its new stars of the 2020s. Banchero may well be one of those players to pick it up and start running.

There is a lot of young talent to point to that will be on display on the court in Indianapolis.

Paolo Banchero is in the class with Tyrese Haliburton, Anthony Edward and Victor Wembanyama, who are preparing to take the baton for the league's next generation. The up-and-comers are getting their first taste of All-Star festivities and starting to break into the All-NBA teams and elite tier of the league.

Paolo Banchero said he hopes Franz Wagner will be with him on the journey when he gets his All-Star chance soon. Banchero feels like he is a part of and at the center of the league's young talent maturing together.

But there are still some dues he has to pay. He is still taking in all the experience of being an All-Star for the first time.

Sunday's game is not going to feature Banchero -- although he should log a lot of minutes as the backup center for the undersized and injured Eastern Conference team (Joel Embiid and Julius Randle are out with injuries, and Giannis Antetokounmpo appears to be limited some). He believes this will be the first of many trips to the NBA's February showcase.

Banchero is still looking to find his place in the bigger picture of the league.

"I try to stay away from rankings," Banchero said after the Skills Challenge on Saturday. "I look at it more as levels or tiers. Guys with where they are at in their career, what they have done already in the league, championships or playoffs. The older guys have done all that stuff. There are the middle-ground guys who are doing it and the younger guys who are chasing it. It's great for the league and great for a young guy like me to chase those guys and move my way up."

Banchero is still making his mark on the league. He is still planting his flag and claiming his place in the larger story. A lot of that comes from experiencing success for the first time.

Everyone seems to be waiting to see what Banchero and the Magic can do in the playoffs before they figure out what kind of player and what kind of tier to place Banchero in. His presence in Indianapolis is his dipping his toes in the water and placing him among those great players.

A lot of those great players are already helping guide Banchero along. Banchero has worked out with Jayson Tatum and Kevin Durant. He has already built solid relationships with the generation ahead of him as they pay it forward. He is learning a lot from them.

This weekend is about being around those players and seeing how they work and operate. He is the new kid in school.

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Banchero, though, is slowly proving he belongs. And he seems eager to take this year in and return for many years.