Paolo Banchero gaining ground in All-Star voting, but still focused on the work

Paolo Banchero's big week last week saw his votes for the All-Star Game spike. The young forward though is more absorbing the attention that comes from being an All-Star and less focused on making the game until he officially receives the invite.
Paolo Banchero is making waves in All-Star voting and seems to be trending in the right direction to represent the Orlando Magic at All-Star Weekend.
Paolo Banchero is making waves in All-Star voting and seems to be trending in the right direction to represent the Orlando Magic at All-Star Weekend. / Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

An Orlando Magic fan traveling through Indianapolis this weekend shared an image on Twitter that made a lot of Magic fans get excited.

The airport has started to get dressed up for February's All-Star Weekend and there, alongside a moving walkway was Paolo Banchero in his white Orlando Magic jersey. The Magic at least have that much presence at All-Star Weekend already.

Everyone is hoping for a little bit more.

Banchero was going to be headed to Indianapolis regardless to participate in the Rising Stars rookie-sophomore game. The Rookie of the Year would be a featured player in whatever format that game takes.

Increasingly though, it looks like Banchero will get the invitation to the Sunday showcase game. He is inching closer to becoming an All-Star.

Look no further than the latest returns from All-Star voting.

Paolo Banchero is not in line to start -- that is going to be Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid and Jayson Tatum and there will not be much debate. But he is in the mix to be named a reserve and he is gaining ground in the fan vote.

Everyone is starting to notice Banchero more and more. Even though the Magic are not on national TV very much.

In the second return of All-Star voting, Banchero jumped from 10th in the frontcourt with 163,588 votes to ninth with 355,521, passing Kyle Kuzma and Mikal Bridges (although he got passed by likely reserve Julius Randle). That is a 117.3 percent increase from the first returns.

That is right, Banchero doubled his vote total in the last week with another 3-for-1 day slated for Friday.

He still has a long way to go to make waves in the fan vote, but that is a significant and noticeable step.

"It's very cool with the votes and stuff that comes from the fans," Banchero said after practice Thursday. "You always appreciate that. It's something you are not very focused on as the season goes on, you just want to play and win as many games as you can. When the time comes for that selection to made, if my name is selected that would be awesome and I'll be very happy. Until then, I've been saying winning as many games as we can is important and trying to get into the All-Star Break with momentum as a team."

The Magic's focus right now is certainly on winning games.

The team is in the middle of a tight Eastern Conference playoff race that has them sitting in eighth in the Eastern Conference but only a game back of the fourth-place Indiana Pacers. Everyone in that group is bunched up and there are going to be wild fluctuations in the standings on a nightly and weekly basis.

For sure, every win is going to count for this Magic team. Banchero is going to be a big part of it and his name is very much in the conversation to earn the official invitation to Indianapolis because of where the Magic stand.

He has earned that conversation too with some stellar play.

For the season, Banchero is averaging 22.9 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game and 4.8 assists per game while shooting 45.8 percent from the floor and 38.1 percent from beyond the arc. It was a big leap for him from an already-historic rookie season.

In the last 10 games, he is averaging 28.9 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game and 5.6 assists per game while shooting 44.1 percent from the floor and 37.7 percent from three. He has only two games with fewer than 20 points in that stretch.

In the last week, including last week's double-overtime 43-point performance against the Sacramento Kings, he is averaging 32.0 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game and 5.8 assists per game. He has had to step up with Franz Wagner out of the lineup with a sprained ankle.

Banchero is playing not only like an All-Star but a superstar to help keep the Magic afloat during a sudden rash of injuries.

He has certainly picked up on the extra attention defenses give him.

"Now after playing a year, everyone has a feel for who I am as a player," Banchero said. "Now it's just me trying to not be one dimensional and not let them take away one thing, being able to do something else. One thing this year is improving my jump shot because a lot of teams backed off and tried to bait me into jump shots. This year, I'm trying to make them pay. I'm just trying to figure it out and don't let them scheme on you and try to stop you."

Banchero has certainly improved his attention to detail and ability to hit from the perimeter more. He is hitting jump shots.

It is not just about his 3-point shooting, which jumped from 29.8 percent last year to 38.1 percent this year. He is hitting 38.3 percent of his mid-range jumpers compared to 37.6 percent last year.

Banchero still has a long way to go, but he has come a long way on that front even if the numbres do not more clearly show it. The eye test certainly confirms how much more burden Banchero is carrying -- his usage rate has increased to 29.4 percent from an already robust 27.5 percent last year.

Teams are treating him like a star defensively and Banchero is beating teams like a star does.

"You have to have a counter for everything they do," Banchero said after practice Thursday. "I think I've done a pretty good job. As the year goes on, I think it's going to get more difficult. I think the team has done a great job of helping me be able to make plays and trust me to help us."

All-Star voting will continue for another two weeks with voting wrapping up on Jan. 20. The starters will be announced shortly thereafter. Then the intrigue and waiting begins as Banchero waits to see if the coaches will send him to Indianapolis to be part of the game.

It feels pretty likely that will be the case. But Banchero knows there is still work to do in the next month to ensure his spot in the game but more importantly secure the Magic's place in the Eastern Conference pecking order. That is probably most important for him and the team.

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If the Magic take care of their business, the coaches will take care of sending Banchero to All-Star Weekend.