Paolo Banchero's game continues to evolve as he leads Orlando Magic

Paolo Banchero can get to his spots on offense and impose his will on a nightly basis. At 21 years old, his continued growth will be a dominating force for years to come as he showed the Washington Wizards in a comeback win.
Paolo Banchero continues to put together and impressive reel and lead the Orlando Magic to some impressive victories.
Paolo Banchero continues to put together and impressive reel and lead the Orlando Magic to some impressive victories. / Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

142. Final. 119. 38. Magic Wizards Final 03.06.24. 109

Wednesday was a statement win for the Orlando Magic on the second night of a back-to-back. Tuesday's game against the Charlotte Hornets was a hard-fought battle where the Orlando Magic continued to grind defensively which led to easy transition buckets.

Nothing was easy. It was a physically demanding game.

Playing a back-to-back against the team with the highest pace in the league without several key players -- Wendell Carter, Gary Harris and Jonathan Isaac all sat. The Magic would have to dig down deep and go deep into their bag of tricks to get a win, even against the lowly Washington Wizards.

Everything would be different missing two floor spacers in the starting lineup in Harris and Carter. They would need someone to force action and take things into his hand.

Even after facing a 21-point deficit in the second quarter, the Magic found someone to be a drumbeat and deliver the Magic a victory.

With Orlando cutting the deficit to 11 at the half, Paolo Banchero took over in the third quarter with 13 of his 25 points in the quarter as the Magic took the lead heading to the fourth quarter. Banchero continues to take his game to another level.

The Magic made their comeback because of contributions throughout the roster. But without a doubt, Banchero's third-quarter surge and the attention he demands were a big reason the Magic raced ahead for a 119-109 victory.

"That's kind of our job is to lead the charge and just play at a high level," Paolo Banchero said after Wednesday's game. "I know I didn't do that in the first half. So I wanted to come out int he second half and switch that around and turn my energy up. We just wanted to come out and respond."

Banchero has taken his game to another level since coach Jamahl Mosley surrounded him with three-point shooters in Harris and Carter. In the last 16 games, Banchero is averaging 23.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game. He is becoming quite the elite player and is developing one game after the next.

The fact he can do that and score at so many level -- attacking the paint and bullying his way to the basket, hitting turnaround jumpers or shots from beyond the arc -- and be a big-time playmaker just shows how much his game has expanded.

Wednesday's game was a perfect example of what makes Banchero so special.

Orlando was without two of their best shooters in Wednesday's game. The Wizards took full advantage of that in the first half, hitting 10 3-pointers and building as much as a 21-point lead.

Washington was able to crowd the paint and congest space for Banchero to attack. The Wizards were forcing poor choices and crowding the paint which led to Banchero forcing shots and bad passes. The Magic could not find their offensive flow and Washington was wasting no time, getting out in transition to take advantage of the miscues.

After struggling through the first quarter and a half, the Magic opted to lean on their two stars for offense. Franz Wagner spearheaded the efforts in the second quarter to erase the deficit.

Banchero then asserted himself as the best player on the court in the third quarter.

"Paolo is an All-Star. Franz is on his way to being an All-Star," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Wednesday's game. "The way in which they play off each other and then it becomes selfless and it carries over to the rest of the group. It's challenging them to make the right play at the right time for their teammates. And that's the trust this group has for one another. It's enjoyable to watch because you can see that belief that they have in each other and that they have in themselves."

During Orlando's run to cut the deficit, Banchero was demanding the ball on the elbow or low block and immediately attacking the defense.

He was using his frame to force his way into the paint with power dribbles and made the defense collapse. Banchero then used his repertoire of spin and post moves for fadeaway jumpers, passed to an open teammate, or finished over the top.

He takes what the defense gives him and honestly, the defense does not have much of a choice.

Banchero shot 9 of 15 within 10 feet for the game, showing he was not settling for jumpers. He finished shooting 10 of 19 overall. Banchero has established himself as an elite offensive weapon. He takes efficient shots. There is no ceiling for Paolo and his development.

Banchero has been given the keys to success and he is putting it all together quicker than most expected.

Banchero has a skillset to score in a multitude of ways. He can square up and beat defenders off the dribble. He can post up and use his spin move to get to his fadeaway, or he can back his man down into easy finishes.

He has great touch off the glass, or he can use a floater in the lane over the defense. Teams try to double him but he has the awareness to find open teammates for cuts or open shots. He finished with 10 assists against Washington.

"I think it was just making the simple play," Paolo Banchero said after Wednesday's game. "I think the past couple of games I ahve been sloppy with my decision-making. I wanted to make the simple play and give it to guys when they are open and let them do the rest."

The way Banchero can already move his defender at such a young age shows why he was the first overall pick. He can play "bully ball" and back down smaller defenders but also shows the deftness to face up and speed by them.

There were multiple possessions where he gained positioning with his back to the basket by simply lowering his shoulder. This is uncommon for second-year players.

The Magic give him the latitude to do all of that. He does it well. And it lifts the Magic -- not just to a 21-point comeback, but to the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference at this late stage of the season.

The Magic's two young stars set the tone for the team.

"I think we have a lot of responsibility," Franz Wagner said after Wednesday's game. "I think both of us want to make sure we make the right play and pay that back to the team. I thought we did a really good job, especially with our mentality. I thought we had the right mindset coming out of the halftime. I think everybody did not let their heads hang down even when it was close. That's exactly the type of mentality we need as the season goes on."

The Wizards had no choice but to double-team him after multiple possessions of easy baskets. Banchero noticed this and adjusted his playing style. He attacked the lane looking to force the defense to collapse and hit his teammates in the shooting pocket for open shots.

Banchero is proving he can adjust his playing style based on how he is being played on defense. That takes a level of maturity to understand that winning is what matters. Banchero is proving to the entire world he is a winner and everyone in the Magic organization is following his lead.

The Magic did not falter when they were down 21 points and completed the biggest comeback of the season. Banchero and Wagner have established themselves as one of the hardest duos to contain in the league. Much of this has to do with the physicality that both play with and Banchero is not getting any smaller.

Orlando Magic's postseason hopes hinge on taking care of business. dark. Next. Magic postseason hopes 03.07.24

Orlando has grown together and taken enormous strides that the franchise has not seen in a decade, and Banchero is the centerpiece of this turnaround. He keeps evolving and growing his game in the biggest moments. And there are big moments still to come.