Paolo Banchero heads to Indianapolis a true NBA All-Star

Paolo Banchero has never doubted he belongs among the NBA's elite players. He has accomplished every goal he has set out to do. He heads to Indianapolis a true All-Star in every sense of the word.
Paolo Banchero put on an impressive shooting display helping lift the Orlando magic to a dominant home win heading to the All-Star Break.
Paolo Banchero put on an impressive shooting display helping lift the Orlando magic to a dominant home win heading to the All-Star Break. / Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports

Final. 100. 27. Magic Knicks Final 02.14.24. 118. 38

Sometimes, being an All-Star means wondering where the magic comes from and throwing your hands up at it all.

After Jalen Brunson torched the Orlando Magic for 20 points in the first quarter, everyone would praise the likely All-NBA guard carrying a skeleton crew into the break. The Magic have a strong defense but are sometimes helpless against great mid-range jump shooters.

Everyone is helpless against a star who has it rolling.

What the Magic have established and learned this year is they have a star of their own. They have someone nobody can stop when he gets rolling. They have their own guy.

And sometimes that means giving a Jordan shrug after hitting a banked-in 3-pointer in the second quarter. Sometimes, that means giving a little statement after burying a three and following it up with a one-handed dunk to put the exclamation mark on a 118-100 win over the New York Knicks on Wednesday heading into the All-Star Break.

This game belonged to Paolo Banchero.

He has made plenty of star statements throughout the season. He has earned his way into the "big game" Sunday in Indianapolis. Here is one more star statement --another exclamation point for a young team making its way and climbing the standings again.

There should never have been any doubts of Banchero's stardom. Here is more proof if you need it. Another star laid down a challenge and Banchero stepped up to it. Or the Magic did what the game called for to answer.

The spotlight shined on Banchero in this matchup.

"I think I can go up against anybody," Banchero said after Wednesday's win. "He came out flaming hot, J-Brunson. Really, it wasn't going through my head that I have to match him shot for shot. That really never goes through my head. It's just kind of the way the game went. I made my first couple of shots and let the game come to me from there. I feel confident."

Banchero scored 36 points on 15 for 20 shooting, hitting 6 of 10 3-pointers. That 3-point shooting offset his first career game without a free throw attempt -- it was the third-highest scoring game in Magic history without a free throw attempt and only a few weeks after Franz Wagner scored 38 without a free throw.

Banchero added five assists and seven rebounds for good measure.

That speaks to Banchero's growing efficiency and shooting ability. His shooting and scoring numbers are up from his landmark rookie season. He is averaging 23.0 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game and 5.3 assists per game on 46.2/36.5/70.2 shooting splits.

Banchero has always believed in himself and what he is capable of doing. He is checking off and accomplishing many of the goals he set for himself. He knows how good he is.

Games like these let everyone else know and remind those who have not been paying much attention. Banchero demands your focus, as all stars do.

"He's an All-Star, so you've got to guard a guy like that with your team," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. "When he made his threes, which that was a big thing, I think, for him. But he's a load to deal with. He gets into the paint, he's big, he's strong, and he has a good mix of shots. He's a guy that's difficult to speed up. I thought he played a great game for them."

The coaches were the ones who put Banchero in the All-Star game, after all. They already know how good he is and can be. They already know how dominant he can be.

And this was nothing new. Just something that has become more commonplace.

With the Knicks playing a skeleton crew of players with so many players out with injury -- OG Anunoby, Mitchell Robinson, Julius Randle and Bojan Bogdanovic were all out -- they struggled to slow down Banchero and consistently execute the gameplan.

Banchero seemed to see fewer double teams than usual. He took that as an invitation to attack. And with a slower defender in Precious Achiuwa on him, he cooked him for pull-up jumpers and attacks to the rim. Banchero was simply in a great rhythm.

He found his groove and never really looked back. That is how he scored so much without taking a free throw.

"They kept their heads down and continued to defend the right way, focus on the game plan, and just be efficient," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Wednesday's game. "I think that's another way that we can continue to be efficient, so Franz having 38 with no free throws [against the Detroit Pistons], Paolo having 36 with no free throws, that's very difficult to do in this league. So, my hats off to them for being able to do it the right way and not complain whether you get a call or don't."

The Magic did not waver in their focus on the game plan. Even after Brunson's first-quarter outburst, the. Banchero was a big part of the win. But everyone played their role and did so well.

Orlando got 21 points from Franz Wagner on 7-for-13 shooting and six assists. That anchored a 17-3 run to open the second quarter with Brunson on the bench.

That set up Banchero's 13 points in the second quarter when he checked back in. With the Magic in the lead, Banchero expanded it as Orlando doubled up New York in the second quarter, turning a close game into a near rout by halftime.

The Magic were rolling offensively, shooting 63.2 percent from the floor overall and 12 for 26 from beyond the arc. Orlando got itself rolling, and everyone ate.

Banchero, most of all, in the end. He put the exclamation point on every run and every play to push the Magic ahead.

That is what an All-Star does, as if Banchero needed any confirmation. This is what he was always going to become and where he was headed. He knew he was already there.

Banchero is headed to Indianapolis truly among the league's best and proving it every night. This is just another goal to check off the list.

"For him and his journey, I think it's just something special," Mosley said after Wednesday's game. "What he said he was going to do as a rookie, he did. What he said he was going to do in his second season, he's done. But it just goes to the work that he puts in, the work that the coaches put in with him, and the constant belief that he has in himself and his teammates have in him. I think it says so much about him, the organization, and the belief that we have in who he is."

Banchero made a strong final statement before his first trip to the All-Star Game and his second trip to All-Star Weekend. he continues to set several marks that put him among the best players in the league at his age.

Next. Magic primetime 02.14.24. Orlando Magic showcased potential, but aren't ready for primetime. dark

He continues to stand out and let the world know what he already knew: He is an All-Star.