Paolo Banchero is simply clutch

The Orlando Magic have leaned on their second-year player to deliver them through close games and pick up big wins. There is only one conclusion about Paolo Banchero: He is clutch.

Paolo Banchero stepped up with two big shots to help the Orlando Magic defeat the New York Knicks. It has become common for the second-year forward.
Paolo Banchero stepped up with two big shots to help the Orlando Magic defeat the New York Knicks. It has become common for the second-year forward. / Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
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Paolo Banchero left the court Friday in Miami in frustration.

The Orlando Magic had rallied upon his broad shoulders to take a late lead as Banchero made two tough fadeaway jumpers to push the Magic suddenly and surprisingly into the lead. It was the kind of shot-making that only stars make and only stars can provide.

But the second-year player was thinking about three opportunities after Bam Adebayo answered with a jumper to put the Heat back into the lead.

Banchero got to the basket and missed a runner at the rim. He got the rebound but lost the ball on the way up as he went for the go-ahead layup. The Heat went up three and Banchero's last-second heave -- a good look from the top of the key, if not a bit too deep -- went no good.

Banchero said after the game this was a game the Magic should have won. He was visibly frustrated leaving the court and still a bit frustrated (although certainly more composed) in the postgame press conference.

There would undoubtedly be a next time for Banchero. And the game would once again be on his shoulders. And, in the definition of a clutch player, Banchero was not going to fail the team again.

The story after Monday's win over the New York Knicks was completely different. Banchero waited his turn as the Magic's suddenly returning depth set him up for another heroic effort.

Banchero did not disappoint.

"I think just wanted to come into the game and close it out," Banchero said after Monday's 98-94 win over the Knicks. "I had been sitting over there for a while and I was ready to close the game. . . . It feels great, You always feel a little down after you take some losses. Just happy we got the win and happy for the team."

Banchero got an extended rest in the fourth quarter as the Magic's bench group cut into the Knicks' lead, checking back in with the magic down by three points and 5:46 to play.

A lot of other players did a lot of work -- especially Cole Anthony and Markelle Fultz -- to lift the Magic and generate chances for the team to close the gap and win the game.

But it is also undeniable the big shots Banchero made.

With 2:11 to play and the Magic up by one, Banchero missed a driving floater, but the Magic corralled two rebounds before Fultz found Banchero for a step-in, one-dribble pull-up jumper from the elbow area.

Banchero followed that up by taking a pass from Fultz in transition and stepping into another 15-foot jumper to make it a five-point lead and give the Magic some breathing room with 1:37 to play. That is all the Magic needed to keep their distance from the Knicks.

This was not Banchero's greatest game -- 20 points on 9-for-19 shooting. But he certainly benefited from having some of his teammates back to set him up for easy shots.

Undeniably, Banchero's energy picked up late in the game and he stepped in to make some big plays to secure the win.

"He's not afraid," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Monday's win. "He wants the big moment. Obviously, being in the Garden is another one of those opportunities. His teammates trust him to take those shots knowing they are big shots down the stretch. Finding a way to get it done. That's what this group is going to continue to do. Find a way."

That is what Banchero has had to do a lot with the team facing so many injuries. He has had to shoulder a lot of responsibility and find a way. Having others to lean on and set him up was certainly a relief.

But there is also no denying Banchero thrives in these late-game moments.

It is more than his go-ahead and game-winning baskets against the Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls. The stats just point to Banchero being a very clutch player.

Banchero is currently seventh in the league in clutch scoring (when the game is within five points in the final five minutes) with 70 total points. He has taken the fourth-most clutch field goal attempts in the league, making 22 of 49 attempts total (44.9 percent). He is also 5 for 15 from deep (33.3 percent) in clutch situations.

The most important stat though is the Magic are 13-8 in clutch situations this year. Even if that includes games where opponents came back and made it close at the end (the Magic have a few of those too), Orlando is stepping up to win their share of 50/50 games. The Magic's 74 clutch minutes are now 12th in the league.

Having a player who thrives and succeeds in these moments -- even in his second year -- has been a big boost. Banchero is someone the Magic can trust to soak up attention and hit big shots.

"Even his rookie year, he made clutch buckets down the stretch for us," Wendell Carter said after Monday's game. "I just knew it was going to be the same thing coming into this year. I knew we were going to be in a lot more close games than last year just because we came into the season relatively healthy. We know we can play with anybody in this league when we are all healthy. That's something we expect from Paolo. Make or miss, we understand he is one of those guys who has the clutch factor. We are going to hang our hat on that every time."

That is a lot to put on a young player like Banchero. The Magic handed him the keys a lot last year too.

In his rookie season, Banchero scored 91 total points in clutch situations, shooting 24 for 58 (41.4 percent). Orlando was willing to let Banchero be the leader late in games last year and go through any growing pains that might entail.

They are training him to be their go-to player for moments like Monday night and eventually for the playoffs. All of this is still about growing Banchero into the player he will become.

"That's probably what I'm going to face for the majority of my career," Banchero said after Monday's win. "Getting reps against those guys is good. Figuring out ways to leverage their aggressiveness in my favor I think is something that I'm trying to learn how to do. I'm always looking forward to accepting those challenges."

The Magic have other options to go to late in games too.

Fultz made a lot of key decisions down the stretch with three assists in the final minute against the Knicks, including a good find to set up Carter for the team's final field goal to make it a five-point game with 30 seconds to play.

Franz Wagner too is excellent late in games -- see his game-winner against the Chicago Bulls. His ability to create for himself and others too is a big benefit as the Magic have multiple ways to attack.

But even Wagner has struggled late in games this season, scoring only 22 points on 7-for-18 shooting in clutch situations. He was among the team's leaders in late-game scoring last year, but this year has obviously been a different story.

Banchero has had to step up since Wagner's absence, scoring 46 total clutch points since Jan. 1 as he has had to carry the team.

Everything has flowed through Banchero. And he has delivered.

"And this is why I say it and why I say he's an All-Star: He's not afraid of big moments," Mosley said after Monday's win. "Why he doesn't allow the game on Friday to impact the game [Monday]. You learn from it, you move on, you get better. You take those same exact shots you take the other night, but you step up with the same amount of confidence. That's what it takes to be resilient in this league and that's the level of toughness that he possesses."

This is something special the Magic have in Banchero. They know he is someone who is unafraid of big shots and big moments. They know he will step up and deliver when the game is on the line.

Mosley likes to remind everyone games are not decided in the final five or two minutes. They do not come down to the heroic last-second shots everyone imagines.

Still, these moments are important. They are important for Banchero's growth and they are important because playoff games are often decided on one or two of these close shots.

The Magic's offense could still improve late in games -- the Magic tend to win clutch games when they are hanging onto a lead rather than making up ground, making Monday's win that much more impressive. And Banchero turns the ball over a lot late too -- his nine turnovers in clutch situations are the most in the league (tied with LeBron James though).

How Paolo Banchero stacks up against other young stars. dark. Next. Banchero Young Stars 01.16.24

But to have someone already confident in those moments and delivering in these moments in just his second year is going to go a long way to helping the Magic succeed.