Paolo Banchero is taking the reins as part of NBA's new generation

If there has been a theme to this year's postseason, it has been a changing of the guard. The stars of the 2010s are giving way to the stars of the 2020s. That includes Paolo Banchero's Playoff debut.
Paolo Banchero has turned in a stunning and strong Playoff debut as a new wave of NBA stars make their mark this postseason.
Paolo Banchero has turned in a stunning and strong Playoff debut as a new wave of NBA stars make their mark this postseason. / Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Paolo Banchero was completely lost in the game.

If anyone needed to know what it feels like to be "in the zone" in a big playoff game, that might be your answer. That might be what it is. Just a complete lack of awareness of what is going on outside the lines and a total focus on the moment.

Banchero certainly looked like it scoring 39 points on 14-for-24 shooting in Game 5 on Tuesday. He dribbled and hunted defenders, pulling up from mid-range and draining shots at will as he tried to keep the Orlando Magic in the game and tried to deliver the win at times seemingly single-handedly.

Banchero had blinders on. He had all the different kind of badges you can find on NBA 2K. He was just in the zone.

"I think I just got lost in the game," Banchero said after Game 5 on Tuesday. "I just really wanted to win. I knew how big this game would be for us to get this win. It's tough that we didn't. It was a fun game. I just kind of got lost in it. It was a great environment."

Everyone entered the series believing Donovan Mitchell was the best player in the series -- and thus gave the Cleveland Cavaliers the best chance to win. As the series nears its end in Game 6 and perhaps Game 7, nobody can be quite sure.

Banchero has staked a claim to being the best player in the series. That puts the better chance of winning on the Magic. If not for Banchero's turnovers and the Orlando Magic's youthful mistakes — excusable and understandable or not—the Magic might be in control of this series or already preparing for the Boston Celtics.

The NBA Playoffs have seen a changing of the guard as new stars advance

But that has been the theme throughout the Playoffs.

This first round has been a changing of the guard in the league. The stars of the 2010s — LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant — are sitting at home as the first round concludes and the true contenders start to assert themselves. A new generation is staking its claim.

It is Anthony Edwards talking with Kevin Durant up the court as he scored 31.0 points per game in the Minnesota Timberwolves' sweep of the Phoenix Suns. It is NIkola Jokic and Jamal Murray continuing their mastery of the Los Angeles Lakers, sending LeBron James home from the Playoffs.

It has been Jalen Brunson and Tyrese Maxey trading big shots in the series between the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers. It has been Luka Doncic throwing up 30.2/9.2/8.8 as the Dallas Mavericks took a 3-2 series lead over James Harden, Paul George, an injured Kawhi Leonard and the LA Clippers.

It has been Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leading the young Oklahoma City Thunder to a sweep of the New Orleans Pelicans. It has been Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown continuing their mastery in the Playoffs as that young duo knocks on the door of winning the title.

Paolo Banchero is not getting mentioned in the same breath as those young players since the Orlando Magic's series with the Cleveland Cavaliers has been relegated to NBATVaside from the weekend games— even Tuesday's highly entertaining Game 5.

Paolo Banchero's playoff brilliance has gone unnoticed nationally as the Orlando Magic fight to reach the second round

But Paolo Banchero has been nothing short of brilliant in his first Playoff series.

"He's been doing it all season," Wendell Carter said after Game 5 on Tuesday. "It's no surprise to us. He's confident, when he is rolling, he is one of the best in the league if not the best. Him being just a second-year player, the things he has done this season and in the playoffs, it shows what he is capable of. The sky is definitely the limit for him."

Banchero is averaging 24.8 points per game, 7.2 rebounds per game and 4.4 assists per game in the series so far. He averaged 22.6 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game and 5.4 assists per game during the regular season.

His shooting splits have risen from 45.5/33.9/72.5 in the regular season to 48.5/37.9/71.4. His field goal attempts have jumped to 20.2 per game as he has taken on more responsibility.

As all great players do, Banchero has clearly elevated his game in the Playoffs.

The only two areas Banchero has struggled is that his free throws have decreased to 4.2 per game (although perhaps he should have gotten two more late in Game 5) and his turnovers.

Banchero is averaging 4.8 turnovers per game — including nine in Game 1, six in Game 2 and another five in the critical Game 5. It has been the only flaw in his Playoff run. And the only place where the pressure of the postseason and the attention he gets has gotten to him.

Regardless of how this series ends, the Orlando Magic should feel assured they have a Playoff performer leading them.

"Obviously what he does, the attention he gets and the double teams that get thrown at him all game. People forget he is 21, 22. He's very young. It's really impressive," veteran forward Joe Ingles said after Tuesday's Game 5. "Same with Franz [Wagner]. We've had guys at different points of the year. For our group, those two guys carry a pretty big load of how we play. From Game 1 to now, they keep getting better and better. That's going to be a pretty trending thing for the next few years."

Paolo Banchero is still feeling the weight of stardom as he tries to lead the Orlando Magic to the second round following the Game 5 loss

The Orlando Magic still have their chance to win this series. But Paolo Banchero and Magic have at least made an opening argument that they will be players in the Eastern Conference for years to come. Expectations with the Magic have certainly raised and the team should be looking to make its mark.

This is indeed a new era in the NBA. And Orlando is going to be a part of it with Banchero and Wagner leading the way.

Banchero is not one to wait. When he accepted the Rookie of the Year Award, he promised the team was going to be in the Playoffs — and delivered it. He is clearly ready for these moments and these responsibilities.

Banchero felt the weight of the moment after Game 5. Ultimately he was probably happier scoring nine points in a Game 4 win rather than 39 in a Game 5 loss. Everyone understood how important that game was for the Magic, who now face elimination in Game 6 on Friday.

He put a lot of the responsibility for the loss on his shoulders.

"I think we got decent looks," Banchero said after Game 5. "There were some shots we could have gotten better looks probably. At the end of games like that, it's tough to execute sometimes. Guys are tired, fatigued. We still had a shot and good looks that didn't drop.

"I just wanted to be aggressive, hunt my shots and make the shots that I take. I think I got a little fatigued at the end. I think [Evan] Mobley did a good job of playing in between to where he was close enough to still contest but waiting for the drive. It was tough. I had a couple of possessions I wish I could have had back."

That is the other side of the coin in the Playoffs. Banchero's pull-up three with 90 seconds left in a one-point game stood out as an ill-advised shot. Each one of those five turnovers stung in a game decided on the final possessions.

But coach Jamahl Mosley and the Magic have complete trust in their young star. Part of this team's growth is that Mosley let Banchero and Wagner make those critical decisions. They know that will benefit them more in their future Playoff series.

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And after the way this season and this series has gone, it is certain there will be a lot more. And that Banchero and the Magic will be in the middle of the championship chase for this new generation of young stars taking over the league.