It has been a long time since the Orlando Magic had a superstar player.
The kind of player who demands a double team because there are no defenders who can stop him individually. Someone who can tilt a defense and create an advantage just by his presence. Someone who, knowing full well he will get the ball, just produces.
Paolo Banchero may not quite be fully at that level. He has yet to make the playoffs after all and his first All-Star selection is in the mail. But he keeps showing everyone hints of the kind of player he can be.
Look no further than his last two outings -- a career-high 43 points including 18 straight points for the Magic in the fourth quarter and overtime in a double-overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings and then a 32-point, 11-assist, 10-rebound effort for his first career triple-double in Friday's win over the Denver Nuggets -- than proof of his ability to affect winning. Banchero nearly willed the undermanned Magic to two crucial road victories.
He is still young and still has areas he has to improve upon. But these games were just proof of what he is capable of doing. And for the magic, they were hardly a surprise.
"He's special. He is beyond special," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Friday's game. "I've seen a lot of special players in this league, he's one of them. He has not even scratched the surface of what he is capable of doing. But more importantly, is the fact he is doing it the right way and leading his team to try to find ways to win. We've said that from the beginning. He is going to find a way to help this team win. that's the big-time part about him and a big-time part about this group."
That has been the line Mosley has said repeatedly about the Magic's young star. While everyone can get enamored with his big scoring numbers, Mosley constantly points to the winning plays he tries to make.
To Mosley, Banchero is simply doing what his team needs him to do.
Undoubtedly, that burden was greater during the last two games with the Magic missing so many key players and Franz Wagner for most of each game. Banchero shouldered the load and did whatever his team needed him to do.
For this season, it has been a diversification of his game as he has become a more efficient scorer and a better playmaker.
Banchero is averaging 22.7 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game and 4.9 assists per game. He is shooting 46.2 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from three with 7.5 free throws per game. Aside from his free throw shooting, all of his numbers were improved over his rookie year.
He also has a 28.8 percent usage rate, a number that is truly in the provenance of the stars. With each passing game, Banchero looks more and more like the star this team can build around for a long time to come.
Since Dec. 1, Banchero is averaging 26.6 points per game with 8.0 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game. He is shooting 44.8 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc. His usage rate has stayed steady at 32.1 percent.
Again, these are the numbers stars put up. And it is clear he still can improve.
Banchero could still get more efficient. And his turnovers at times have been out of control since he is essentially the team's point guard with Markelle Fultz out of the lineup. But that is just a reminder of how much he has to grow.
The gaudy numbers should get him some accolades from the outside. But it really confirms what this team already knows about him. The Magic are riding Banchero as far as he can take them through this rough patch on the injury front and on the schedule.
"Paolo is what you would call a perennial superstar," Cole Anthony said after Friday's game. "I knew that. I think he's just waking everyone else up now. I'm in such a dope position to see him develop and see him showcase to the world how talented he is and how he can affect the game in so many different ways."
There are still going to be naysayers. To think that a 21-year-old second-year player is fully developed would be a crazy thing.
Some may still point to his inefficiency as a shooter or those turnovers -- again crazy usage rate, not a natural point guard and playmaker, youth suggesting he can still improve. They may even note that Orlando has an overall net rating of -1.1 points per 100 possessions with Banchero on the floor and -5.0 points per 100 possessions since Dec. 1.
As a young player and a growing young star, he is still learning when to impose himself on the game and take over the team's scoring and when to pass and move the ball, looking to get others involved.
Most of his mistakes at this point in the season are offshoots of learning this balance whether that is trying to take a shot at the wrong moment or trying too hard to pass the ball when scoring or getting to the foul line would be a better play.
But more and more, Banchero is putting these games together more. Friday was his fourth 30-point game of the season in addition to his first triple-double. He has had all of those since Dec. 1. Banchero is getting a whole lot more comfortable and confident to help carry this team.
It starts with a mindset of doing what the team needs from him.
"I was really just trying to focus on making the right play for the team the whole game," Banchero said after Friday's game. "I think obviously coming off the last game, I knew there was going to be a lot of attention, especially with the guys we had out. . . . I wasn't even worried about that. I was worried about doing whatever we could to stay in the game and claw back into the lead. We kept chipping away. Guys kept making timely plays, we started to get stops and we started to feed off each other and build momentum and we pulled it out."
To be sure, Banchero is happier to get the win more than any of his stat accolades. It says a lot that the decisive play came off a team defensive effort and steal and Banchero running the floor to draw the foul that became the game-winning points -- his third time this season scoring the decisive points late in the game.
Friday's game was really a team victory too with so many player stepping up to help the team secure the win.
But a win like that does not happen without the star player having that kind of a game. And Banchero is turning in superstar showings far more regularly now. He knows it and the team knows it too.
"He is a killa," Jalen Suggs said after Friday's game. "I tell him every game and every day: Go to work, do you. He wants to get others involved and he wants to win. Just the growth that he has made in year one, he's an All-Star. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it, he should be in Indiana. We are going to continue to improve around him and get good wins like this."
Finding that star player is obviously the big puzzle piece the franchise has needed for more than a decade. They seemed to have found that player in Banchero as he keeps expanding his game.
But what makes him special is that he is all about winning. And he clearly has the skills to impact winning at a high level.
As everyone recognizes, he wants to win. And he is learning quickly how he can impact wininng in a major way.