What Paolo Banchero brings to the Orlando Magic

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Thank goodness the cameras never stopped rolling…otherwise we would have missed the moment.

It was mid-March, with Duke in the middle of a Sweet 16 slugfest against Texas Tech. Unsurprisingly, the Red Raiders’ “no middle” defense — ranked No. 1 in the nation in adjusted efficiency, according to KenPom — made life difficult for the Blue Devils, who trailed by four at halftime. But thanks to an influx of zone defense afterwards and Duke’s isolation of stud rookie Paolo Banchero on the right block, Mike Krzyzewski’s side recovered and took a five-point lead with 34.7 seconds to play.

Then it happened.

Now keep in mind: That five-point lead from the clip above? Did not hold. Even after Duke shot 70.8% in the second half – the best an opponent has shot in a half against TTU in seven seasons – the Red Raiders cut things to two points with 16 seconds left. So the narrowest of narrow margins. End of season online. How, exactly, was Duke able to earn its most contested victory of the playoffs?

By letting Banchero be Banchero, the transcendent talent that he is.

And that wink, in all its swaggering subtlety, is just further proof of what makes Banchero great — and why the Orlando Magic ultimately selected him with the No. 1 pick in the draft. the NBA this year. Even when faced with a moment under pressure, against arguably Duke’s toughest opponent of the entire season, the tall 19-year-old winger was able to remain calm, composed and critically effective. “I never,” Banchero said at the time, “played in a basketball game like that.” Maybe so, but the intensity of this night did not prevent Banchero from showing all his offensive arsenal. His game-high 22 points were obviously impressive, but even more so considering he did it shooting 7 of 12 overall, 3 of 4 of 3 and 5 of 6 from the goal line. free throws. The fact that he also contributed four rebounds, four assists and three steals (against just one turnover and no fouls) only underscores how dominant Banchero was that day – and how powerful that performance was. was emblematic of its fantastic first season.

Not that it was all unexpected, though; Banchero came to Duke as the consensus third prospect in his class, a ranking he had held since starting high school in his hometown of Seattle. (In fact, when Banchero was a sophomore, his father Mario asked a longtime family friend and former professional sports executive, “If you had Anthony Davis as a sophomore in high school, what would your marketing recommendations be?” ) Banchero’s enormous physical size — he was 6-foot-10 and weighed 250 pounds the day he graduated from high school — positioned him for immediate success, but it’s his guarding skill set. which allowed him to become one of the best players in college basketball from the start.

Case in point: Banchero led Duke in scoring (17.2 ppg) and rebounding (7.8 rpg) as a true freshman, in Coach K’s final season … while simultaneously sharing the floor with four others potential first-round picks.

A deeper dive into advanced metrics only confirms the effectiveness of Banchero. According to KenPom, despite shooting 26.5 percent for his team while on the ground, Banchero still maintained a 55.7 percent true shooting percentage and 111.2 offensive rating. And according to Synergy, Banchero averaged more than one point per possession (PPP) in five different scenarios last season: cutting (1,435 PP), offensive rebounds/returns (1,359 PPA), as a pick-and-roll roll (1.207 PPP), in transition (1.078) and in transfer (1.042).

Translation: whether he’s starting the attack as a handler, receiving the ball from a teammate on a specific action, or even doing something out of thin air on the edge, Banchero has almost always successful. That’s one of the main reasons the Magic drafted him: to do those same things at the next level, as the offensive centerpiece of the franchise’s ongoing rebuild. In that regard, something Krzyzewski said before this season still stands out.

“He won’t realize his full potential while he’s at Duke,” Krzyzewski said Athleticism in November. “He’s going to keep getting better and better.”

Now the question is, how much? The two obvious growth areas for Banchero are in defense and as a shooter. Although he had 36 blocks last season, nearly one per game, the difference between guarding faster wings and bigger forwards has sometimes caused him problems. And while Banchero is a solid rebounder, especially on the defensive glass, he’s probably best served playing the next-level four, instead of being a small three-ball against longer, stronger big ones. As a shooter, Banchero really showed up in the NCAA Tournament — he made 10 of 19 3-point tries in Duke’s five games — but only hit 33.8 percent from deep in the year. . In games where that through shot didn’t drop, Banchero’s defenders would often slump on him, challenging him not to settle for jumpers. If Banchero can add a bit more lift and consistency to his shot, there’s no reason he can’t hit the 35-38 percent range from 3 – how well, defenders will have to approach him … and risk being overtaken.

Basically a kind of choice deal for opposing coaches. Take it from Mark Adams of Texas Tech.

“The big players find a way to get the ball and make the big plays,” Adams said of Banchero after the Sweet 16 loss, “and he certainly did.”

Now Orlando hopes it will continue to do so at the next level.

(Photo: Bob Donnan/USA Today)

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