At the time, the number one pick of the 2022 NBA draft seemed like a complicated decision for the Orlando Magic. Between Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, and Jabari Smith Jr, it didn’t seem like Orlando had a clear option at first overall. The rumor mill remained inconsistent, with multiple different insiders reporting different things ahead of the selection. However, Orlando rolled the dice and picked Banchero, and it’s quite clear already they made the right decision.
Coming out of Duke, the former Blue Devil showed flashes of an all-around game that drew comparisons to Chris Webber. The 6’10” forward exhibited an array of moves to get to the basket, while flashing a strong rebounding game and playmaking chops. This combined with steady enough shooting and solid defense gave him the positional versatility to play any frontcourt position. Orlando selecting him gave them the potential to experiment with one of the biggest and youngest lineups in basketball.
Through 11 games this season, Banchero is off to one of the better career starts in recent memory. Posting averages of 23.5 points per game while pulling down eight rebounds and dishing out four assists, Banchero is already playing like an All-Star talent early in his career. Right away, Banchero has taken the opportunity to prove he’s a franchise cornerstone and ran with it, showing a great level of aggressiveness offensively.
Combining his strength and versatility makes him an elite slasher already, as his ability to get into the lane is unmatched by any rookie in the class. He remains strong on the glass, and his passing ability has flown under the radar. Banchero’s precision and touch as a passer is advanced, and although the box score only shows four assists per game, it’s clear he makes those around him better already.
Defensively, the Magic youngster was built to succeed right away. His combination of physical attributes and awareness makes him a good defender. Banchero is expected to be one of the league’s better defenders in the future.
It sounds like a near perfect level of play, but there is an issue at hand. His three-point shooting has been disappointing early, shooting 26% from long range on four attempts per contest. This can be attributed to both mechanics, along with shot selection. Banchero can improve at setting his feet, while also working on quickening his release. He’s taken some questionable threes as well, and needs to learn what an efficient look from deep is in the NBA.
These concerns aren’t too much to look into since they are both skills that come with time. Banchero was thrown into the fire as the number one option of an NBA team and has done incredible, but there’s bound to be flaws like this. With more reps, expect Banchero to improve upon his mistakes.
There have been some great rookies right away, but Banchero is light years ahead of the pack. Banchero has become an elite talent already, and may even be considered for an All-Star nod this season. What’s more interesting to discuss, however, is not how good he is now. Rather, how good can Paolo Banchero become?
Banchero is exactly what modern teams look to build around. In a perimeter centric game, teams face an advantage building around versatile two-way wings who can play multiple positions rather than guards. Look at the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Jayson Tatum, and Jimmy Butler. All three are elite on both sides of the ball, while also being good enough offensive engines to control the pace. None of the three are good enough playmakers to be considered primary initiators, but all are good enough to be a secondary, or even play a 1A-1B role.
Two names left out of this group are LeBron James and Kevin Durant, as both sort into different categories. James himself is the system, and as good as Durant is, he’s not good enough defensively or as a playmaker to be considered that hybrid of a player. However, those are two other wings that are proven ones on championship level teams that can also be brought up in different ways.
The reason the wing position is the best to build around is simply because it’s the easiest. With all the shooting in today’s NBA, building around big players with diverse skill-sets gives teams easier looks from three. It makes it harder on opposing defenses, as they have to contain both the wing and the shooting threats. Do-it-all wings are the NBA’s hottest commodity, and that’s where Banchero falls.
It shouldn’t be hard for Orlando to build around the rookie. Provide him another go-to scorer, interior defense, and three-and-D pieces and they’ll be set. Banchero is one of the most complete first-year players in recent years. Once Orlando’s core develops around him while he continues to progress, Banchero will be widely regarded as one of basketball’s best. He will go down as one of the best players in the modern NBA, and a bonafide generational talent when he reaches his best years.