Paolo Banchero off To Fantastic Start in His NBA Career

By Ethan Montague

Last year the Orlando Magic’s season ended with a last place finish in the Eastern Conference. Fortunately for them, this allowed them to win the NBA lottery and were gifted the first overall pick, which they used on Paolo Banchero.

Banchero is off to a fantastic start, scoring 20 points in each of his first six games. There are only five other players who have ever done this and they are all in the Hall of Fame. In his NBA debut, he dropped 25 points, five rebounds, and five assists, which makes him the first player to do so in their debut since LeBron James in 2003.

Paolo Banchero is listed at 6 ’10, 249 pounds, with a 7 ‘1 wingspan. He uses his frame to great advantage, excelling when driving to the rim and finishing. He is athletic for his size and has so far shown good footwork, which has helped him stay consistent with 15 or more points every game so far.

Banchero is more skilled than he showed in college and has been one of the main shot creators for the Orlando Magic this season. He has appeared fluid and competent pulling up off the dribble and this creates huge problems for the defense, which now has to guard the threat of the shot and drive.

Other young players see massive drops in the level of their play against better teams but even against defenders like Jayson Tatum or Evan Mobley, Banchero has put up massive scoring totals, scoring 23 and 29 points respectively.

Banchero will need to improve to reach his full potential, however, with his biggest issues being in terms of efficiency. So far, Banchero is shooting an average 46% from the field, inefficient  27.5% from three, and a slightly below average 72.9% from the free throw line. 

He will never need to be even average from three but pulling this number up to about 34-35% will make it an efficient shot for him. This would make it virtually impossible for even the best defenders to keep him out of the paint. This could improve his field goal percentage by making it easier for him to get high efficiency shots at the basket also.

Banchero will also need to vastly improve his defense as it is inexcusable for a player with his physical gifts and athleticism to average less than a block, currently 0.7, and steal, 0.8, per game.

Other similar players such as Giannis Antetounkmpo, Evan Mobley, Anthony Davis, Ben Simmons, Andrew Wiggins, Scottie Barnes, and even Mikal Bridges typically are around or above these averages, so there are no excuses for Banchero as he is clearly more talented than many of them. 

Banchero possesses all the tools to be a lockdown defender and the Magic have given him all the support he’ll need to anchor a disruptive defense with big and athletic defenders such as Bol Bol(7’2), Wendell Carter(6’10), Jonathan Isaac(6’10), Mo Bamba(7’0), and Franz Wagner(6’10).

Many teams can not afford to put out lineups as big as the Magic have so far, as it typically would leave them struggling to put enough ball handlers on the floor. But players like Wagner and Banchero can handle and pass the ball quite well, so it has worked for them while allowing them to field a potentially elite defense.

After losing 4-1 to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2009 NBA Finals, it had been a rough decade for the Orlando Magic. The team made the playoffs only five times in the 13 seasons since, with a winning percentage south of 40%. 

With Banchero, the Magic can finally feel comfortable knowing they have the star they need to go far in the playoffs. Banchero leads all rookies in scoring so far, with 22.9 points a game. He is second in both rebounding and assists, with 7.1 and 3.5, respectively.

These statistics put Banchero in the frontrunning for the Rookie of the Year award, over players like Bennedict Mathurin and Jabari Smith, who have also had plenty of early season success so far.

Currently FanDuel has Banchero with overwhelmingly high odds of -360 which would only earn a $100 wager, $27.78 in profit should he win the award. FanDuel is not expecting anyone else to even challenge him for the award based on this and is picking him over the field. 

They do not have a clear frontrunner for MVP, DPOY, or 6MOY, favored over the field, which shows how far above the competition Banchero is, in what so far appears to be a very good draft class.

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