1. One of the Magic’s major weaknesses in recent years has been getting to the free throw line. They’ve ranked in the bottom five in foul shot attempts in seven of the last 10 seasons, including last year when they finished 29th. It appears they now have someone who could change that. Paolo Banchero is built to handle contact, and, perhaps most importantly, he’s not afraid to absorb it. He took 20 free throws in his two summer league appearances and made 16 of them. At Duke last season, he attempted the fourth most free throws in the ACC with 188 of them. In one game alone, against Georgia Tech, he took 16 of them.
2. Is Banchero a far better defender than advertised? While the level of competition was obviously a factor, he made it awfully tough for opponents to create space on the perimeter, and he had that game-saving block from behind on Neemias Queta in the sudden-death double-OT victory over the Kings. It’s too early to know for certain, either way, what kind of impact he will make defensively in the long run, but the eye test early on indicates he’s got potential to be a far better defender than some originally thought.
3. What makes Banchero most unique is his playmaking at 6-foot-10, 250 pounds. He has incredible instincts and vision for someone his size. His passing is very reminiscent of Chris Webber, one of the greatest passing power forwards in NBA history. Like the five-time NBA All-Star and hoops Hall of Famer, who technically was also a first overall draft pick by the Magic before getting traded for Penny Hardaway and future selections, Banchero makes difficult passes look easy, largely because of how cerebral he is. Another player that was like that at a particular stage of his prime was Blake Griffin, who has averaged over five assists three times in his NBA career.
4. The biggest unknown going forward is his shooting touch. His blend of power and finesse is going to make him a potent scorer. But, for him to be amongst the league’s top point-getters by the time he reaches his prime, he’s going to have to be efficient from all over the floor. In his two summer league games, he shot 40.7 percent from the field on 27 attempts and 50 percent from 3-point range on four tries. Working in his favor is his methodical pace. He’s extremely patient. Although he lacks blow-by speed and explosion off the dribble, he gets clean shots off by using his supreme physical gifts and by not rushing things. Two All-Star players from the past who were also like that were Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson, also a first overall draft pick, and Paul Pierce.
5. The Magic have an extremely interesting, and distinctive, frontcourt. Infrequently does a team have this much versatility with their forwards and centers. Looking up and down the league, there isn’t a team that has as much playmaking on the frontline than Orlando does with Banchero, Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter Jr. Bol Bol, who re-signed with the Magic last week, is also multidimensional, and we know how great defensively Jonathan Isaac is when healthy, how elite of a shot blocker Mo Bamba is, and how great of a floor spacer Moe Wagner is. Another one of their versatile forwards is Chuma Okeke, who came on strong late last season. How they all mesh remains to be seen, but the fact that they each possess a variety of skills gives the Magic some tactical flexibility.
6. It was beneficial for Banchero to match up against two of the other top five draft picks in the 2022 class in summer league. And the fact that he performed so well against Jabari Smith Jr. and Keegan Murray, two very good defenders, is a confidence booster. While we didn’t get to see him against Chet Holmgren, the No. 2 overall pick, the two did square off in college, and Banchero played exceptionally well against him and the Gonzaga Bulldogs in that showdown last November.
7. Banchero will leave Las Vegas with much more basketball knowledge than he had when he arrived. After the Magic’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, he talked about how spending time with the coaching staff and some of the team’s established players helped him gain more insight.
“I learned a lot,” he said. “Coach (Jamahl) Mosley and I watched film after both games. We watched film every day, just on ways I can get better, what I am seeing, just how I am reading the game. It’s been a big help. This time in Vegas has helped me a lot as a basketball player.”
8. It seems obvious, but it never really gets emphasized. The best players in the league are gym rats and relentless workers. It’s been evident in Vegas that Banchero is those things. He eats, drinks, and sleeps basketball, which bodes well for his future. He plays with so much passion and spirit. That’s not always the case with the most talented players at summer league.