ORLANDO - Jumbo playmakers are what’s poppin’ in the NBA today.
All part of the evolution of the game, there’s a premium right now on players who occupy frontcourt positions that can orchestrate an offense.
With that said, it’s probably not a coincidence that all of the best teams over the last couple years have at least one of them. The reigning NBA champion Denver Nuggets have Nikola Jokic. The Miami Heat, who played Denver in the Finals last season, have Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler. The East-leading Boston Celtics have Jayson Tatum. The Milwaukee Bucks have Giannis Antetokounmpo. The L.A. Lakers have LeBron James. The Golden State Warriors have Draymond Green. The New York Knicks have Julius Randle. Although labeled a point guard, Luka Doncic is around 6-foot-8, so you could say the Dallas Mavericks have one as well.
Now, it seems to fair to add the Orlando Magic in this conversation, considering they have a pair of 6-foot-10 playmakers in Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner running the show.
This is just one of the many areas both have been excelling at lately, which is why their respective stat lines have been so impressive recently.
From a facilitating standpoint, Banchero has dished out five-plus assists in four of his last five games, while Wagner has done the same in three of those contests.
“It’s going to continue to get better because they do such a great job of communicating with one another,” Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley said. “They communicate with their teammates the things that they are seeing on the floor (and) the different coverages they are seeing. Their quick decisions and their willingness to pass is just something we are going to keep coaching them on, and they’ve done a great job listening to the coaches.”
It just seems like only a matter of time before one or both of them record their first triple-double. Banchero has come close the last two games, finishing with 28 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists in Friday’s victory over the Washington Wizards and 19 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in Saturday’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets. Wagner, meanwhile, had 31 points, seven rebounds and eight assists in that win over the Wizards and 20 points, seven boards and five dimes in the Nets game.
“Just trying to make plays, draw the defense and find the open man,” Banchero said.
This all shouldn’t come as a surprise. Court vision, instincts, and a high basketball IQ were listed as strengths of theirs coming into the NBA.
Over their last seven games, the Magic are tied with the Indiana Pacers for third in assists with 29.6 of them per contest. Only the Nuggets and Warriors rank higher.
What Orlando does better than every other team is find cutters from the paint. Time and time again, you’ll see a Magic player get into the paint (often Banchero and Wagner) before making a pass to a cutter streaming down the lane or along the baseline for an easy layup or dunk. They’ve done this a league-most 61 times, per Second Spectrum tracking data, 36 more than the team that’s done it second most, which is the Nuggets.
This is one of the reasons why the Magic are scoring so much in the paint, why they are drawing so many fouls, and why their offense has been much smoother lately. Currently, they have the league’s 14th best offensive rating.
“I love it,” Magic guard Jalen Suggs said recently. “I think when we play that style of basketball, moving the ball quick, forcing close-out situations, and then just finding the right basketball play. It leads to good things for us. It’s a fun style to play. Everyone’s touching it. Everyone’s cooking. It doesn’t matter who’s having the hot night because it’s leading to wins. Really, that’s all that matters, you know, and I think everyone’s kind of embracing that.”