The Rookie Watch is back, with a slightly modified format. Month by month we will choose the five best newcomers. Each newcomer is scrutinized more closely. Orlando Magic top pick Paolo Banchero will start.
Credit where credit is due. In our first issue of Rookie Watch, we want to focus on Paolo Banchero. Not just because the striker was first snapped up by Orlando in the summer, but also because Banchero has had such a great start to the young season.
The 19-year-old broke the 20-point barrier in 9 of 11 games, and in an overtime thriller against Sacramento, he set two new personal bests with 33 points and 16 rebounds. Banchero has no teeth problems and is ready for the NBA. For that, the often quoted “Eye Test” is enough. At 2.08 meters and 113 kilograms, Banchero looks like a “finished” NBA player.
This is where the doubts were before the project. Does that faceoff that made him so strong in college work in the NBA? After eleven games this should be confirmed. Banchero also takes his positions to the next level and is also able to move his opponents from the backfield.
Almost eight free throws per game (11th in the league) is a good indicator of that; David Robinson and Michael Jordan recently acquired similar values in their rookie seasons. So there was a lot of praise from Draymond Green after the game against the Warriors. “Paolo, he’s one of them,” Green said of the league’s up-and-coming stars.
Paolo Banchero. His stats for the Orlando Magic
Paolo Banchero. Draymond Green sees the star factor
“He doesn’t just score, he does what wins you games. He plays even when he’s off the ball,” enthused Green. And yet, at the moment, Banchero is primarily defined by his goals. For his 2.08m, the top pick has an amazing amount of dribble moves to attack the basket over and over again. Most of that happens in transition, where Magic’s style of play suits him.
As colleague Ole Freks rightly pointed out in his column, after the rebound it is not the ball carrier, instead almost all players have the freedom to set the pace with the ball. Of all players who make at least 30 drives per game, only Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ja Morant and Pascal Siakam are fouled more often than the Magic rookie in those actions.
Banchero finds openings because he can’t exactly attack the basket. Although the three-pointer and mid-range shot are still not desired, his opponents respect the danger. Furthermore, you can’t help but feel that Banchero is always in control of his actions, which also sets him apart from other rookies and speaks to his maturity.
Banchero can overreact at times, but that’s not surprising given the personnel around him. He is the most talented and the best scorer on the team, so he has the freedom to make those shots. He doesn’t have eyelashes, his passing game is already at a good level, even if Banchero doesn’t do crazy things here.
Paolo Banchero. There is a lot of room for improvement
A good quarter of his games come off the pickroll, averaging 0.86 points per game. That’s perfectly fine, especially since Banchero is still getting used to the pace. “He takes something from every game,” Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said recently. “He’s still learning and the game is getting slower for him every time. He’s starting to see the connections.”
That’s one side of the ball, there’s still a lot of work to be done on the other side. Yes, Banchero is loyal, but is currently the obvious weak spot in the defence. He lacks footwork at times, often misses spins off the ball and doesn’t always seem to know when to.
That, too, is part of life as a rookie in the NBA. Many had outlined lineups with Banchero as the center of the future, but there is still a long way to go. And for all his greatness on this Magic team, you won’t need his services there anyway. Orlando wanted a scorer, an emergency anchor when you need points, and Banchero seems to be just that.