Magic rookie Paolo Banchero making early improvements as a playmaker – The Denver Post


There’s been a lot of focus on Paolo Banchero’s scoring through his first six games. Understandably so after scoring 21 points in the Orlando Magic’s 113-93 home win over the Charlotte Hornets Friday to become just the sixth player in NBA history to start his career with six consecutive 20-point games.

Banchero, the No. 1 pick in June’s draft, joined the elite company of Wilt Chamberlain (56), Elvin Hayes (10) and Grant Hill, Dominique Wilkins and Oscar Robertson (six) as the lone players to accomplish the feat.

But through the first four weeks of his NBA career (counting preseason), Banchero’s biggest growth has come as a passer and playmaker, which was evident by his season-high 7 assists Friday.

“The one thing he continues to do is pick up as games go on,” coach Jamahl Mosley said of Banchero. “He’s learning it, he’s slowing it down, he’s understanding it, knowing the pace of the game — he’s doing a great job of communicating. It goes back to his ability to trust his teammates and his teammates to trust in him.”

Assists aren’t the be-all and end-all stat to evaluate playmaking and passing.

They require the teammate on the receiving end of the pass to make the shot. How assists are recorded can also be subjective. A player can create the opening in a defense that kicks off good ball movement or be responsible for the secondary assist (the pass before the assist) but if they don’t make the final pass before the made shot, their contributions won’t show up in a traditional box score.

That’s why when it comes to passing and playmaking, it’s important to evaluate the process more than the result. And what Banchero has shown over the last few weeks is an improved understanding of how to pick apart opposing defenses and leverage his scoring ability to create opportunities for his teammates.

“Definitely feel it slowing down,” Banchero said. “My vision is starting to expand more when I’m driving. Earlier in the preseason when I’d drive, I wasn’t able to really able to see the backside, skip passes or really make reads. [Friday], just continuing to build on that. I don’t feel like I’m all the way there in terms of it really slowing down to where I’m at an elite level but I definitely feel myself improving every game.”

During the preseason and in the first few games of the regular season, most of Banchero’s best playmaking moments were simple: Keep the ball moving on the perimeter, push the ball ahead in transition and kick out to open teammates one pass away.

There were moments where the more advanced playmaking reads were successfully made, a pair of skip passes in the Magic’s preseason win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Oct. 11 stand out, but more moments of growing pains — typical for any rookie.

When he tried making more advanced reads, like hitting the roll man coming off double screens, turnovers or bad passes would happen more often than not. His passes would either be too late or inaccurate.

Or he wouldn’t attempt the pass because he didn’t know where the help defense was coming from, holding onto the ball longer before a more simple read was available.

He was seeing the direct action in front of him but not the entire floor.

Banchero’s seeing the floor and reading defenses better now, which has been evident in the last two games.

His pocket passes to the roll man as the ball handler in the pick and roll have been more accurate and better timed.

Banchero’s alley-oop lob pass to Mo Bamba Friday out of a double pick and roll was a standout playmaking moment. His skip pass to Chuma Okeke for a buzzer-beating 3 at the end of the third quarter may have been his best playmaking moment.

He’s grown making passing reads as a driver, a situation he’s in often. His 11.5 drives per game entering Saturday lead the Magic and were the league’s 30th-highest mark.

Banchero isn’t taking as long to dissect the defense, better recognizing where all five defenders are and where the help is coming from — especially important on drives because rotations happen quickly in the NBA and passing lanes close quickly.

He’s had to carry a heavier playmaking load lately because the Magic have been without several guards — an opportunity he’s taking advantage of.

Banchero’s 14 potential assists, a pass to a teammate who shoots within one dribble of receiving the ball, on Friday were a season-high.

Passing, both from a standstill position and on the move/off the dribble, was a strength for Banchero coming out of Duke. He’s fine-tuning the skill.

“It feels good to kind of get that realization of being able to see not just the one main read but also the backside or the help and trying to think one step ahead,” Banchero said. “I had a couple of skip passes [Friday that during] preseason or a couple of games ago I might not have made that pass just because I wasn’t seeing the whole floor. Being able to get in the lane and make those passes, it felt good.”

It’s only been 11 games for Banchero at this level — five preseason and six regular-season. He still has plenty of improvements to make as a playmaker, especially with his passing accuracy.

But the growth he’s shown this early as a rookie isn’t common.

Neither has his overall play, with averages of 23.5 points (46.5% shooting — 51.3% on 2s, 32% on 3s), 8.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists (2.7 turnovers) and 1.3 blocks in 33.3 minutes (six games) ahead of the Magic’s Sunday road game against the Dallas Mavericks.

“People hit me up after the games, text me all these stats,” Banchero said. “Not even to sound full of myself or anything but this is kind of what I expected out of myself — playing at this level. I feel like I’ve been blessed by God with the body, skill and IQ. What I’m doing is kind of what I expect to be doing.”

Cole Anthony (right internal oblique muscle injury), Markelle Fultz (fractured left big toe), Gary Harris (left knee injury recovery) and Jonathan Isaac (left knee injury recovery), Jalen Suggs (sprained right ankle) and Moe Wagner (sprained right midfoot) remain sidelined.

This article first appeared on Email Khobi Price at or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.



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