When the Orlando Magic lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers 103-92 Wednesday at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, it marked just the fifth game of Paolo Banchero’s NBA career. In other words, too early to make grand conclusions about what his season-long impact will be.
But one thing that’s been clear since Banchero’s arrival — throughout summer league, preseason and regular season — is that the Magic are going to get to the free-throw line more because he’s on the team.
Ahead of Wednesday, the Magic were attempting 24.8 free throws per game and had a free-throw rate (the number of made free throws per 100 field goal attempts) of 22%, both of which were top-10 marks. They finished in the bottom five in both categories last season — 19.7 free throws per game for No. 29 and a free throw rate of 17.5.% for No. 27th.
Banchero is a significant reason for the early-season turnaround.
His 9.3 free throw attempts per game entering Wednesday were the league’s fourth-best mark, behind only Ja Morant (10.8), Christian Wood (10) and Kevin Durant (9.3).
Banchero finished Wednesday with 29 points on 10-of-19 shooting and 3-of-5 on 3s to go with 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks, but it wasn’t enough for the Magic (0-5) to secure their first win.
The Cavaliers (3-1) were led by Evan Mobley’s 22 points (9-of-15 shooting), 3 rebounds and 3 assists and Jarrett Allen’s 18 points (7-of-11 shooting) and 16 rebounds.
Neither team shot well from the field but Cleveland had 12 offensive rebounds for 19 second-chance points compared to Orlando’s 10 offensive rebounds for 9 second-chance points.
Franz Wagner had 22 points (10-of-19 shooting), 5 assists and 4 rebounds.
Banchero went 6 of 8 on free throws. He would’ve taken more free throws but he had two and-1s.
“I love that he’s not scared and he’s just been playing aggressive,” big man Bol Bol said of Banchero. “We told him from the beginning of training camp no one can stop him. Those are just easy points for him.”
Banchero’s ability to consistently get to the line is rare for a rookie.
David Robinson (10.2 in 1989-90) holds the record for the highest free-throws attempted average since the ABA-NBA merger (1976-77).
Michael Jordan (9.1), Shaquille O’Neal (8.9), Blake Griffin (8.5), Alonzo Mourning (8.1), Kelly Tripucka (7.6) and Adrian Dantley (7.6) are the only other players who finished their rookie seasons averaging at least 7.5 attempted free throws.
Banchero’s size (6-foot-10, 250 pounds) and physicality helps him get to the line frequently
He’s quick enough to move around certain defenders and strong enough to throw them off balance once he gets his body into them on drives or post-ups, leaving them with fouling as their best option to slow him down.
Banchero has shown the beyond-his-years veteran savviness of initiating contact and positioning his body on drives and post-ups in a way that his defender will foul him if they reach in or swipe down.
His shooting foul percentage — the percentage of a player’s shots they were fouled on — of 21.4% is an elite mark for any player, not just a rookie. Once he gets to the free throw line, he knows them down (81.1% free throw percentage).
“Just trying to be aggressive,” Banchero said. “draw fouls and knock my free throws down.”
Banchero’s foul drawing has been a revelation for the Magic, who haven’t had an above-average free-throw rate mark for a season since 2010-11.
Having a player who gets to the line at will helps teams score easy points when their offense bogs down — something that’s happened for the Magic.
“It’s so valuable — his ability to just drive, drop his shoulder and get to the basket,” coach Jamahl Mosley said of Banchero. “It creates matchup problems in certain areas. He gets there and knocks them down.”
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.