The Orlando Magic have been searching for a franchise player since trading Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers ahead of the 2012-2013 season. In the nine years since, Orlando is 255-464 overall — the worst record in the NBA over that time.
The Magic have had four top-five picks and three top-eight picks in the draft since trading Howard. None of those players have made an All-Star appearance for Orlando. The highest pick of that lot, 2013’s No. 2 overall choice Victor Oladipo, didn’t develop into a star until he was on his third team with the Indiana Pacers. Aaron Gordon, 2014’s No. 4 overall pick, was always more of a role player than a centerpiece. Mario Hezonja was a straight up bust as the No. 5 pick in 2015. Jonathan Isaac — the No. 6 pick in 2017 — emerged as an amazing defender, but now he hasn’t played in two years because of injuries and bizarre offcourt pursuits. Mo Bamba turned into a solid player last season as the former No. 6 pick in 2018, but the team declined to give him an early contract extension.
The Magic had two top-eight picks last year, and took guard Jalen Suggs at No. 5 and forward Franz Wagner at No. 8. Wagner was particularly impressive as a rookie, and should be a great piece moving forward. There remains plenty of hope for Suggs, as well, but neither feels like a future All-NBA level player.
The Magic landing the No. 1 overall pick in 2022 is their golden opportunity to finally find their franchise player. Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith Jr., and Paolo Banchero are all legitimate options to go first in the draft, but only one player truly fits what the Magic need.
That player is Paolo Banchero. Read our full breakdown on why Banchero is our top prospect in this draft. This is why the Magic should take Banchero at No. 1 overall in the 2022 NBA Draft.
Paolo Banchero has a better chance to become a primary initiator than anyone in the 2022 NBA Draft
Banchero, Holmgren, and Smith are all great prospects with distinct skill sets. Holmgren is an elite rim protector on defense who will provide offensive value by moving the ball, hitting spot-up threes, and finishing well at the rim with dunks. Smith is perhaps the best shooter in the draft as a 6’10 sniper who can take and make extremely difficult shots.
The reason Banchero has been our No. 1 prospect since the start of the cycle is because he’s the only one of the three who projects as a lead offensive option in the NBA.
At 6’10, 250 pounds, Banchero thrives playing with the ball in his hands with his advanced handling and excellent passing ability for a player his size. Banchero can manufacture offense for himself and his teammates off the bounce, while Holmgren and Smith both need someone else to set them up. Holmgren and Smith are not bending the opposing defense and finding teammates for easy scores like this. There are not many (any?) NBA players who can do this at 6’10, 250 pounds.
Banchero can score off the bounce, too. Put a bigger player on Banchero and he will often shake free using his handle. Put a smaller, faster defender on Banchero and he’ll use his size and strength to his advantage to score inside. Throw two on the ball, and Paolo can be counted on to make the right pass.
Again, neither Smith or Holmgren can create separation off the dribble like this against a set defense in the halfcourt.
Banchero’s ability to create advantages at his size is what separates him from his peers in this draft class. That’s a wonderful fit with what Orlando’s roster needs.
The Magic are still searching for a primary creator
The Magic have a lot of nice pieces right now. What they’re missing is a star shot creator to help slot everyone into appropriate roles and maximize their strengths. Here are the core pieces on Orlando’s roster at the moment:
- G Jalen Suggs: The 6’4 combo guard does a little bit of everything. Suggs projects as an ideal secondary pick-and-roll option, a transition killer, a feisty point-of-attack defender, and he should be around a league-average three-point shooter next year (say, 35 percent) after hitting only 21 percent of his threes this season. Suggs took 39 percent of his shots at the rim last season, a mark that ranked in the 88th percentile among combo guards, per Cleaning the Glass. While that’s certainly impressive, he feels more comfortable attacking defenses that are already compromised rather than being the main guy who creates advantages off the bounce.
- G Cole Anthony: Anthony just turned 22 years old, and is coming off an encouraging season in his second season in the NBA. The 6’2 guard is a better shooter than his 33.7 percent mark would indicate, and he’s a good athlete going to the rim. He also graded out in only the 42nd percentile as a pick-and-roll ball handler, and had some struggles finishing. He’s another player who would benefit from playing next to a star who could set him up for easy shots.
- F Franz Wagner: Last year’s No. 8 overall pick is a 6’9 wing who is good at a lot of things rather than being great at anything. He’s a dependable defender both on the perimeter and interior, showed some promise as a pick-and-roll ball handler and passer, and made 35 percent of his threes. Every team in the league covets big wings with Wagner’s skill set. He might be the best creator on the roster right now, but it feels overly ambitious to slot him in as a No. 1 option long-term.
- F/C Wendell Carter Jr.: Carter is a combo big coming off a career-year in his fourth pro season. He’s similarly sized to Banchero at 6’10, 270 pounds, but doesn’t create off the bounce like Paolo. Instead, Carter is mostly an undersized center with flashes of passing and shooting skill who can stay solid defensively and compete on the glass. He’s a nice player, but you’re not passing on a potential lead creator because of him.
- C Mo Bamba: Bamba is a restricted free agent and may not be around next season. His frame is similar to Holmgren’s with a 7’7 wingspan, and he hit 38 percent of his threes this season, mostly on spot-ups. Bamba’s skill set would be a nice complement to Banchero’s if Orlando does take him at No. 1.
You can add Markelle Fultz, Chuma Okeke, and R.J. Hampton to the mix as well. All eight of those players mentioned will be 24 years old or younger next season. Orlando has hit on some nice young pieces in the draft, but all of them would look so much better playing next to a go-to offensive option.
Paolo Banchero is both the best fit for the Magic and best overall talent in the 2022 NBA Draft
Here’s a general rule of thumb I try to stick with: If an NBA team doesn’t have a primary creator, their biggest need is finding one. Holmgren is an awesome talent who would immediately provide a big boost to Orlando’s defense, but he’s not creating easy offensive opportunities for himself and his teammates. Smith is an unreal shooter, but he’s at his best when someone sets him up for his shots. Smith’s biggest weakness is scoring off the dribble and finishing inside the arc after he only 43 percent of his two-point field goals at Auburn. Holmgren’s one-on-one scoring is still a question mark despite all of his strengths that contribute to winning basketball. Both are play finishers, not play creators.
The Magic will get a very good player if they draft either, but it feels like they will still be in search of their primary creator if it happens. Of course, it’s possible Suggs or Wagner turns into that guy. Anthony and Fultz could pop in that role, too. It just feels a little too optimistic to think any of the four can really be the guy for a franchise.
Banchero can be the guy in the right environment. This is a star move.
Paolo Banchero, 6'10, 250 pounds pic.twitter.com/su3PAkI8f8— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) March 2, 2022
This is a star move:
Paolo Banchero is at his best when attacking off the catch. So good at manipulating that 2v1 with Williams and the opposing big to his advantage. pic.twitter.com/KsSvBObWSU— Itamar (@Itamar_17_10) March 25, 2022
This is a star move, too:
Banchero just takes over in close games. pic.twitter.com/7xodY2g9Kc— Itamar (@Itamar_17_10) January 29, 2022
Banchero isn’t a perfect player. He’s not an amazing run-and-jump athlete. He only made 33 percent of his threes this year, and his catch-and-shoot ability from the NBA line remains a question mark. His lack of elite speed or eye-popping length limits his defense to around “average” — which makes him likely the worst defender of any potential top-3 choice.
At the same time, Banchero can create offense off the bounce in a way Holmgren and Smith can’t dream of. He’s by far the best ball handler in the halfcourt, and by far the best live dribble passer. He also has an excellent mid-range scoring package, and some nice moves in the post.
The early reports are that Orlando will choose between Smith and Holmgren, but at least to me, Banchero’s skill set is exactly what the Magic have been lacking.