Paolo Banchero’s goals are high, even for a No.1 pick, but he’s backed them up so far
DETROIT – Paolo Banchero he keeps dozens of notes on his iPhone (some are reminders, funny stuff), but one is of great importance to his career, a note he created when he was a junior in high school and the NBA was at its peak in sight
It’s titled “Goals” with a gold trophy next to it, one he revisits frequently. It used to be your phone’s screensaver, but today you can easily access it, even though it’s burned into your memory.
Among them: McDonald’s All-American, NCAA champion, No. 1 overall pick and NBA champion.
A couple are checked but not all, the biggest ones are yet to be achieved because his still-growing NBA resume has a long time to go before it ends. A goal that is not marked, but which seems very likely to be in May, the Rookie of the Year award.
of Indiana Benedict Mathurin he’s been impressive for a better-than-expected team and will play into the sixth-man conversation, and Detroit’s. Jaden Ivey has experienced some striking moments. But Banchero seems likely to win it easily, averaging 21 points, 6.7 rebounds and four assists so far. Orlando is pesky and has a lot of length, causing some problems for unsuspecting teams.
In his best stretch of the season, after winning eight of nine in December, Banchero averaged 22 on 45 percent shooting and 43 percent from 3-point range.
No wonder No. 1 picks have immediate impacts. Since the lottery was implemented in 1985, the first overall pick is more likely to win Rookie of the Year than any other draft slot.
But with Banchero, there seemed to be a lot of questions for someone with a proven pedigree and a polished game, perhaps too polished from a college package to believe he still had room to grow at the NBA level.
“People had their doubts and stuff,” Banchero told Yahoo Sports recently. “People, whether they watch the games or not, have made up their minds.
“Playing in college is a different game and you have to make sacrifices. I was still the best player, but I had to adapt and adapt my game to the team. We had three or four other professionals and coach [Mike Krzyzewski] he had a way of wanting me to play.”
Could you defend professionally? Did he live up to potential as a freshman? Did he have a real position? He’s heard them all, from the valid concerns to the absurd.
“I would say my defense was probably the most frustrating thing I’ve ever heard about,” Banchero said. “They tried to make it seem like I was a liability. If you see me in college or my whole life, I’ve never, ever been a liability.
“You know, there are times, of course, when you fall asleep on the ball, you let a backdoor cut go through,” he added. “But in like terms, you can attack me the whole game and expose me like that? No no No.”
Rookies across the board struggle defensively, but taking the challenge as a point of pride is a good place to start. It’s also a factor in coaching defensive principles and having the aptitude for schematic adjustments as games progress.
Younger teams have a harder time absorbing concepts, especially since change has become much more prevalent in the game over the past decade. Against Detroit last week before the incident between Moe Wagner and Killian Hayes — Banchero often guarded Hayes on the perimeter, traded screens and channeled offensive players to the baseline and rim, where the Magic had blocked shots and assists.
He has shown a willingness to compete, something that can only be so evaluated in a college environment. And like the Indiana one Tyrese Haliburtonwho was passed over a few times because he was an “old” 20-year-old, Banchero seemed to take more questions about his potential because of the 20-year-old early in his rookie season.
In comparison, the youngest player in the NBA, Detroit Jalen Duren, was 18 years old on the night of the premiere. There is not much difference.
“People talking about my ceiling, how good am I going to be down the road? That was one of the most frustrating things for me, because I’m the same age as all these guys in the draft,” Banchero said. “Just because I’m physically developed, I have a mature game, they say I can’t improve.”
His voice belied his borderline irritation or amusement as he continued.
“Isn’t my ceiling as high as guys who aren’t as skilled as me? So it didn’t make sense.”
He said he doesn’t “buy all the hype,” but he’s certainly more aware of it than the average beginner. And the fact that he publicly acknowledges it and doesn’t hide it shows a level of confidence that will do more than prove the doubters wrong.
“I still feel like in a lot of areas, I’m still raw,” Banchero said. “It might not look that way to the average person. I know I’m not far off from being as good as I should be. I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
“I think it’s big stuff,” Magic coach Jamahl Mosley told reporters that night in Detroit. “The ultimate sign of respect is when you get it from your teammates. They understand exactly how good he’s going to be. And what an impact he has on and with this team.”
Sometimes players can be fooled, sometimes coaches and executives, but it’s rare for current players facing the future to believe something that isn’t true.
And to Banchero’s credit, being overwhelmed disappears when the ball is tipped. The best way to honor the greatness of these players is to go for the crown.
“I feel like I’d be doing myself, and everybody, a disservice if I was just surprised, lay down,” Banchero said. “If you’re a competitor like they are and like I see myself, that’s what you have to do. When you go against your idol the first time or the next time, you have to go against them.”
That’s when he pulled out his phone, showing the list of goals. Last on the noble list after the NBA champion: NBA Hall of Fame.
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