In a surprise move, the Orlando Magic made Duke’s Paolo Banchero the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft on Thursday.
The 6-foot-10, 250-pound power forward is the fourth No. 1 pick in franchise history, joining Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, and Dwight Howard.
Banchero was chosen over early favorites to be taken No. 1: Chet Holmgren (Gonzaga) and Jabari Smith (Auburn).
“I don’t even know what to say,” Banchero said to ESPN.
Smith and Holmgren have been considered the favorites, and at one point the heavy favorites, to be the top-two picks since mid-May but Banchero’s odds to be the top pick have improved significantly this week, according to betonline.com.
The argument for the Magic selecting Banchero? He may be the closest thing to a go-to offensive option in this draft class.
Banchero can score in myriad ways — post-ups, lobs, cuts, in transition, off offensive rebounds, off pull-ups from midrange and as a ball handler in the pick and roll.
At 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds, he has the size and strength to finish through contact while also having the footwork to get to his spots with finesse.
Banchero is a smart playmaker who makes good passes from the post or on the move (3.2 assists as a forward) and could serve can serve as an offensive hub, which the Magic could use after having the league’s second-worst offensive rating in 2021-22.
He averaged 17.2 points (47.8% from the field — 52.5% on 2s, 33.8% on 3s), 7.8 rebounds and 1.1 steals en route to being named a second-team All-American and the Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year.
Banchero stepped up his play in the NCAA tournament, averaging 18.8 points (50% from the field — 49% on 2s, 52.6% on 3s), 7.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1 steal before the Blue Devils fell to North Carolina in the Final Four.
“He showed flashes of greatness late during the tournament — spreading the defense, running the court, hitting 3s,” Ryan Blake, who’s helped direct scouting services for the NBA since 1996, said in a recent phone call with the Orlando Sentinel. “I think teams will be a little bit concerned about his defense. You have to play both ends of the floor.”
The concerns stem from Banchero not consistently locked in as a defender at Duke and not showing great lateral quickness as a perimeter defender. There are questions about how switchable he’ll be defensively and what his ideal role is on that end.
“We feel he’s incredibly versatile at 6-10, 250,” said Jeff Weltman, the president of basketball operations for the Magic. “We just feel that this is a 19-year-old, who has so much growth potential, we feel he was the best player in college basketball.”