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Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero has grown as a leader in Year 2 — Andscape

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On Thursday, several nervous basketball stars will find out if they were selected to participate in the 2024 NBA All-Star Game in Indianapolis.

Ten starters have already received an invite and 14 reserves spots are left. For players such as Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, the invite is nothing more than a formality. As for second-year Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero, he will already be there participating in the 2024 Rising Stars Challenge on Feb 16. But the 2023 NBA Rookie of the Year also has bigger sights set on being in the All-Star Game two days later.

“That’s been a goal of mine since I got into NBA,” Banchero, 21, told Andscape. “But really, coming in year two, it was a huge goal to be an All-Star. And obviously, I got a lot of more work to do.”

So, what is the argument for Banchero being named an NBA All-Star?

Banchero was averaging team bests of 23 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists entering Thursday. The No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA draft is just one of eight NBA players averaging 22 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists this season.

“He is an All-Star because he impacts winning more than people can even imagine,” Magic coach Jamahl Mosley told Andscape. “He is doing the right things every time down the floor to make everybody around him better. He is setting people up for shots. Guys are getting open looks. He is attacking the basket, putting pressure on the defense, getting on the free throw line. He is doing it in an unselfish way to try to make our team better in any way possible …

“He is all about the right things. That needs to be said more than anything else.”

The Magic aren’t helping Banchero’s All-Star cause of late, however.

The Magic lost 10 of 16 games in January. Orlando entered Thursday with a 25-23 record and was eighth in the Eastern Conference standings. The Magic haven’t been to the playoffs since 2020. But Orlando is much improved — it had the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference last season at 34-48.

“The biggest thing is winning,” Banchero said. “That’s what affects the team, affects me, the coaches. Everyone is going to get what they want if we’re winning. That’s been the focus since the very start of training camp. Everyone put their individual accolades on hold. If we’re able to win and to play together as a group, everyone’s going to get what they want, whether it’s a contract, award, accolade, recognition.”

The following is a Q&A with Banchero with Andscape in which he describes the joy of winning, the possibility of playing for USA Basketball during the 2024 Paris Games, words of wisdom he received from Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant and former NBA star Carmelo Anthony, his hopes for the NBA playoffs, leadership and more.

Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero looks to pass after a rebound during the third quarter against the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena on Jan. 17 in Atlanta.

Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

How much do you enjoy winning now after so many losses as a rookie?

I’m loving it. The games mean more now. So, it’s more of a challenge for us, but this is what we want to be.

When did you know you know that your Magic could be a playoff contender?

Halfway through last season when we got back healthy. We started to really compete. We started off really bad, so we knew that maybe that wasn’t going to be the year last [season]. But I knew that the second year we were going to be much better and we were going to be able to win.

What did playing on USA Basketball’s World Cup do for you last summer?

It did a lot for me. It helped me see the game through a different lens. It helped me just work on things that I’ve never really got to work on as a player, especially at this point in my life and career. And I just learned so much getting to be around those players, those coaches, that environment for 40 days. I became a much better player and I got to build relationships with a lot of great guys and coaches I will know for the rest of my life.

What are your hopes of being on USA Basketball’s 2024 Paris Olympics team?

I don’t know what that’s going to look like. I’m sure different guys are going to play. And I’m not sure how many guys are going to be kept from the World Cup team. I haven’t talked about that at all, man. I’m just trying to get to the playoffs this year and get as far as we can. Play it by ear and see how it shakes out.

What are the keys to leadership in your second NBA season?

The best area I’ve improved on this season has been my leadership. I’m trying to be vocal, trying to be a positive voice throughout the season. Last season, being a rookie and being the No. 1 pick and everything, there was a lot on my plate and I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just was being a rookie. You don’t really know what to expect. You don’t know how you’re going to feel throughout the season. I was kind of just was more focused on myself just trying to figure it all out.

This season. I really have been focused on just the team and my teammates and trying to pump them with confidence, good energy, and be a leader because that’s what the coach asks of me, and the players ask of me. I see how my body language and my attitude affects everyone else. And when I see that and I realize how much it means to the team, it kind of clicked for me that, look, I got to be solid every day. My energy can’t fluctuate. My attitude can’t fluctuate. I got to stay consistent.

Do you still feel the pressure of being a No. 1 pick?

No. Last season, I really wanted to win rookie of the year. As a rookie, you want to be the best rookie. You get that out the way. And coming into Year 2, there has been more pressure to win just as a team. As a player, I feel way more comfortable. The games have slowed down a lot. Game in and game out, I know what I got to do on the court every and where my spots are. I know how to get to my spots.

That’s really slowed down for me. But more the pressure’s been more to win than it is to perform. The performance became easier this season.

Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero (right) embraces Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant (left) after their game on Dec. 31, 2023, at Footprint Center in Phoenix.

Kate Frese/NBAE via Getty Images

You have received a lot of compliments from current and former NBA players. Are there any words that meant a lot to you?

I always think back to think back to last year at All-Star Weekend for my first ever All-Star weekend. I was at an event that Carmelo [Anthony], KD [Kevin Durant] and a lot of other pros were at. During the event, KD and Melo both pulled me to the side at the same time and basically told me, ‘Yo, you got it. That’s no question at this point. From here on out, it’s on you how much you are in the gym, how much you are committed to the game. You can take this s— as far as you want to.’ And as a rookie, being 20 years old, hearing that from those two guys, I swear I literally called my best friend to tell him, ‘Yo, I don’t need to hear nothing. No validation from nobody else.’

That was all I needed. And so obviously, other people come up to you and give you compliments. But that is the one that just sticks out to me gave me an ultra boost of confidence. Those two guys are standing next to me and telling me that I can be one of the best ever. I don’t got to hear from nobody else.

Me and Kevin got to work out and hang out for a week in the summertime in L.A. I got to spend time with him on and off the court, just see how he does things. And that helped me a lot, too, seeing how he works in detail. There’s not a waste of workout, there’s not a waste of rep with Kevin. It was really eye-opening for real to see how he works out every single day. And then just how he’s off the court too. He reminded me a lot of myself just with how he acts, how he lives. He just keeps it really simple.

What is the best advice Melo gave you?

Melo has given me some real gems, man. The thing that sticks out the most is he told me that when he was in Denver that he didn’t realize the game within the game in terms of not just basketball, but business, life, how you treat people and how you act. He said he didn’t learn that until he got to New York and then all the media, all the eyes were on him. He kind of realized that this is how I got to handle myself and carry myself.

I got to meet these people. I got to be around. The game within the game. So, he told me that and told him it took him eight years to realize it. He just was telling me, ‘Look, you don’t got to wait that long. You can take it to another level.’ That helped me a lot.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.



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