Magical day in City Beautiful for Banchero
The Orlando Magic introduced their two shiny new toys to the local media Friday afternoon, and as President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman often says, ‘it was a great day for the Orlando Magic’.
“We went into this draft looking to add skill, size, shooting, I.Q., integrity, (and) positional versatility,” Weltman told reporters Friday. “And with these two young guys, I think we checked all of those boxes (and we are really excited about that).”
Of course, Weltman and the rest of Orlando’s front office were able to pull of quite a surprise on draft night, opting to use the first overall pick on 6-10 forward Paolo Banchero, rather than on Auburn forward Jabari Smith Jr. (who was widely reported by many in the national media to be the player the Magic were targeting). Banchero, a Seattle-native, averaged 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 3.2 assists as a freshmen at Duke this past season, leading them to the Final Four in Hall of Fame Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final year.
“From Day 1, we’ve constantly talked about IQ, character, versatility, a winning mindset with our guys,” Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley added as his new players were introduced. “he (Banchero) fits all of those things and more.”
Fans and media members alike weren’t the only ones fooled by who the Orlando Magic were targeting with the first pick. Banchero told media members Friday that he didn’t even know about Orlando’s intentions to draft him until right before the pick was made.
“I knew there was a chance,” Banchero told reporters, when asked whether he knew he was going to be the first overall selection. “Me and Mike (agent) kept in good communication throughout the day, and he was just telling me to stay ready and just be prepared. So that’s what I was doing, and then as time went on, he was just keeping me updated on what was happening. So yeah, like thirty seconds before the commissioner came on stage to announce the pick, he (Miller) looked at me and told me congratulations.”
The former five-star forward’s agent is none other than 17-year NBA veteran Mike Miller, who won two championships with the Miami Heat, was named NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 2006, and NBA Rookie of the Year as a member of the Orlando Magic in 2001. The former Florida Gator was selected by Orlando fifth overall in 2000, and he’s one of only two players to ever be named NBA Rookie of the Year as a member of the Magic (the other being Shaquille O’Neal in ‘93).
“I definitely want to match Mike and get a Rookie of the Year award in Orlando (if possible),” Banchero confidently replied when asked about his accomplished agent Friday. “From the beginning, he’s just told me what a pleasure Orlando has been, how much he liked it, and how much he liked the people here (and how he still has great relationships here). He enjoyed it here, and I’m just blessed to be here. It’s kind of funny how it all worked out.”
Banchero is well aware that becoming a number one overall pick of the Orlando Magic comes with exceedingly high expectations, considering two of the organization’s former first overall selections (O’Neal in 1992, Dwight Howard in 2004) led their respective teams to NBA Finals berths. Luckily, he has an agent to lean on that has a little bit of experience playing as a rookie in City Beautiful.
“Definitely, there’s going to be high expectations for myself. I’m going to hold myself to them, and everyone else is going to hold me to them. But I feel like it’s nothing I’m not (already) used to. It was the same thing for me attending college, throughout high school, just a lot of expectations for me (my) whole life. So, I’m just going to approach it the same way I’ve always approached it. Just have fun with it, really just buy into the team, and we’ll go from there.”
With the 32nd overall pick (second round), the Magic selected Michigan wing Caleb Houstan. The native of Ontario, Canada averaged 10.1 points and 4.0 rebounds as a freshmen in Ann Arbor, MI this past season. Houstan, who is the first second round pick the Magic have rostered since 2018, led the Wolverines in made three-point field goals (60 3PTM’s, 35.5 percent) in 2021-22. The 19-year-old is now the fourth player on Orlando’s roster to previously play for the University of Michigan, joining Ignas Brazdeikis (two-way contract in 2020-21), Franz Wagner, and Moritz Wagner.
Houstan mentioned Friday how excited he was to join the core of young players that the Magic have already put together, and how eager he was to develop his game alongside of them.
At the end of the day, Friday was all about introducing the future of the Orlando Magic to an excited and eager fanbase here in City Beautiful. And even some players were excited to meet their new teammates, including last year’s fifth overall selection Jalen Suggs, who was sitting (on the floor) in the front of the room.
“It’s been pretty hectic, the last twenty-four hours. It’s been a lot of running around, draft day was crazy,” Banchero admitted, with his parents sitting on the other side of the media room. “Just the whole experience, it’s definitely something that I will never forget - I’ve enjoyed it. I’m blessed to be in Orlando, and I’m just happy to be here.”
Homecoming of sorts for Houstan
Even though home for Caleb Houstan, Orlando’s newly drafted 32nd overall pick, is over 1,700 miles away in Mississauga, Ontario, the Canadian-native felt at ease Friday in familiar surroundings.
The 6-8 wing played for three seasons in high school at Montverde Academy in Central Florida. At Montverde Academy, Houstan played with NBA players Cade Cunningham, Scottie Barnes, Moses Moody, and Day’Ron Sharpe. In three seasons at Montverde, Houstan’s teams won a combined 68 games.
“Definitely, it’s a good feeling (you know) being back in the Orlando area,” Houstan told reporters Friday, when asked about coming back to Central Florida to begin his professional career, and how his time at Montverde Academy prepared him for the NBA. “Obviously, I’m real familiar with it, being at Montverde for so long. So yeah, just being there really helped me a lot. Just playing against the physicality and athleticism of guys who are in the NBA now, and going up against them every day. I think that was the best thing for me. I think you learn about what works (and what doesn’t work), so it definitely helped me a lot - more than I can explain.”
In 2021, the five-star recruit (who re-classified to the Class of ‘21) was named a McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic participant. He was also ranked inside of ESPN’s top-ten in the Class of 2021. He ultimately chose to go to Michigan, where he started all 34 games this past season for the Wolverines.
Houstan has a long way to go as he continues to develop his overall game, but he will at least be able to begin his journey somewhere that his familiar to him.
“I’m just really enjoying the moment,” Houstan told reporters when asked about his draft day experience. “There was a lot of excitement last night, a lot of emotions. Just really glad that I ended up here, with a really great organization. I can’t wait to get started.”
Aaron’s Draft Grades
Paolo Banchero, forward (6-10/250)
1st overall pick
The Magic set the tone for the evening, surprising many around the league by taking Banchero over Smith Jr. I had all three of the perceived top prospects in this class (Banchero, Smith Jr., and Chet Holmgren) fairly even throughout my pre-draft evaluation period. Of course, Smith was the only prospect that Orlando made available to the media prior to the draft, after his private pre-draft workout with the organization in early June. It is not believed that Banchero ever worked out individually for the Magic prior to Thursday night’s NBA Draft, although Weltman did tell reporters late Thursday that he and Banchero had met “several times” over Zoom.
I really thought Smith Jr. was going to be the pick for Orlando, because of his elite shooting prowess, to go along with his positional-size and defensive upside. And I know a few others who never stopped believing that Holmgren wasn’t in play to go to Orlando at number one because of his defensive acumen, incredible instincts, and massive length. But at the end of the day, it was Banchero that was nabbed. For many years, it’s been recognized that the Magic are more than capable of bringing together some nice players here or there, but all the while they’ve essentially lacked that one generational franchise player (like an O’Neal, Howard, etc.). The Magic feel like Banchero has tons of upside (despite how NBA-ready he already is, physically), and believe the big man from the Pacific Northwest may just be the franchise's next great player.
Caleb Houstan, wing (6-8/205)
32nd overall pick
There may have been a few players I liked a little but more than Houstan at this spot of the draft (Jaylin Williams, Gabriele Procida, Kennedy Chandler, and Jaden Hardy), so that’s why I only gave the pick a ‘B+’. In the Big Ten, Houstan had a somewhat difficult season playing-up in competition (after re-classifying from c/o 2022), shooting just 38.4 percent from the field. But still, I think the second round is an appropriate time to take a chance on a rangy-wing with size such as Houstan possesses.
Houstan has already enjoyed a relatively decorated career playing in FIBA international events for his native Canada. In 2019, Houstan averaged 22.8 points per game, leading Canada to a silver medal at the FIBA U16 Americas Championship. And then in 2021, Houstan again led Canada - this time to a bronze medal - at the U19 FIBA World Cup (17.0 points per game). If the Magic can develop even close to that kind of player at the NBA-level, then obviously this pick will return tons of value.
Aaron Goldstone has been writing for Orlando Pinstriped Post since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @AaronGoldstone.