The Paolo Banchero era in Orlando unofficially begins on Thursday.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft steps onto the court wearing Magic threads for the first time when Orlando takes on the Houston Rockets in the Summer League opener at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN.
All eyes will be on Banchero as he shares a court with the player most expected the Magic to take on draft night, Jabari Smith, who was selected by the Rockets with the third pick.
Here are some questions for the Magic as they head into Summer League.
What kind of first impression does Paolo Banchero make?
Whatever kind of impression Banchero makes on Thursday and throughout Summer League, positive or negative, the main takeaway should be: don’t overreact.
Sure, Magic fans probably felt somewhat uneasy watching Chet Holmgren’s unicorn-like performance on Tuesday when the No. 2 pick had 23 points, seven rebounds, six blocks and hit four threes. While it certainly creates a tough act to follow for Banchero, there’s no need to panic if his debut isn’t quite as electrifying.
It was just one year ago in the Magic’s Summer League opener when one of Orlando’s lottery picks shined while another struggled. Jalen Suggs had 24 points and nine rebounds while Frank Wagner was limited to five points on 2-for-8 shooting, missing all six of his three-point attempts. Wagner disappointed throughout Summer League and, as we all know, those struggles in no way carried over into the regular season.
For Banchero, it’s an opportunity for the 6-foot-10 forward to show flashes of the scoring and playmaking ability he displayed at Duke. For the Magic, it’s an opportunity to give a glimpse of how they intend to use their new prized possession.
Banchero’s debut being against Smith adds some intrigue to the Summer League opener, with ESPN reporting that the Rockets made a late call to the Magic about a trade shortly before the first pick in the draft was made.
The 19-year-old Banchero seems unfazed by the pressure that comes with being the top overall pick.
“I get to come out here and have all these people come watch me put on a show,” Banchero said. “I love when big crowds are out, all the cameras are out, that’s when I play my best. I’m looking forward to it and it’s going to be fun.”
Can Caleb Houstan create a role for himself?
It has been a while since the Orlando Magic used a second-round pick and addressed shooting needs. They did both when they selected Caleb Houstan with the 32nd pick in the 2022 draft.
The 6-foot-8 wing has the potential to give the Magic a sorely-needed spot-up shooter who can play off the ball and space the floor. In order to spend more time next season with the Orlando Magic than the Lakeland Magic, he’ll have to continue to develop into a consistent shooter from three. Houstan shot 35.5 percent from deep as a freshman at Michigan last season, improving his efficiency to 38.9 percent in 21 games against Big Ten opponents.
Our Jorie Mickens took a closer look at Houstan after the draft:
To start his freshman season, Houstan was tasked with initiating some of Michigan’s offense, but Houstan struggled in that position. His shot creation and playmaking chops lends itself better in a secondary or even tertiary role.
On top of that, it became quickly evident that Houstan struggled as a movement and off screen shooter, limiting the type of sets Juwan Howard and Michigan’s coaching staff could run for Houstan. That said, once Houstan became more of a connector in Michigan’s offense, his efficiency skyrocketed.
What exactly is R.J. Hampton doing here?
Jalen Suggs, Wendell Carter Jr. and other Magic regulars are expected to be at Summer League, but they’ll be there as spectators. That won’t be the case for R.J. Hampton.
It’s not very common to see a third-year rotation player on the court at Summer League, but that’s exactly where Hampton will be. And he will be there by choice, which is great to see.
“Yeah, I asked to play,” Hampton tweeted in late-June. “Nothing like getting reps rhythm during the summer against competition and connecting with our rooks.”
Still just 21 years old, Hampton had an inconsistent sophomore season, averaging 7.6 points and 2.5 assists per while shooting just 38.3 percent in 21.9 minutes a game, though he did show promise in catch-and-shoot situations.
How much Hampton actually plays during Summer League, and how much of that time is at point guard after he spent the majority of last season playing off the ball, will be interesting to see.