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Magic 91, Rockets 77: Paolo Banchero makes strong first impression in debut

The No. 1 overall pick sure made it look like the Magic chose wisely

2022 NBA Summer League - Houston Rockets v Orlando Magic Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Call it a small sample size, a rush to judgement, a way-too-early analysis, something that should be taken with a grain of salt, an overreaction, or any other related phrase suggesting we shouldn’t read into what we just saw.

But, at least for one night - the very first night - Paolo Banchero looked very much like a player who was worthy of being selected with the first overall pick.

Very much like the type of player the Orlando Magic have not had in a long time.

The 19-year-old shined during his Summer League debut, leading the Magic to a 91-77 victory over the Houston Rockets on Thursday night in Las Vegas.

The disclaimer, of course, is that it’s just Summer League. Just hours prior, I myself warned not to overreact whether Banchero’s performance was positive or negative because July basketball is not exactly the most accurate gauge of regular-season potential.

But what I found most encouraging about Banchero’s 17-point, 6-assist performance was that he displayed a skill set that sure seems like it will translate very well even when the competition improves come October. There was his footwork to create space in the post and on the perimeter, there was the way he bodied his opponents and backed them into position, there was the passes he made whether in transition, or out of the post or on the entry that suggest he has the tools to develop into the player the Magic want and need him to be.

Banchero said he hoped to prove that he “can be a go-to guy and impact winning at the same time.”

Point proven by Point Paolo through one game, which was against No. 3 pick Jabari Smith, the player most expected the Magic to draft.

“I feel like I’ve got the ball in my hands a lot, and provide scoring, assisting, rebounding for the team,” Banchero said. “So, just doing that and then also being better on defense. I think I did all right, but I can be a lot better.”

He got involved in the Magic’s opening possession, swinging a pass to Devin Cannady, who drained a corner three for the rookie’s first unofficial assist. Minutes later, Banchero attempted and made his first shot, draining the three off a drive-and-kick by R.J. Hampton.

Banchero followed with a fadeaway out of the post that rattled in, and then created just enough separation on Smith to knock down a straightaway, contested step-back three.

Banchero finished the first quarter with eight points (3-for-3 shooting) and two assists, while Smith was limited to one point on 0-for-1 shooting. The rookie scored or assisted on 14 of the Magic’s first 17 points of the game.

He then drained another mid-range jumper plus the foul in the second, and went on to finish the half with 13 points and four assists. That included a beautiful pass while pushing the ball in transition to fellow rookie Caleb Houstan, who hit the first of his five threes in what was an equally impressive debut performance for the second-round pick out of Michigan.

Houstan finished with 20 points on 7-for-12 shooting, going 5 of 9 from three (7-for-12 overall), to go along with six rebounds in a team-high 27:44 of playing time.

Banchero, after converting his first four shots, made just one of his final eight attempts to finish 5-for-12 from the field in nearly 26 minutes of playing time. That cold spell, some early fouls and the fact that Smith blew by him on multiple first-steps to get to the basket, were about the only negatives for the Magic rookie class.

Smith finished with 10 points on 4-for-10 shooting and added seven rebounds for the Rockets. Josh Christopher had a game-high 22 points.

Cannady, Orlando’s three-point specialist, added 15 points, going 3-for-8 from deep.

Hampton, playing in Summer League voluntarily to get reps in despite entering his third season in the league, had 11 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 turnovers. The 21-year-old guard, before settling down somewhat in the second half, was wildly forcing things early and looking for his own shot even though all eyes were on Banchero. Getting a front row seat to watch the top pick were some Magic regulars and coach Jamahl Mosley...

Overall, the Magic and their fans loved what they saw on Day 1 of the Banchero and Houstan era.

They’ll be back on the court when the Magic take on the Sacramento Kings on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET.