By Caleb Walker
The 2022 NBA offseason was an anxious one for Magic fans, especially after the team landed the first overall pick in the draft through the lottery. After endless speculation, the front office decided that Paolo Banchero was the best option to elevate the franchise.
The Duke prospect didn’t take long to prove they had made the right decision, shining as soon as he hit the court. He ran away in the Rookie of the Year battle, winning the award almost unanimously. Now as his sophomore season approaches, expectations are higher for Banchero, as well as the entire Magic roster. The question is, can he take enough of a step to become an all-star in just his second season?
A Magical Rookie Season
Banchero was an electric player during his time in college, and carried that over to the professional level seamlessly. He made noise in his first career game with a dunk over Cory Joseph that left the NBA world spinning.
That slam was a part of 27 points on Banchero’s debut night, immediately solidifying himself as a force to be reckoned with. He scored at least 20 points in his first six games, and recorded a double-digit point total in his first 16. He started in all 72 of his rookie year appearances, averaging exactly 20 points per game on .427% shooting. He also averaged 6.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.5 blocks per game.
Banchero racked up four out of five Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month awards, easily setting himself apart from his first-year competition. It was a rookie year to remember for not only Magic fans, but all basketball fans. Despite Orlando finishing with a record of 34-48, it seemed like new life had been breathed into the franchise.
Success From Top Selections
As one might expect from a draft’s standout player, first overall picks have consistently turned into all-star level players through recent history. In fact, 10 of the last 15 first overall picks have been an all-star at some point in their career. Given the fact that Banchero and Cade Cunningham are likely on course to become all-stars at some point, this leaves very few outliers.
From 2008-2012 we saw a run of consistent elite talent being born out of the first overall selection. Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, John Wall, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis have combined for 30 all-star selections, with each player having at least three. We could be on a similar run nearly a decade later with Zion Williamson, Anthony Edwards, Cunningham, Banchero and Victor Wembanyama. Regardless, it seems like Banchero is likely to continue this tradition of success for the top player off the board.
Recent Second-Year All-Stars
Over the last 15 years of NBA basketball, only 11 players have been selected as an all-star in their second season of play. This list, fully comprised of household names, includes Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Trae Young, Luka Dončić, Zion Williamson and LaMelo Ball.
Simmons’ second year actually took place three seasons after his draft, as he missed the entire 2016-17 season. It was a similar story for Embiid, who missed what would have been his first two seasons in the NBA with a foot injury. Griffin also missed his potential first year, but bounced back by being named an all-star in his rookie and sophomore seasons. He is the only player on this list who made an all-star appearance in his debut year. Nine of the aforementioned players were initially named all-stars, with Davis and Ball making their first all-star appearances as replacements for injured players.
Despite the lack of instances, there has been a second-year all-star in all but four seasons since 2010. In fact, last season was the first without one since the 2016-17 season. It certainly isn’t an easy task, but we’ve seen at least one on a semi-regular basis over the last decade and a half.
What Will it Take?
As far as statistics go, Banchero is well within reach of being considered all-star worthy as far as history goes. Of the 11 previously listed second-year all-stars, less than half averaged over 22.5 points per game.
Upon reviewing the data as a whole, it really wouldn’t take too much of a statistical jump as a whole for an all-star selection to be justified. The average among total primary stats (sum of points, assists, rebounds, blocks, and steals) for the 11 recent second-year all-stars is 37.5. Banchero’s average sum of primary stats over the course of his rookie season was 31.9, which is already more than Damian Lillard’s during his first all-star season.
This means that even a moderate jump across the board should put Banchero in all-star territory as far as statistics go. An uptick in shooting percentage is likely necessary though, as only two of the second-year all-stars in the last 15 seasons shot below .430%. This, along with a general uptick in statistics shouldn’t be too difficult for Banchero, as star prospects usually make a noticeable leap after their first season in the NBA.
Importance of Team Success
Another major factor in the process of being named an all-star, especially in a player’s second year, is the status of their team. Only four of the last 11 second-year all-stars were members of a team that ended with a losing record. A struggling team isn’t a death sentence, as proven by Trae Young’s selection in 2020 despite his team’s final record of 20-47, but it certainly doesn’t help.
Alternatively, showcasing a large contribution to a winning roster can be a major boost in terms of all-star stock. This was true for Damian Lillard in 2014, who made his first all-star team despite any jaw-dropping numbers. The Trail Blazers finished with a record of 54-28 that year, making it to the conference semifinals with Lillard as their second leading scorer. Portland went 31-10 over the first half of the season, which is also ideal due to the all-star weekend’s placement in the back half of the season.
It’s clear that a losing record won’t entirely rule a player out as a potential all-star, but it can certainly make them stand out above the rest. An increase in wins, which many believe is in store for Orlando, could play perfectly into a case for Banchero to be an all-star.
Competition in Orlando
Aside from standing out from the rest of the NBA, being an all-star so early on takes standing out on your own team. This is proven once again in the case of the second-year all-stars over the last 15 years, as eight of the 11 led their team in points per game. Only one of the 11 was outside their team’s two primary scorers, which was Ben Simmons in the 2016-17 season.
Banchero led the Magic in points per game in 2022-23, but only narrowly over Franz Wagner, who averaged 18.6. Wagner is still progressing as he enters his third year in the league, possessing an equally good chance at playing on an all-star level. Wagner receiving an all-star bid wouldn’t completely rule one out for Banchero though, as five teams had two all-star selections last season. All of these teams (Milwaukee, Boston, Sacramento, Brooklyn, and Memphis) scored at least 45 total wins, affirming that increased performance would be necessary to send two Magic players to Indianapolis for All-Star weekend. In all likelihood, Banchero would need to cement himself as the top player in Orlando in order to join the ranks of the second-year all-stars.
Competition Across the League
The toughest part of making an all-star team isn’t just getting the league-wide recognition, but rather, filling in one of the 12 open spots. Given injuries and other unforeseen circumstances, they never seem to go as expected, which could go either way for an aspiring first-time all-star.
The competition in the East is slightly easier this season after the departures of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Bradley Beal and Jrue Holiday. This is partially offset by Damian Lillard’s arrival to Milwaukee. Beyond Lillard, there’s still a handful of players who are very likely to repeat as all-stars, including Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell and Joel Embiid.
After those four we see a wide range of stars, all looking to add another accolade to their growing legacies. This includes Tyrese Haliburton, Jimmy Butler, Jaylen Brown, Demar DeRozan, Trae Young, Bam Adebayo, Julius Randle, Pascal Siakam, Darius Garland, Zach LaVine, and more. James Harden also has a strong chance if he ends up suiting up for the 76ers, or a different Eastern Conference team. After this logjam of proven talent, we have the rising stars of the basketball world, looking for their first all-star appearance. Aside from Banchero, some names to look out for are Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Evan Mobley, Tyrese Maxey, and of course, Franz Wagner.
Banchero has impressed thus far in his professional career, but being seen as a top 12 player in this crowded pool will be a difficult task. Injuries could open up more slots as they often do, but Banchero has a legitimate shot either way. A combination of winning basketball and impressive performances could absolutely put him in the conversation with the other stars of the Eastern Conference.
The Makeup of an All-Star Résumé
The obvious elements of what needs to happen for Banchero are clear. As good as he was, increased performance will be necessary in order to make an all-star team. This is to be expected as he grows accustomed to NBA basketball and continues to develop his game. We also saw Banchero go cold from beyond the arch for a good portion of last season. If this issue is resolved, or even slightly lessened, we could see a much more dangerous version of Banchero as a scorer.
Performance from teammates will also likely dictate the extent to which he'll be able to succeed next season. It’s no coincidence that all-stars come in pairs, as teammates have the ability to elevate each other’s gameplay. If the core of players surrounding Banchero can perform well, it’ll likely boost his stats, as well as the team’s. As we know, both of these are crucial for compiling an all-star case.
Limiting turnovers will also be imperative, as he looks to improve without becoming a detriment to the offense. Luckily for Banchero, he’s been given plenty of opportunities recently to hone in his game while being surrounded by elite talent.
FIBA Men’s World Cup
Banchero spent a large chunk of his offseason playing with USA Basketball in the FIBA World Cup. This meant playing alongside some of the best young talent in basketball, including some of the names he’ll be competing with for all-star spots. He was coached by Steve Kerr, Erik Spoelstra, Tyronn Lue and Mark Few, who are some of the most well-respected coaches from around the sport. Magic legend Grant Hill also played a big role in Team USA’s success as the managing director.
Banchero and company were knocked out by Germany and the Wagner brothers in the semifinals, but it’s safe to assume he had plenty of time to learn from the crew around him. Between great basketball minds and current faces from around the association, Banchero was surrounded by opportunities to grow. Assuming he did just that, he'll enter his second year with plenty of new facets to his game.
The Significance of an All-Star Bid
An all-star appearance for any Magic player in the next few years would be exciting, but the idea of Banchero making it in year two is something special. The Seattle native has already shown that he can be the future of the franchise, but this could prove it beyond doubt.
Looking back to the 11 second-year all-stars in the last 15 years, all but one made it back to the All-Star Game at least one more time. Excluding Ball, Williamson, and Young, who are all likely to make it again as they progress, each player has earned a minimum of three all-star selections. In the cases of Lillard, Embiid, Dončić, Davis and Irving, the early all-star appearance marked the beginning of a star's journey. Not only is this a massive accomplishment, but’s a clear sign of an elite player stepping into the spotlight.
Banchero could help put the city of Orlando back on the NBA map, giving them their first all-star since Nikola Vučević in 2021. It would also make him the first rising star to make an all-star appearance for Orlando since the early days of Dwight Howard. It isn’t just a fun title, but rather, a sign that the Magic have finally found a player who can be the cornerstone of their franchise.
Paolo Banchero’s career is in no way dependent on an all-star selection in his second year in the NBA. Plenty of household names made their first All-Star Game in their third year, fourth year, or even well beyond that. With that being said, it is worth noting the significance of the accomplishment, and the real possibility of it happening.
With a stacked group of talent in the East it definitely won’t be the easiest thing in the world, but Banchero has proven that he isn’t the average prospect. Between his sensational first year, development over the offseason and improving team around him, being named an Eastern Conference All-Star isn’t out of the question. Magic fans should be thrilled to have this young phenom on the team no matter what, but it’s worth noting that the sky's the limit for “P5” in year two.
Follow Caleb Walker on Twitter