Houston Rockets vs Orlando Magic game preview - December 21

N.B. Lindberg
Houston Rockets v Orlando Magic
Houston Rockets v Orlando Magic / Douglas P. DeFelice/GettyImages
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Houston Rockets vs Orlando Magic: Player to watch

The Orlando Magic’s two young building blocks, Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero have some of the brightest futures in the league. Wagner has been excellent over the past seven games but is questionable to play with an ankle injury, which leaves us with Banchero as the player to watch. 

Rockets fans are well-versed with Paolo Banchero. After all, for the three months leading up to the 2022 NBA draft, he was on the Houston Rockets. However, the Magic shocking the world and selecting Banchero, after months of being linked to Jabari Smith Jr, who the Rockets selected third, looks to have been the correct decision. 

Banchero is having a rookie season for the ages. 21.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game is a career year for 99% of players, but that’s just Banchero’s first 25 games. Twelve rookies have averaged at least 20.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game in NBA history, and most of them ended up becoming Hall of Famers. 

Pegging Banchero as a future Hall of Famer is premature. He’s on the low end for each stat and efficiency, but that’s not to take anything away. He has been sensational. Banchero’s offensive profile is built around an elite ability to generate free throws. 

His 8.4 free throw attempts per game rank seventh in the league and have kept his offensive efficiency afloat. Banchero hasn’t been particularly efficient from any one area of the court, but he also hasn’t been particularly inefficient. There’s a real chance he becomes a true three-level scorer, but at the moment, his free throw generation is carrying the day.

Over the past seven games, Banchero has been scorching from 3-point range, hitting 40.5% of his triples. When he’s hitting threes at that rate, he is nearly unguardable. Banchero has hit 31.3% of his threes this season, so the Rockets need to hope he cools off. 

The greatest weakness in Banchero’s offensive game has been turnovers. As a young player adjusting to the highest level of competition in the world, turnovers are just part of the process. The Rockets would be wise to swarm Banchero and see if they can’t coax a few extra mistakes out of him.