The first three picks of the 2022 NBA Draft had essentially been penciled in for several weeks leading up to the draft. Jabari Smith Jr. was expected to be the top overall pick by the Orlando Magic, Chet Holmgren was expected to go second overall to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Paolo Banchero was expected to be the third pick by the Houston Rockets.
Everything seemed like it was going to go according to plan, up until the final days leading up to the draft, when Orlando's interest in Banchero began to become public. But what exactly was driving these reports?
Was Orlando's front office conjuring to try and get the Rockets to send additional draft capital to try and prevent losing out on Banchero? Nothing exact was known at the time, but Vegas increased their odds of Banchero being selected at the top, and where there's smoke there's usually fire.
As it turns out, the Magic had legitimate interest in Banchero after all, as they made him the first overall pick rather quickly, which left Jabari Smith Jr. on the board when the Rockets were selecting at number three. Banchero recently joined the Players Tribune's Knuckleheads podcast to share his version of events and explain his initial desire to join the Rockets in the draft.
"They didn't start saying that until the day of the draft," said Banchero about talks of him being drafted first overall.
"It was crazy how it all happened. It was an interesting process for me. I really thought I was going third, maybe second, but really third.
There's where my head was at the whole pre-draft. That's just what everybody was saying."
Banchero stated that he never worked out for the Magic.
"I worked out for OKC and Houston, I didn't work out for Orlando. So I didn those workouts, both of them went really well, so I was comfortable where I was at.
I really wasn't tripping that I wasn't going number one.I was just like man I'm ready to get drafted and get to work.
The whole week [leading up to the draft] the Magic front office was calling [agent Mike Miller] like 'can we get Paolo to come down here? Can we talk to him?'"
Paolo Banchero opens up about desire to join Rockets during draft process
Banchero stated that his agent told him it was unusual for a team to be contacting an agent that frequently if they weren't legitimately interested in selecting said player, leading the 6'10 Banchero to join a Zoom call with the team two days before the draft. In spite of that, Banchero still felt confident that he'd be going to the Rockets, in spite of the communication with Orlando.
"Even when I woke up on draft day, I was 90 percent sure I knew where I was going. I thought I was going third and I was cool with it, I was happy."
Banchero and his parents arrived at the Barclay's Center for the draft, where players and their families were greeted and welcomed. The arena had multiple TVs, which were all on the NBA Today show, according to Banchero. And although the audio was muted, the subtitles were on and the dialogue was about how Banchero was in the running to go first overall.
"I'm reading what Woj was saying and I'm like hold on. So I tell my dad and he sees a tweet that Woj put out saying it's a possibility.
So then I just got all the way nervous. I was cool, calm, and collected all day, and I saw that and I started tripping. I started sweating and my heart started beating. So I'm stressing and I don't know what's about to happen.
And then five minutes before, [my agent] was like 'it's done.' And then it was official."
Banchero is the favorite for the Rookie of the Year award, after posting averages of 20 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. Although Banchero may have been thrown a curveball by the situation, it worked out for everyone involved, as the Magic have a franchise player in the fold, and the Rockets have a building block in Jabari Smith Jr., who has averaged 12.7 points and 7.2 rebounds.
The 19-year-old Smith has been even better since March 4th, averaging roughly 16 points, and 8 rebounds on roughly 47 percent from the field and 36 percent from long-range, heading into Friday night's matchup against the Charlotte Hornets.