With three quality options to choose from with the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA draft, the Orlando Magic landed on Duke’s Paolo Banchero.
Banchero, 19, is the fifth Duke player to go No. 1 overall and second in the past four drafts and is the 13th consecutive freshman selected with the first pick.
Banchero is a surprise No. 1 pick. While he was expected to go in the top three, Auburn’s Jabari Smith and Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren were predicted to go 1-2 in most mock drafts.
“This is one of the best moments of my life. I’m super excited. I couldn’t be happier to be a member of the Orlando Magic. … This isn’t even a dream,” Banchero said. “I feel like this is a fantasy. I dreamed of being in the NBA, but being the No. 1 overall pick, this is crazy.”
He had an emotional moment right after walking on stage and shaking hands with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. He was speechless for a moment during his on-air interview with ESPN.
“I’ve never cried tears of joy in my life, and I was telling everyone I wasn’t going to cry no matter what pick I was picked,” Banchero said. It just hit me. I couldn’t stop it.”
Oklahoma City selected Holmgren with the No. 2 pick, and Houston drafted Smith at No. 3.
The Magic didn’t conduct a formal workout or interview with Banchero, but they were in contact with him multiple times and felt comfortable with all the information they gathered, a person familiar with the decision to take him No. 1 told USA TODAY Sports. The person requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the process.
Banchero, 6-10 and 250 pounds, might be the most NBA-ready players of the potential No. 1 picks because of his size, strength, poise and skillset that he applies to both ends of the court.
He averaged 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.1 steals and shot 47.8% from the field and 33.8% on 3-pointers in his only season at Duke. Banchero’s versatility allows him to operate as the main ball-handler or facilitator. Banchero is a strong scorer inside the 3-point line and though he needs to improve his accuracy on 3s, he has the mechanics to become reliable from that distance.
It was Orlando’s fifth lottery pick in the past six drafts and its first No. 1 pick since selecting Dwight Howard in 2004.
Now, it’s time for the Magic to get their rebuild headed in the right direction. They moved on from Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier and focused on a youth movement featuring Cole Anthony, Franz Wagner, Jalen Suggs, Wendell Carter Jr., Mo Bamba, Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac.
However, injuries have prevented the Magic from putting their best players on the court.
The Magic love their size and versatility, and Banchero adds to that. Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond, who selected Giannis Antetokounmpo when he was in charge of the Bucks, were ahead of the curve on players with impressive physical attributes such as length and wingspan.
“I feel like I’ll fit in great,” Banchero said. “The Magic, they have a lot of talent. They’re very deep. They also have a lot of dynamic forwards like myself with Wendell, Franz Wagner. Adding myself, I feel like that’s going to give teams a lot of problems.
“That’s three 6-9, 6-10, 6-11 guys who can dribble, pass and shoot, have high IQ. I think that’s going to be a huge advantage for us and a struggle for other teams to game plan for.”
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.