LAS VEGAS — Orlando Magic rookie Paolo Banchero was satisfied with what he was hearing leading up to the 2022 NBA draft.
“Just all the stuff that was being put out there was that I was going No. 3 to Houston,” Banchero told Yahoo Sports after he was shut down from Summer League competition after two games. “That's kind of where my mind was at, and I was fine with it. I was going to be happy wherever I ended up because I knew at the end of the day I would be fine. But in Houston, I would say that's where my head was at that time.”
One of the main reasons he was looking forward to joining the Houston Rockets was because of his long-standing friendships with Rockets teammates Jalen Green and Josh Christopher.
The two guards were hearing the same draft intel and would call the 6-foot-10 forward periodically to answer any questions he may have had about the organization and the city.
“I grew up on the West Coast with the both of them,” Banchero told Yahoo Sports. “I’ve been playing against them since sixth, seventh grade. Me being from Seattle, and them from California, we played in plenty of tournaments and camps together. So yeah, they definitely reached out.”
Paolo Banchero's draft rise
Many experts pegged the Magic to select Jabari Smith No. 1 overall. And that publicly remained the forecast the morning of the draft, but the Magic worked behind the scenes days earlier to alter the top of the draft without anyone picking up on it.
Two days before the draft, Orlando requested a Zoom interview with Banchero.
“I was a little surprised they called,” Banchero told Yahoo Sports. “Again, my mind was in Houston.”
This was the call that shook up the top of the draft order.
The front office showed him a diagram of the facility, provided information on the city and explained how the team wanted to play and how it could utilize his skill set within its system. After the Zoom call, Banchero and his agent, Mike Miller, were left with the impression that the Duke product was being recruited, sources told Yahoo Sports.
Even though his head might have been somewhere else, he couldn’t ignore how attractive the Magic appeared.
“I liked what they were showing me,” Banchero told Yahoo Sports. “They have a great staff. Even in my first meeting with them in Chicago during the combine, I liked what they were talking about. But like I said before, all the reports were that they weren't really considering me. And then they made it clear before the draft that none of those reports were true and that they were very much interested in me. And so that's when I kind of knew that it might not be Houston.”
The revelation of the Magic considering drafting Banchero No. 1 overall didn’t surface publicly until a few hours before the draft. It was a well-kept secret that shocked the NBA community. Banchero went No. 1, Chet Holmgren was taken No. 2 by Oklahoma City and Smith was selected No. 3 by Houston.
But after making the selection, the next question was: Did Orlando make the right decision?
Paolo Banchero ready to shine for Orlando Magic
The 19-year-old silenced the doubters, averaging 20 points, five rebounds, and six assists in his two Summer League games. He and Sacramento Kings rookie forward Keegan Murray were the talk of Summer League.
“At the end of the day, I know my game. I was just going to go out there and do me,” Banchero told Yahoo Sports. “I kind of knew if I played my game that everything would take care of itself. I didn't feel like I had to prove I'm the No. 1 pick. I got taken No. 1. The Magic did their homework. They know they made the right decision. I really wasn't too worried about it, but I definitely wanted to come and put on a show for sure.”
The basketball world wanted to see more of Banchero, but the Magic had seen enough. Their focus was on making sure he exited Summer League healthy and prepared for training camp.
Banchero said he wanted to continue playing, but he understands the organization’s stance.
“It’s just excitement heading into the real thing, the regular season,” Banchero told Yahoo Sports. “There were a lot of big names and high-level basketball people out there. So I’m just excited to get the real season started. I’m ready.”