NBA Draft: Paolo Banchero becomes No. 1 for Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic selected Paolo Banchero, a small forward from Duke University, with the first overall pick in the NBA draft.

Banchero is a 6-foot-10, 250-pound power forward whose mother, Rhonda Smith-Banchero, played in the WNBA. He was a guard early in his basketball career and played soccer and basketball at O’Dea High School in Seattle.

In the minutes before his name was called, Banchero sat at a table on the floor of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn with no emotion showing on his face. The Magic were on the clock and word began to spread that Banchero could be his pick. Cameras swarmed around him, but he didn’t react outwardly. Only when NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced his name did his expression change.

He lowered his head, looked up and smiled.

In his only season at Duke, Banchero averaged 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game and was named Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year.

The picks for the rest of the top five: Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren at No. 2 to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr. to the Houston Rockets at No. 3, Iowa’s Keegan Murray to the Sacramento Kings at No. No. 4 and Purdue Jaden Ivey to the Detroit Pistons at No. 5.

Three prospects were thought to have split at the top of this year’s draft: Banchero, Holmgren and Smith.

Holmgren nodded and smiled subtly when he heard Banchero’s name spoken first. When Silver called his name, Holmgren smiled broadly, pausing to shake hands and hug members of his family.

“I was given a thousand emotions to describe this moment,” Holmgren said during an interview that aired in the arena. “It’s surreal and everything I expected.”

Holmgren, 20, is a 7-foot-6 rail-thin center who grew up in Minneapolis and was named Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball in 2021. He was a high school teammate of Jalen Suggs, whom the Magic he selected fifth overall in 2021. They each spent one season at Gonzaga.

Holmgren led Gonzaga to a 28-4 record and averaged 14.1 points per game while shooting 60.7 percent of his field goal attempts. He also averaged 9.9 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game. Gonzaga entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 overall seed, but was upset in the round of 16.

In the days leading up to the draft, rumors circulated in media reports that Orlando had decided to select Smith first overall. While Smith expected to be called by his name on Thursday, he seemed disappointed. When Silver finally announced his name, another prospect, Louisiana State’s Tari Eason, jumped out of her seat to applaud Smith.

Smith, 19, spent a season at Auburn after a distinguished high school basketball career at Georgia. He played for the same Amateur Athletic Union team as another Magic No. 1 pick: Dwight Howard. Smith’s father, also named Jabari Smith, spent parts of four seasons in the NBA in the early 2000s.

Jabari Smith Jr. was named the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year and a member of the All-American Second Team last season. Smith is a 6-foot-10 power forward with the ability to shoot from the perimeter. He made 42.9 percent of his 3-pointers and averaged 16.9 points per game at Auburn.

The first surprise of the night was the Kings’ selection of Murray at No. 4, given the expectation that Banchero, Holmgren and Smith would go in some order in the top three. Spectators at the Barclays Center erupted at the announcement.

Murray is the highest-drafted Hawkeye in school history. The 6-foot-8 forward earned consensus first-team honors last season and finished fourth in Division I scoring with 23.5 points per game. He led the Hawkeyes to a 26-10 record and a first-round appearance in the NCAA tournament.

Ivey spent two seasons at Purdue before declaring for the draft. He averaged 17.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game during his sophomore season.

The Magic won this year’s draft lottery after finishing the season 22-60, the worst record in the Eastern Conference and the second-worst record in the league. Only the Houston Rockets, who had the third pick in this year’s draft after a 20-62 season, have won fewer games than the Magic.

This year marked the fourth time in franchise history that he made the first overall pick. The Magic selected Shaquille O’Neal with the first pick in 1992; Chris Webber, who was immediately traded for Penny Hardaway, in 1993; and Dwight Howard in 2004.

The pairing of Hardaway and O’Neal produced an NBA Finals appearance, but no championship for the Magic. Howard also led the Magic to a Finals appearance, in 2009.

Later in their careers, O’Neal and Howard won championships while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers: O’Neal in 2000, 2001 and 2002, and Howard in 2020.

Before Banchero, the last Duke player selected No. 1 overall in the NBA draft was zion williamson in 2019. Banchero follows two guards: anthony edwards (2020) and Cade Cunningham (2021), by earning the distinction of being the best choice.

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