when Orlando Magic The Rockets lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers 103-92 on Wednesday at Mortgage Fieldhouse, just the fifth game of Paolo Banchero’s NBA career. In other words, too soon to draw big conclusions about his season-long impact.
But one thing that has become clear since Banchero’s arrival — throughout summer league, the preseason and the regular season — is that the Magic will get to the free throw line more now that he’s on the team.
Before Wednesday, the Magic were attempting 24.8 free throws per game and had a free throw rate of (Number of free throws made per 100 field goal attempts) 22%, both of which were top 10 numbers. He finished in the bottom five in both categories last season — 19.7 free throws per game for No. 29 and 17.5.% free throw rate for No. 27.
Banchero is one of the main reasons for the early season turnover.
His 9.3 free throw attempts per game entering Wednesday was fourth-best in the league, behind only Ja Morant (10.8), Christian Wood (10) and Kevin Durant (9.3).
Banchero finished Wednesday with 29 points on 10-of-19 shooting and 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks on 3-of-5 shooting, but it wasn’t enough for the Magic (0-5). First win.
The Cavaliers (3-1) were led by Evan Mobley’s 22 points (9-15 shooting), 3 rebounds and 3 assists and Jarrett Allen’s 18 points (7-of-11 shooting) and 16 rebounds.
Neither team shot well from the field, but Cleveland had 12 offensive rebounds for 19 second-chance points while Orlando had 10 offensive rebounds for 9 second-chance points.
Franz Wagner had 22 points (10-of-19 shooting), 5 assists and 4 rebounds for Orlando.
Banchero went 6 of 8 on free throws. He would have taken more free throws but he had two more -1s.
“I like that he’s not scared and he’s just playing aggressive,” big man Bol Bol said of Banchero. “We told him from the start of training camp that nobody can stop him. Those are easy points for him.”
Banchero’s ability to consistently get to the line is rare for a rookie.
David Robinson (10.2 in 1989-90) holds the record for most free throw attempts average since the ABA-NBA merger (1976-77).
Michael Jordan (9.1), Shaquille O’Neal (8.9), Blake Griffin (8.5), Alonzo Moring (8.1), Kelly Tripoca (7.6) and Adrian Dantley (7.6) are the only players to have at least averaged their rookie seasons. Finished 7.5 free throws attempted.
Banchero’s size (6-foot-10, 250 pounds) and physicality help him get to the line frequently.
He’s quick enough to get around certain defenders and strong enough to throw them off balance when he gets his body into them on drives or post-ups, allowing him to slow him down. That leaves fouling as the best option.
Banchero has shown savvy beyond his years in initiating contact and positioning his body on drives and post-ups in such a way that his defender will foul him if he reaches in or swipes down.
His shooting foul percentage – the The percentage of a player’s shots on which they were fouled. — 21.4% is an elite mark for any player, not just a rookie. Once he gets to the free throw line, he knows them down (81.1% free throw percentage).
“Just trying to be aggressive,” Banchero said. “Draw the foul and knock down my free throws.”
Bunchero’s misdrawing is a revelation for the Magic, who haven’t had an above-average free throw rate mark for a season since 2010-11.
Having a player at the line at will helps teams score easy points when their offense falters — something that has happened for the Magic.
“That’s so valuable — just his ability to drive, drop his shoulder and get to the basket,” coach Jamal Mosley said of Banchero. “It creates matchup problems in certain areas. He gets in there and knocks them down.”
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