Orlando Magic’s Paolo Banchero outshines Houston Rockets’ Jabari Smith Jr. in NBA summer league debuts

LAS VEGAS — Ahead of his lonely season at Duke, Paolo Banchero tattooed a message to himself on his right forearm:

“No pressure.”

Of course, the No. 1 in last month’s NBA draft said he was looking forward to his first game in an NBA uniform Thursday night when he faced No. 3 overall pick Jabari Smith Jr. in the opening game of the NBA year of the year. summer league had to measure, it wasn’t anything he worried too much about.

“I got it tattooed,” Banchero said after 17 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists in 25 minutes to help the Orlando Magic beat the Houston Rockets 91-77. “No pressure, literally.

“So I’ve always handled pressure well, been able to handle it. And I mean, at the end of the day, it’s just basketball. There’s going to be all the pressure, all the noise in the world, but at the end of the day you have to go out there and compete against five other guys, so it’s like, ‘What is it really if it’s just basketball?'”

Thursday’s game might just have been a meaningless exhibition in the summer, but it wasn’t long before Banchero showed some of the skills that compelled Orlando to pick him over Smith with top pick.

Banchero, a 6-foot-10, 250-pound forward who many expected to be the NBA’s most ready-to-play prospect, displayed a well-rounded combination of goals, passes and rebounds that will make him one of the favorites to win the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

He hit a couple of 3-pointers – one on a catch-and-shoot opportunity on the wing and the other on a difficult step back from the top of the button over Smith’s long arms. He also spent much of the game playing the role he’s likely to have for Orlando this season, essentially functioning as the team’s de facto point guard. As a result, he fired off several beautiful passes, including two fast inside lasers for layup opportunities.

When asked what he hoped to prove in Thursday’s game, Banchero said: “That I can be an approachable guy and win at the same time, not a guy who’s going to hurt the team.”

“You know, I often feel like I have the ball in my hands and I’m scoring, assisting and rebounding for the team,” he said. “So just do that and then be even better in defense. I think I did everything right but I can be a lot better.”

Smith, on the other hand, looked like someone who turned 19 less than two months ago. He had a couple of nice moments on offense, including two skillful drives down the left lane for layups, one in each half, and a nice catch-and-shoot three-pointer down the wing.

Otherwise he was mostly calm. He finished the game with 10 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 31 minutes as he became the youngest non-guard to fall victim to the pace of summer league play when ball-dominated guards tend to control the game.

“Yeah, I had nerve,” Smith said. “It was just tough, you know what I’m saying? to find out Just a different style of play, you know, first NBA game. So it was fun, but I’m ready for the next one.”

There’s a lot to like about Smith’s game, too, including his high, fast release on his jump shot, which should be almost impossible to contest given his long arms and 6’10 frame. He also has fast feet defensively.

As the game progressed, Smith seemed more comfortable and more engaged as a result, which he admitted after the game.

However, Smith added that it’s up to him to be more involved from the jump as he moves forward.

“I feel like I could have been more involved, just by myself,” he said. “Away from shattering the offensive glass, from finding more opportunities to get involved in the offensive end. But that will come with me learning the offense, learning the system. But no, otherwise I feel pretty involved. I just need to get some candid shots and smash the glass more.

Ultimately, Thursday night’s game was just the debut in the summer league for both players. However, both were happy to have their first NBA games behind them.

“Yeah, you have to be aware of that, but you just can’t worry too much about it,” Smith said of the attention he and Banchero received for their head-to-head match. “You just have to go out there and have fun and let the rest take care of itself.”

Smith added with a chuckle, “It’s fun.

https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/34210038/orlando-magic-paolo-banchero-outshines-houston-rockets-jabari-smith-jr-nba-summer-league-debuts Orlando Magic’s Paolo Banchero outshines Houston Rockets’ Jabari Smith Jr. in NBA summer league debuts

Emma Bowman

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