After the Orlando Magic won the NBA draft lottery, the franchise’s front office insisted they would keep their options open and hold their cards close to the chest.
The Magic succeeded, even surprising the player they picked first overall in Thursday’s draft.
Duke forward Paolo Banchero said he found out he would be the top selection just seconds before NBA Commissioner Adam Silver took the stage to announce the pick.
“The information that I was being told was just that it was up in the air, Orlando wasn’t really sure yet and to just be ready for whatever,” Banchero said.
“I didn’t find out I was actually getting picked until about 20 seconds before the commissioner got on the stage. I didn’t really even have time to think about it or anything. It just kind of happened.”
While Banchero was part of a consensus top tier with Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Auburn’s Jabari Smith, Smith was considered the favourite to go first.
Magic president Jeff Weltman had hinted to the media that the team’s moves could be a surprise, but many dismissed those comments as gamesmanship.
“I think that it's important that people know that information is managed discreetly with us from every corner of this business, from agents to other teams to the media,” Weltman said. “And obviously, when you're playing poker, you don't put your cards on the table, right?”
Now that the pick has been made, however, all that matters is that Banchero produces on the court.
“We feel he was the best player in college basketball, and we feel that he will continue to grow every year for many years to come,” Weltman said.
Widely considered the most polished offensive player in the draft, Banchero showed the ability to create his own shot and to make plays for others during his freshman season at Duke, which ended in the Final Four.
The versatile 6-foot-10 forward believes he fits perfectly in Orlando.
“I feel like I will fit in great. The Magic have a lot of talent. They’re very deep,” Banchero said. “They also have a lot of dynamic forwards like myself, like Wendell [Carter], 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 that can all dribble, pass and shoot, and have a high IQ.”
Banchero holds an Italian passport and said earlier this week that he plans on playing internationally for the Italy over the United States. However, he downplayed the significance of being the first player linked to Italy to be taken first overall since Andrea Bargnani in 2006.
“I don’t know if that’d be fair to Bargnani,” Banchero said. “Bargnani’s born and raised in Italy; I’m born and raised in Seattle, Washington, so I don’t want to take anything away from him.