Jump on the Paolo bandwagon, the Magic are going places

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I’m not only jumping on the Paolo Banchero bandwagon.

I’m driving the dad-gum thing!

Hop on, baby.

The Orlando Magic are headed to the 2025 NBA Finals.

2026 at the latest!

On a franchise altering Thursday night, the Magic drafted 6-foot-10, 250-pound Duke manchild Paolo Banchero with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. I know, I know, I’m breaking my long-standing policy about not getting overly excited over the crapshoot known as the NBA Draft and not expecting too much from a 19-year-old kid who has only played one year of college basketball. And, no, I’m not going to write the mundane, obligatory sentence that sports columnists write after every draft in any sport: “We won’t know for a couple of years if Jeff Weltman, the Magic’s president of basketball operations, made the right pick.”

This is not a night to be realistic or rational; this is not a night to be cynical or skeptical; this is not a night to keep wallowing in the misery of having the losingest franchise in the NBA over the last 10 years.

No, no, no. This is a night to be elated and ecstatic and joyous and jubilant; a night to let your imagination run wild with the intoxicating possibilities.

Just like the thousands of Magic fans who were at the NBA Draft party at the Amway Center on Thursday night who erupted when Banchero’s name was announced and confetti fell from the ceiling.

There will be time later to come back down to earth and remember the Magic had the second-worst record in the league this season and are still years away from contending for any championships, but this was a night when Magic fans could dare to dream again.

Can you believe it? Can you conceive it? After all the Mario Hezonjas, Elfrid Paytons and Aaron Gordons, the Magic finally drafted a player who fans believe with all their hearts is going to be a star just like the other No. 1 overall picks in franchise history.

Move over, Dwight.

Move over, Shaq.

Move over, Penny (via Chris Webber).

Make room for Paolo.

I don’t care what Weltman said before the draft about not putting undue pressure on the Magic’s pick by labeling him a superstar, face-of-the-franchise player before he’s ever played a minute in the NBA.

“Predicting stars,” Weltman said, “is a fool’s errand.”

Then call me a fool.

Call me an idiot.

Call me an NBA Draft illiterate, but just remember where you heard it first.

Paolo Banchero is going to be a superstar.

Paolo Banchero has to be a superstar.

He’s going to be amazing, incredible, magnificent. He’s going to be the second coming of Chris Webber or maybe Chris Bosh.

Listen to what current Arkansas and former NBA head coach Eric Musselman, who had to try to find a way to stop Banchero during the NCAA Tournament, had to say about him in an interview with The Athletic: “He was the one we just had no answer for. Our scouting report couldn’t take anything away from him. When they needed a basket, it went to him.”

Listen to what CBSSports.com wrote about him: “Banchero was the best freshman in college hoops last season, he led his team to the Final Four, he has an NBA-ready body, he has a litany of skills and is one of the best passing bigs in this year’s draft. There has never been a moment where his skills didn’t translate/project to being a wonderful combination of old-school mobile big and modern play-thru power forward. He is the most NBA-ready player in this draft.”

Weltman is correct when he says it’s not fair to heap that sort of pressure on a draft pick, but you know what else isn’t fair? Asking fans to endure a decade of misery, malaise and countless iterations of rebuilds without ever having a player on their team who truly excites them and ignites them.

It’s been more than 10 years since the greatest coach in Magic history (Stan Van Gundy) was coaching the greatest player in Magic history (Dwight Howard) to superstardom, and Magic fans have been bereft of a star ever since. Stan, who has pivoted to become one of television’s most astute NBA analysts, told me a few days ago that the Magic seem to be building an intriguing young roster — except for one key component.

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“My question with the Magic, and this is not a fault because it’s hard to find those guys, but do they have a star they can build around? Do they have a player who can be a cornerstone guy, a guy you get the ball to in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. I’m not saying they don’t, but it would be hard to say definitively that they do.”

Memo to Stan and the rest of the NBA:

They do now.

His name is Paolo Banchero, and I’m driving the bandwagon.

Hop on, baby.

Next stop, NBA Finals, 2025!

Email me at mbianchi@orlandosentinel.com. Hit me up on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9:30 a.m. on FM 96.9, AM 740 and HD 101.1-2

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