Paolo Banchero Shines In Summer League Debut Against Jabari Smith And The Rockets

While NBA Summer League kicked off in San Francisco and Salt Lake City earlier in July, the entire league descended on Las Vegas beginning with a nationally televised doubleheader on Thursday evening. The Orlando Magic, led by No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero, took on the Houston Rockets, led by No. 3 overall pick Jabari Smith Jr., and the Magic emerged victorious beyond strong performances from Banchero, Caleb Houstan, and others.

In the early going, Banchero was the clear story. He set the tone early with his polished offensive arsenal, including a relocation, catch-and-shoot three-pointer.

Though Banchero is not regarded as an elite spot-up shooter, he flashed intriguing touch with a fadeaway mid-range offering. Then, the No. 1 overall pick buried a smooth step-back three-pointer over the outstretched arms of Smith Jr.

Banchero scored eight points on perfect shooting in his first seven-minute stint, operating on the ball quite a bit as a point forward. As the game wore on, the former Duke standout continued to leave his fingerprints on the action. Banchero was the beneficiary of a friendly bounce on another jumper, and he also displayed his grab-and-go ability while running the fast break and creating a three-pointer for a fellow rookie in Houstan.

Houstan finished the night with 20 points, including 5-of-9 from three-point range. The former Michigan wing scuffled at times during his only college season, but Houstan was once a top-10 high school recruit and he rekindled the imagination of prospect evaluators with his ready-made skill set as a role player.

Banchero finished the first half with 13 points and four assists, playing at a very high level by any standard. As the game continued, he didn’t particularly slow down, including a flash play on defense in rejecting Smith Jr. at the rim.

Banchero finished the evening with 17 points and six assists and, even beyond that clear impact in the box score, his top-tier passing was evident.

While Smith Jr. did not enjoy the same barrage of highlights that Banchero created, the No. 3 pick did show plenty of the flashes that make him an elite prospect. Smith Jr. produced his first bucket on a drive and finish over Banchero at the rim.

Later, Smith Jr. showcased his shooting. First, he delivered on a catch-and-shoot triple, and Smith Jr. also utilized his high release point to bury a mid-ranger over the defense.

It must be noted that Smith Jr. is still largely a dependent player on the offensive end, which was one of his potential concerns as a prospect. That is only magnified in a Summer League setting, particularly with struggling guard play from his teammates in the backcourt. The combination of Banchero’s production and Smith Jr.’s relatively quiet statistical night (10 points, seven rebounds, three assists) might produce overreactions, but he largely performed well.

Also of note on the Houston side was the play of first round pick Tari Eason. He produced multiple highlight plays during the night in the desert, generating an early dunk and following that up with a sequence featuring a three-pointer and an impressive drive-and-finish.

All told, the Vegas opener provided enough fodder for all sides, with Banchero truly shining and Smith Jr. at least bringing the flashes at times during the night. Smith Jr. and the Rockets will return to action on Saturday in a projected matchup against Chet Holmgren and the Thunder, while Banchero and the Magic will face Keegan Murray and the Kings in their next tilt on Saturday.