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What pressure? Paolo Banchero looks like NBA-ready No. 1 pick in Summer League debut

LAS VEGAS — When asked if he was feeling the weight, the pressure of being the No. 1 pick and pulling the Orlando Magic jersey over his head for his first NBA Summer League, Paulo Banchero pointed to the tattoo on his right arm.

“There’s pressure, but it’s like I got a tattooed on me, ‘No pressure,’” Banchero said. “I just always been able to handle it.

“And I mean, this is basketball. There may be all the pressure, all the noise in the world, but at the end of the day you got to go out there with five other guys, so it’s like what really is it if it’s just basketball?”

Banchero looked like a deserving No. 1 pick and the more polished player in a Summer League opening night showdown with the Rockets’ Jabari Smith Jr. — the guy largely projected to be the top pick for months in the run-up to the NBA Draft, only to find out the Magic were always thinking Banchero as Smith fell to No. 3.

Banchero finished with 17 points and six assists, and while he was 5-of-12 shooting he looked comfortable creating for himself, and his shot is pure.

For Houston, Smith finished with 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting, plus 7 boards for the Rockets.

This was as advertised. Those making a case for Smith to go No. 1 talked up his shooting range and his defense, but they would own that he was always going to need some time to develop. Banchero looks NBA ready.

“The play creation, making the right play, at his size and strength, and the way he moves his feet, is very special,” Magic Summer League coach Jesse Mermuys said. “And so you’ll you’ll see that develop as he figures out the NBA game, he gets more comfortable with the offensive sets and spacing.”

Banchero and Smith both struggled to get quality touches for stretches because: 1) The lost art of the post pass is never more evident than in Summer League; 2) Both teams had guards trying to impress coaches by volume shooting to try and put up numbers rather than show they can play with the new top draft pick (hello RJ Hampton).

In that setting, Banchero’s ability to create his own shot stood out. But he wasn’t just creating for himself, he showed off an excellent feel for the game and had a few impressive passes to set up teammates.

“We’re in the NBA, you got a bunch of different players on my team that deserve shots and looks so, you know, if I’m able to create easy ones for them too I’ll do so,” Banchero said.

Meanwhile, the Rockets were not really running sets to feature Smith as a finisher.

Another Magic rookie led the team in scoring. Second-round pick Caleb Houstan played with some confidence — a good sign for the Michigan product — and finished with 20 points, hitting 5-of-9 from 3.

For the Rockets, second-year guard Josh Christopher impressed, scoring a game-high 22 on 7-of-18 shooting. However, Houston’s best rookie was Tari Eason, the forward out of LSU, who finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds, plus made a few defensive plays.

It’s Summer League, and what matters for all of these players — especially Smith and Banchero — is not where they start in July of 2022 but how they grow and who they develop into from here. They weren’t drafted for who they are today, but for who they will become.

However, Banchero is starting from a good space.