Paolo Banchero and the surprising Orlando Magic are way ahead of schedule

Cleveland Cavaliers v Orlando Magic
Cleveland Cavaliers v Orlando Magic / Julio Aguilar/GettyImages
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By the time Paolo Banchero awoke in his New York City hotel room on November 30th, 2022, he was confident his draft day experience would end on a plane headed towards Texas. Long rumored to be the prime target of the Houston Rockets with the third overall pick, there was little leading up to the draft day festivities that indicated anything other than the first three selections going chalk.

While the freshman out of Duke had spent the previous seven days in the Big Apple fielding Zoom calls from the Orlando Magic, the 19-year-old had only worked out with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Rockets in the lead-up to the rookie selection.

Given the conservative nature that most organizations operate with when selecting near the top of the draft, it seemed unthinkable that the South Florida squad would pull the trigger and select him with the first pick in the draft without ever actually meeting him in person, Zoom calls aside.

Combined with the intel Houston had gained on Banchero thanks to his close relationship with both Jalen Green and Josh Christopher—both players on the Rockets roster—it didn’t take a mind-reader to see that the tea leaves were spelling out Banchero’s name in Rocket red-and-white.

“Just all the stuff that was being put out there was that I was going No. 3 to Houston,” Banchero later told Chris Haynes. “That's kind of where my mind was at, and I was fine with it. I was going to be happy wherever I ended up because I knew at the end of the day I would be fine. But in Houston, I would say that's where my head was at that time.”

Two years later, we all know how the draft ultimately proceeded. Orlando shocked the Twitterverse (let's be honest, "X-verse" sounds like the name of an NSFW website) by picking Banchero, while Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith followed in the second and third spots, respectively.