(EDITOR’S NOTE — Orlando Magic rookie and No. 1 overall draft pick Paolo Banchero is doing a periodic diary with The Associated Press this season to chronicle his first year in the NBA. This is his third installment. The Magic had the worst record in he league through the first 25 games of his rookie campaign, then won 14 of their next 25 games. He’s averaging 20.5 points and 6.3 rebounds.)
Everything started to get better when we started to get healthy.
We were 5-20 in our first 25 games, then 14-11 in our next 25 games, and a lot of that was about health. Getting Markelle Fultz back was a huge help. And a lot of other guys have gotten healthier. But I think once we got some wins and saw how we were winning, we realized we could sustain it.
Obviously, you have to have a certain level of focus to do it. But we saw in our six-game winning streak, the teams we were beating and the way we were beating them, that it wasn’t a fluke. I think that just kind of motivated us and it still motivates us. We’ve got places we want to reach and we’ve got to stay focused. But it all changed when we got guys healthy, saw what we’re supposed to look like and how well we played together.
That just speaks to the guys that we have on this team and the confidence we have in each other — the confidence we have in ourselves as players. Markelle’s a No. 1 pick. He’s not scared of anything. He feels he’s the best at what he does. Franz Wagner is a star. I mean, look at the leap he’s taken in in his second year. In my opinion, he’s the best second-year player in the league. And I’m a No. 1 pick and I feel the same way about myself as those guys do. We’ve just got guys who aren’t scared of the moment, aren’t scared to be great.
We’ve almost matched last season’s win total already. I wasn’t here last year, but just talking to the guys who were, you see how much they appreciate where we’re at right now. When you really think about it, it’s crazy. It makes me want to be part of the change around here even more. It’s exciting and it’s motivating. It makes you want more. And winning makes you want more winning.
The Orlando Magic, around the league, we’ve kind of been not taken seriously. We’ve been looked at as a franchise that’s struggling. So, we just continue to earn the respect. We’re going to have to go out and take it. Teams aren’t just going to give it to us. It’s fun, though. I like winning games and like seeing the look on other people’s faces, you know, you can tell they’re kind of sick when they lose to us. But it’s lovely. I like it.
We got another big boost when Jonathan Isaac came back. I was in high school when he hurt his knee, my junior year. Which is crazy. We’ve all seen the work he was putting in at the AdventHealth Training Center every day, trying to get back out there after 2-1/2 years. And when he got to play finally, it did a lot for me and the rest of the guys. Most of us had never played with him. Just seeing him get out there was crazy, just really encouraging. When someone’s out that long, it’s hard to comprehend them even coming back on the court. To see him actually get out there and be comfortable, making plays, making shots, getting steals, it made me super excited. It was great. It was a special moment to be a part of, and then him hitting his first shot, it was impressive.
I got to catch up recently with my college coach Mike Krzyzewski on his radio show. Coach K, he was in the spotlight for 40 years, so he’s enjoying retirement, enjoying spending time around his family, watching everything from afar. I hadn’t talked to him in probably like two months. I didn’t expect to get the invite to his show so soon, but I definitely wasn’t going to say no. That’s my guy. I love him. It was great. He checks in with his NBA guys here and there, lets you know he’s watching. He’s always watching. I know that. But he gives you space.
So now we’re in the second half of the season. We’re going to play some meaningful games. We’re playing well right now. We’re in the mix for the play-in. But we’re not getting caught up in that, not looking too far ahead, just taking it game by game and having laser focus for each game. We’ve learned that when we do that, we tend to win.
We’re not there yet, but we’re trying to get there. We’re getting there.
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