The Orlando Magic stunned the NBA world when, after months of being expected to select Auburn’s Jabari Smith No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft, they ultimately went with Duke star Paolo Banchero with the top choice. It didn’t take the NBA long to pit the two young stars against one another. Banchero’s Magic and Smith’s Houston Rockets opened up summer league play against one another on Friday in Las Vegas, and in the first round of what should be a lengthy debate, Banchero emerged victorious.
The Magic earned a 91-77 victory to kick the Las Vegas Summer League off with a win, and Banchero had some nice moments in 26 minutes on the floor. He finished the night with 17 points, six rebounds and four assists while also leading the Magic with a plus-20 point differential. A shotmaker above all at Duke, Banchero put his full bag on display against the Rockets on Thursday.
Smith wasn’t quite as impressive. He shot 4-of-10 from the field for 10 points, but summer league is not an ideal venue to showcase his talents. Unlike Banchero, he isn’t a strong ball-handler. He plays best in a typical game setting with guards that can set him up and where his defensive versatility is most valuable. Summer league tends to be more of an individual showcase that prizes individual creation. Still, Smith did have a few promising moments in the loss.
The top picks weren’t the only youngsters on display on Thursday. Josh Christopher, coming off of his rookie season out of Arizona State, looked every bit the summer league veteran he now is and poured in a game-high 22 points for the Rockets. Not to be outdone, No. 32 overall pick Caleb Houstan gave the Magic 20 off of the bench and led the winning team in scoring. Throw in 14 points from Rockets rookie defensive ace Tari Eason and it was a solid overall showing from both sides Thursday night.
Top picks typically don’t play the entire summer league slate. There’s no telling how much of Smith and Banchero we’re going to see in Vegas, but the real test will come in October when they’re finally able to begin their NBA careers in earnest.