Magic conjure surprise with Banchero No.1 NBA Draft pick

New York (AFP) – Paolo Banchero was the surprise top pick at the NBA Draft on Thursday as the Orlando Magic confounded expectations by swooping for the towering teenager from Duke University.

The highly rated 19-year-old power forward — who stands 6ft 10in (2.08m) and weighs in at 250 pounds (113kg) — averaged 17.2 points per game in the 2021-2022 season.

Orlando’s decision to opt for Banchero wrongfooted many pundits, with Jabari Smith Jr. and Chet Holmgren expected to be vying for the number one spot.

“I really don’t know what to say,” Banchero said after his selection at the Barclays Center in New York.

“I can’t believe what just happened. Honestly. I never would have thought this would happen.

“I wanted to be in the NBA but I didn’t know I would be here. I really honestly didn’t. This is unbelievable.”

With Banchero going with the top pick, Holmgren was snapped up by the Oklahoma City Thunder with the second selection.

The 7ft tall Holmgren was a standout for Gonzaga University, averaging 14.1 points and 9.9 rebounds for the Bulldogs.

The 20-year-old impressed with a combination of elite ball-handling and footwork as well as being an expert shot blocker.

“It’s a mix of 1,000 emotions and yet I have zero words to explain it,” Holmgren said afterward. “This is everything I’ve looked forward to for a long time — OKC Thunder let’s work!”

Banchero and Holmgren’s selections left the Houston Rockets free to pick Auburn University’s Smith with the third selection.

Smith, who had been tipped by many as the No.1 pick, averaged 16.9 points per game along with 7.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists in his single college season for the Tigers.

Smith, whose father Jabari played four seasons in the NBA, is a cousin of Kwame Brown, the No.1 pick in the 2001 draft.

The 19-year-old combines size and shooting touch, with deadly accuracy from three-point range and an athleticism likely to make him a defensive asset for a Rockets team that had the worst-ranked defense in the league last season.

“I feel like I can fit in any NBA system with my shooting ability and my love of defense,” Smith said after his selection.

“I feel I can come in right away and make an instant impact.”

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