Few young cores in the NBA today match the firepower of the Orlando Magic’s group. The major surprise success story of the early NBA season sits at 14-7, good for third in the East and fourth across the entire league. Though Orlando leans on its top-five defense, its two young stars — Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner — fuel the Magic now and for the future.

For now, Banchero has avoided the sophomore slump and is following his rookie-of-the-year campaign with an even more impressive year two. He’s an offensive engine for a playoff-caliber team, upping his scoring to 20.6 points per game on much stronger efficiency than last season. His true shooting percentage of 57.2 sits at league average, far ahead of his inefficient rookie year. 

Franz Wagner is climbing upwards after a slower offensive start, his efficiency beginning to catch up to that of his last two seasons with his increased on-ball responsibility. A do-it-all wing, Wagner creates with his excellent handle and craft, toying with defenders using pacing, footwork and touch to win in the paint. He’s an excellent passer as well, capable of running point and finding all sorts of live dribble, difficult passing reads. 

In his second season, Banchero continues to hone his off-ball skills. Existing within the flow of an NBA offense can be difficult and unintuitive for college stars, but Banchero’s chemistry with Wagner is apparent. Both toggle between ballhandler and off-ball, punishing whichever defensive matchup is more favorable.

Involving a team’s two best offensive players in the same action is a proven recipe for success and Orlando looks excellent when Banchero screens for Wagner, helping Franz score in the paint with his tricky footwork and masterful touch. An excellent cutter, Wagner moves all around the floor and locates holes in the defense. Banchero has grown as a passer in year two; he reads the floor more quickly especially when he plays as a big man on offense, increasing his assist totals from 3.7 last year to 4.7 per game this year.

Though offense will define Banchero and Wagner’s stardom, both have strong defensive traits. Wagner is an all-league defensive wing, locking up other wings with excellent foot speed and mobility and roaming off-ball with strong help instincts. Banchero has his flaws but is an improving defender with much more consistent impact defending in the paint and switching on the perimeter.

Orlando’s core has become formidable. Jalen Suggs is one of the NBA’s best overall defenders. Their depth wins them games as Cole Anthony, Anthony Black, Goga Bitadze, Jonathan Isaac and Mo Wagner all contribute significantly. In the end, the ascension of Wagner and Banchero to true two-way stardom will vault the Magic into true contender status.

Written by contributor Ben Pfeifer.