The Case for Paolo Banchero as the #1 Pick
Duke's Paolo Banchero is my personal favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. Here's my video breakdown of Banchero's game.
Over the last 25 years, Duke’s basketball program has had three players selected No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft, most recently in 2019 when the New Orleans Pelicans chose Zion Williamson, hoping to usher in a new era of basketball in the Crescent City.
Over the same span, Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski has seen 14 Duke players drafted in the top three, and there's a great chance that number will reach 15 when Paolo Banchero hears his name at the June 23 draft to become the first player drafted in Coach K’s last recruiting class.
Listed at 6’10” and 250 lbs, Banchero is built like a throwback blue collar enforcer from the NBA of the 1990s, but he has the skill set and versatility to be a star in today’s game, even with the league’s emphasis on positionless basketball.
Banchero is the leading scorer and rebounder on a Duke roster that could have as many as five players selected in the first round of the 2022 NBA Draft. He’s averaging 16.7 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists while shooting 45% from the floor.
Banchero’s style of play perfectly combines the physical, bruising style of the Jordan era and the free-flowing small-ball style favoring speed, finesse and outside shooting.
Since he dominated the highly anticipated Duke-Gonzaga showdown in November, I have had Banchero as the top player on my draft board and my choice to be the first selection.
The well-deserved hype around Auburn’s Jabari Smith and Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren have overshadowed Banchero’s strong performances early in the season vs. Kentucky and Gonzaga, two of the top five teams in the nation.
Can a player who is a consensus top-3 pick be underrated?
I honestly think so.
Of the three main candidates to be the first to hear their name called by Adam Silver, Banchero is physically the most NBA-ready, and I believe he has more game than he’s been able to showcase this season. Here’s why:
When I watched his film in high school and AAU, his passing and playmaking really stood out to me as you rarely see a player with his size and strength have the passing instincts of a point guard. I immediately envisioned him as an oversized pick & roll ball handler that thrives with NBA spacing and punishes teams that switch and defend him with smaller players.
So far this season only 4.7% of his possessions have come as the pick & roll ball handler while 17.2% of his possessions are post ups.
I expect his NBA role will feature more ball handling duties and possibly less post ups as it makes sense for the team that drafts him to showcase his passing ability and put him in the position to attack downhill and make plays for others.
This past weekend Banchero carved up Syracuse’s zone defense and dished out 9 assists, displaying his high IQ and feel as a passer. He found open shooters in the corner or threw lob passes over the top and made a few impressive quick interior passes that led to multiple Mark Williams dunks.
I believe Banchero’s elite playmaking is one the key areas where he outshines Chet and Jabari.
Banchero has been an effective scorer on the block converting a shade under 45% of his post up attempts this season.
I’m a big fan of low post play and love how Banchero bullies opponents around the rim and plays through contact. His combination of power, finesse, footwork and touch makes him a tough matchup for anyone and especially difficult for teams that like to switch 1 through 4 on defense.
In an era where players his size are either only looking to shoot 3’s or serve as vertical lob threats, Banchero is a somewhat of a throwback as it’s evident working on his post game was part of his early skill development.
He has a drop step, spin move and turnaround fadeaway in his post scoring package and does most of his damage on the left block.
His passing grants him the opportunity to play as a hub out of the post where teams will have to pick their poison and choose to play him straight up or send help which allows him to generate open looks for teammates.
He might not be the shooter that Jabari is or the lob threat that Chet will be, but Banchero’s dominance in the paint is clearly an advantage over Chet and Jabari.
Banchero is knocking down a respectable 37% of his jump shots in the half court. He’s draining over 40% of his attempts and has a 56.7% adjusted FG% in catch and shoot situations.
He’s a deadly mid range shooter ranking in the top 96 percentile and averaging 1.138 points per possession from shots taken beyond 17 feet and inside the 3-point line.
The 3 point shooting will need to improve as he’s only shooting 30.9 percent from deep, which I don’t think is a big concern considering he’s an effective shooter from multiple spots on the floor.
I believe it’s just a matter of extending his range since draining pull up jumpers off the dribble from 17 feet is a lot more difficult than knocking down catch and shoot 3’s.
While not the elite shooter that Jabari is, nor as effective as Chet at the moment, I do think shooting will be a strength, not a liability, to Banchero’s game.
While Paolo doesn’t have the same upside on the defensive end of the floor as Chet or Jabari, he’s a serviceable defender that collects a decent amount of blocks and steals. He’s not a natural rim protector like Holmgren but he has the strength, length and athleticism to be plus defender that can play closing minutes in a playoff series.
Like most young players, he has a tendency to coast on defense and relies on his physical tools instead of consistent effort.
There’s really not a lot Paolo Banchero can’t do on the offensive end of the floor, he’s unselfish and a gifted passer that scores on the block and can create own shot in isolation.
Banchero can play as the pick and roll ball handler, roll man and knock down mid range jumpers out of pick and pops.
His versatility allows him to be used as a traditional power forward, small ball center or a secondary ball handler and playmaker.
While he’s always been near the top of his high school recruiting class and many consider him a top 3 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, Paolo Banchero is in my opinion underrated despite playing for arguably the most recognizable team in college sports.
If I had the top pick in the 2022 NBA draft, Paolo Banchero would be the first name Adam Silver calls on draft night.