College basketball season is underway, meaning the next crop of NBA prospects are under the microscope.
With Duke taking on Kentucky in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden, we had our first opportunity to see one of the most highly anticipated prospects in this year’s draft class in Paolo Banchero.
The Duke forward, who is projected to go No. 1 overall in our 2022 NBA Mock Draft, made his collegiate debut and it did not disappoint.
Going for 22 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and two steals, Banchero led Duke to a victory over Kentucky.
But beyond the numbers, what is there to make of the 18-year-old’s first game from an NBA lens?
Analyzing Paolo Banchero’s Duke debut: Potential No.1 pick in 2022 NBA Draft
Banchero didn’t take long to establish the fact that he was the best player on the floor.
At 6-foot-10, 235 pounds, his size is, of course, the first thing that stands out. But when the forward starts moving around fluidly on the perimeter, you see exactly why he’s expected to be a top pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
Banchero is physical and athletic. He’s a dominating threat inside, but he can create for himself off the dribble on the perimeter. His frame and length allows him to bang bodies and protect the paint inside, but his footwork is also quick enough to switch out onto the perimeter and check guards.
That type of versatility is praised in today’s NBA that is becoming increasingly positionless, and we saw a little bit of everything in Banchero’s arsenal in his debut on Tuesday.
Take a look at the positives, areas of improvement and a player comparison for the top prospect.
- Attacking inside and out on offense
- Shot creation
- Active hands on defense
Banchero knocked down a few jumpers that had “future NBA player” written all over them. There was one pull-up jumper he buried off the dribble at the top of the key after sizing up his defender. There were another two fadeaways he hit – one off the bounce, again, and another out of the post with a hand right in his face – that flashed his soft shooting touch.
Those types of shot creation skills are not common for an 18-year-old, 6-foot-10 forward, and that’s part of what makes him such a sought-after prospect.
I was also impressed with his playmaking ability, even if he didn’t record an assist.
Whenever Kentucky doubled him in the post, Banchero had his head up looking to find the open man. If he didn’t get the defensive rebound, he was looking for the outlet to push the ball up the floor and initiate offense for his teammates. Again – not very common for a player of his stature.
Defensively, his instincts, long arms and active hands allowed him to come up with three blocks and two steals, even if he wasn’t always in the right position to make a play (more to come on that).
And then for things we expected: he was unstoppable whenever he got the ball in the paint. A strong and forceful and-one finish down the homestretch of the game left me wondering why he didn’t play inside more.
Areas of improvement
- Too much time on the perimeter
- Defensive positioning
- Tightening handle
Which leads me to say… he spent too much time on the perimeter on both sides of the ball.
There were times it felt like he was out of position on defense because he was floating toward the wing instead of protecting the paint. While there were moments like strong help-side defense on an alley-oop, there were others where he fell asleep and it resulted in an offensive rebound or easy bucket for Kentucky. His defensive counting stats are even more impressive considering he wasn’t always engaged on that end of the floor.
Offensively, he was out by the 3-point line more than he was in the key. He could have dominated in the paint – and he did at times – but there were some non-factor possessions as well.
While his willingness to handle the ball was impressive, he’ll have to tighten that up between now and draft day if he’s going to dribble that much at the next level. There’s more than enough time for growth in that area, of course.
Plays with shades of: John Collins
I can’t help but see Atlanta Hawks star forward Collins when I watch Banchero play.
Collins is an inch shorter at 6-foot-9 and has a shorter wingspan (6-foot-11, compared to Banchero’s reported 7-foot wingspan), but they’re both 235 pounds. They’re both physical and powerful inside, but their athleticism and quickness allows them to play outside, too.
They can both shoot from the perimeter and create their own shot, although from what I saw in his debut, Banchero seems to be much further along as a ball handler, shot creator and playmaker than Collins was in college. Their versatility to defend any frontcourt position but also switch onto guards on the perimeter without getting beat off the dribble is eerily similar as well.
Maybe it’s the thunderous, rim-rattling dunks, but I see shades of Collins in Banchero’s game.
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