“Situational Analysis” is a series of articles that seeks to examine the circumstances that most often influence an NBA prospect’s success. Each player will be scored on a scale from 1-10 in four different categories: NBA-specific skill(s), fatal flaw(s), collegiate/overseas/pre-NBA environment, and ideal NBA ecosystem.
Paolo Banchero is a 19-year-old forward from Seattle who averaged 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game in his freshman season for the Duke Blue Devils. He is expected to be selected among the top-3 picks in the upcoming NBA Draft and as high as No. 1 overall. NBADraft.net currently has him projected at No. 2.
Basketball scouting often encompasses a multilayered and increasingly complex set of criteria – a combination of physical evaluations and advanced statistical analysis, melded with an inexact science of anecdotal personality/competitiveness measurements and attempts to “predict the future.”
Sometimes, though, scouts and analysts throw all of that out the window and declare that a prospect simply has “it.”
When a play breaks down and someone needs to get a bucket or create an open look for a teammate, the player with “it” just makes it happen. When the pressure ratchets up and the game is on the line, the player with “it” confidently strides to the foul line and calmly knocks down two free throws, even if he missed four in a row earlier in the quarter.
It’s impossible to quantify “it.” You know “it” when you see “it.” Paolo Banchero? He has “it.”
Banchero is a natural leader. Teammates respond to him. He plays with a serene confidence that rarely boils over into cockiness. Banchero believes in his abilities and trusts his teammates, which helps make him one of the draft’s most effective playmakers.
At 6-10 and 250 pounds, Banchero is already built like a 10-year NBA veteran. He possesses incredible balance and ball-handling ability for a player his size, allowing him to muscle his way into tight spaces without committing offensive fouls. It’s rare to see a player with Banchero’s combination of strength and touch ¬– watching him work is like watching a battering ram suddenly morph into a butterfly.
It’s easy to imagine a scenario where Banchero is a consistent triple-double threat if he is given the reins to run an NBA offense. His best chance for success may be as a devastating secondary ball-handler attacking closeouts and creating offense alongside a primary lead guard. Either way, Banchero should develop into a devastating offensive option, either on or off the ball.
On a scale from 1-10, Banchero’s leadership and all-around floor game rates at a 9.5.
Can Banchero defend anybody?
We’re not looking for All-NBA Defensive Team contributions from Banchero. We need to see if he can simply survive on that end of the floor.
He is big, strong, and smart ¬– which goes a long way. But he is lacking the lateral footspeed to stay in front of the NBA’s alpha wings, and he has yet to show the kind of rim-protecting abilities to survive as a small-ball center. Teams will hunt Banchero in the pick-and-roll early in his career and force him to make split-second decisions that will test his focus.
Despite all his offensive gifts, he can get a little loose with the ball, trying to make the perfect pass when a good pass will do. He isn’t exactly a knock-down 3-point shooter – he hit a hair under 34% as a freshman. He is more of a streak-shooter at this stage in his career, but he was relied upon to create much of his own offense.
It’s the defensive end that will determine Banchero’s ceiling, however. If he can’t find a way to contribute on that side of the court, we could be looking at Julius Randle’s career arc – decent, but well below expectations, given Banchero’s standout freshman season at Duke.
On a scale from 1 (not a concern) to 10 (serious hindrance), Banchero’s lack of lateral quickness and his subsequent defensive limitations rate at a 9.
Banchero has always been a star athlete, no matter what sport he played. Before he grew to be 6-10, he was a good football player, but he opted for the hardwood once it became clear he was going to be so tall.
Much like fellow lottery prospect Jabari Smith, Banchero won every award he could win in Washington and finished his career as a consensus 5-star recruit. Many scouts and insiders believed Banchero would stay close to home and suit up for the Huskies, but he opted to change coasts and lead Mike Krzyzewski’s final Duke squad.
Banchero was the clear winner for the ACC’s Freshman of the Year award and earned a spot on the All-American second team. He made every big play for a Duke squad that marched its way into the Final Four before its season ended in heartbreak to arch-rivals North Carolina. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Banchero could have done more than he did in his one college campaign.
On a scale from 1-10, Banchero’s pre-NBA career rates at a 9.
Ideal NBA Ecosystem
Banchero is the kind of prospect who brings an NBA-ready body and mentality from day one. Teams won’t have to worry about his work ethic, basketball IQ, or his ability to handle the rigors of an 82-game schedule. It is a lock that he won’t fall out of the top three, so let’s evaluate each potential landing spot:
Orlando: Banchero would slot alongside Franz Wagner ¬– fresh off an All-Rookie First Team campaign – as a pair of incredibly intelligent playmaking forwards with equal defensive limitations. Could a Banchero-Wagner frontcourt score as many points as it gives up? No idea, but it would be a heck of a lot of fun to watch them try.
Oklahoma City: Banchero, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Josh Giddey – is there enough ball to go around? And will SGA, rumored to be on the trade block, be around to find out? I like the idea of having a heady playmaker at three of the five spots on the floor, but there might not be enough reliable perimeter shooting to generate the kind of space suitable for each of these players to thrive.
Houston: The team rumored to be highest on Banchero. Paolo would give this young squad the kind of maturity and leadership it craves. Jalen Green showed flashes of incredible scoring talent, but beyond that, it’s hard to point at any individual player on this roster as a true playmaker. Banchero could thrive in Houston if he earns the trust of the coaching staff as their primary offensive instigator.
On a scale from 1-10, Banchero’s situational independence rates at a 9. Banchero is a smooth, cool customer who already carries himself like he belongs in the NBA.