It is widely speculated the Orlando Magic are deciding between selecting Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren or Auburn’s Jabari Smith, Jr. with the No. 1 overall pick in June’s NBA Draft. That is just anybody’s guess at this point with how famously the Magic keep their cards close to the vest.
For most people, it is considered a three-man race for the top pick though. And while Jabari Smith and Chet Holmgren are certainly strong candidates, it was Paolo Banchero who spent most of the year as the top prospect in this class.
He is very much still in the conversation for the top pick.
The Magic should strongly consider selecting the best all-around player and that is Duke’s Banchero.
The race for the top pick is truly a three-man race and while the attention has quickly turned to the other two, the Orlando Magic should keep the all-around play of Paolo Banchero in mind when they pick.
At 6-foot-10, Banchero is just as tantalizing as the other big men. But he has legit guard handles and can get his shot from anywhere on the court.
At Duke, a lot was asked of Banchero and he delivered.
Banchero averaged 17.2 points per game and 7.8 rebounds per game with 3.2 assists per game and 47.8-percent shooting overall on 13.2 field goal attempts per game. He had a usage rate of 27.5-percent, showing the kind of trust Duke put in him. In ACC play, he averaged 17.4 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game on 44.9-percent shooting.
In big games and big moments, Banchero consistently stepped up.
In late November, Banchero quickly lived up to the hype with a 20-point first half against Holmgren and Gonzaga. He outplayed Holmgren and proved that he can take over a game.
That was not the only time he stepped up. After struggling late in the season, Banchero was fantastic in both the ACC and NCAA Tournaments, averaging 17.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game with 54.1-percent shooting in those high-pressure games.
There is not much that Banchero can’t do offensively.
The 6-foot-10, 250-pound power forward is a menace with the ball in his hands. He attacks the paint with power and craftiness, which allows him to get his shot up against anybody.
Banchero has a mean spin move. And if defenders press him, he will knock down a contested shot or make the extra pass. He is big enough too to shoot over just about any defender that college teams could put on him.
He has a variety of tricks in the low post and facing up against the defense. He is as skilled offensively as they come.
For a player his size, Banchero’s ball-handling is incredibly impressive. He is comfortable with the ball in his hands and routinely makes the right read. Banchero played guard until he hit a growth spurt before high school and that aids in his perimeter skills.
Banchero is a sneaky-good passer and an underrated rebounder, who will box out and crash the boards hard when his team needs it the most, which was evident in the final minutes of his college career against North Carolina.
Among the players at the top of this draft, Banchero is the guy that feels most like a star because of all the things he can do with the ball in his hands. Banchero is the kind of player a team can dump the ball to and get a basket.
Obviously in the NBA, he will be playing against bigger players more often and so his size advantage will not be as apparent. But his success in the league will depend on his ability to keep up his scoring pace from college.
Banchero can do anything with the ball in his hands, the question is what happens when the ball is not with him.
The area Banchero needs to improve the most is his assertiveness defensively.
Banchero oftentimes seemed indecisive when it came to rotating, going after block shots and crashing the boards. He is not a bad defensive player, but he can exert more energy and effort on that end.
This certainly goes a bit against the type the Magic have typically drafted. And Banchero showed plenty of potential defensively. It is just about getting it all to come through.
The same could be said for Banchero’s outside shooting.
Banchero is also not a knock-down shooter and can stand to work on quickening his release.
He made 33-percent of his threes in the regular season and improved to 52-percent in the NCAA Tournament, a sign of progress. But it is still an area he needs to improve. It should translate to the next level and he is capable of making NBA-range threes.
Banchero spent very little time off the ball, so it is hard to say how effective he would be as a floor spacer. It is not even clear what his slashing and cutting game might be like.
But Banchero is a scorer at heart. And the Magic need the kind of player they could anchor an offense around.
If the Magic opt for Banchero, they will be selecting a potential go-to scorer and someone who the team can count on to close out games. And he should fit in seamlessly.
Throughout his freshman season, Banchero proved to be a team player. He is not a ball-dominant chucker. He scored in a variety of ways in college, whether it was off the dribble with pull-up jumpers or with bruising drives.
Banchero also has an effective post-up game and can hit spot-up jumpers. His efficient and diverse offensive repertoire is maybe better than anybody currently on the Magic’s roster and that’s saying a lot about a college player.
Overall, Banchero is one of the safer prospects in the draft. He has perhaps the most refined offensive game. It is obvious he works on his craft. To top it off, he already has an NBA-ready body.
Although Banchero seems the most prepped for the bright lights of the NBA, there is still a lot of room for him to grow, which makes his ceiling just as high as any other prospect. He can become an elite scorer, a play-making forward and a very good defensive player.
And with all the talk about Holmgren or Smith going No. 1, maybe that is adding extra fuel for Banchero to work even harder to take his game to the next level.