Orlando Magic Draft Preview: Debunking the myths about Paolo Banchero

Paolo Banchero has a lot of scoring gifts that are hard to ignore even as he fills in the rest of his game. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
Paolo Banchero has a lot of scoring gifts that are hard to ignore even as he fills in the rest of his game. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images) /

Paolo Banchero is a player who had a lot of defining moments in his one year at Duke.

The Blue Devils were one of the best teams in the league — a team that is hoping to become the second team to get five players drafted in the first round in the modern draft era — and had a lot of expectations put on them. Banchero as much as anyone.

But in the key moments, the Blue Devils turned to Banchero time and time again. He was the driving engine for the team.

The highlight moment for me was against Arkansas in the Elite Eight.

The Razorbacks cut the Blue Devils’ 12-point lead down to five with 13:19 to play. Duke’s control over the game was in jeopardy. The Blue Devils needed a basket.

They turned to Banchero for those baskets. He hit a tough jumper coming out of a timeout. The Blue Devils found their calm again and blew open the rest of the game.

If there is a reason to go with Banchero, it is this aspect of his game. Banchero is the kind of player that teams can simply dump the ball to and get a bucket. That has been perhaps the biggest thing the Orlando Magic have been missing for the better part of a decade.

Paolo Banchero is an extremely gifted scorer. But plenty still have questions about the other parts of his game, questions Banchero has shown he can answer.

And that is why Banchero is so enticing of a prospect for a team like Orlando. At the end of the day, when the team hopes it is competing for a title, the team will need a player who can just got get a basket.

Looking at his stats, it is easy to see that potential. In his lone year at Duke, he averaged 17.2 points per game, grabbed 7.8 rebounds per game and had shooting splits of 47.8/33.8/72.9.

Some have taken to describing Banchero as a back-to-the-basket big — a popular player comparison is Julius Randle — but that does not tell the whole story for him.

Banchero, as J.J. Jackson of Locked On Blue Devils described to me on a recent episode of Locked On Magic, is probably closer to other big forwards like Jayson Tatum and Brandon Ingram for his scoring ability off the dribble.

For comparison’s sake, Tatum averaged 16.8 points per game with shooting splits of 45.2/34.2/84.9. Ingram averaged 17.3 points per game with shooting splits of 44.2/41.0/68.2.

There are obviously differences between the three — Banchero averaged more per game but shot worse. But all three played virtually the same role as the primary scorer at forward for their teams. Mike Krzyzewski gave all three of these players the ball in their preferred spots and showcase them.

But it is also clear none of these players were the players they would become in the NBA.

Tatum was a poor outside shooter who focused a lot more on mid-range and mid-post shots in college. But his free throw percentage previewed his 3-point improvement. Ingram was a much more accomplished shooter, but he struggled to come around from beyond the arc.

Banchero is bigger than both of those comparisons. But his shooting stats fall in the middle.

If there is a criticism of Banchero’s offensive repertoire it is that inconsistent outside shooting. Banchero shot just 33.8-percent from beyond the arc on only 3.3 attempts per game. He took five or more 3-point attempts in a game just 10 times all season — notably making 3 of 8 in his early-season game against Gonzaga and 4 for 7 in a trip to Syracuse.

Banchero’s shooting does come and go and it was not a part of his game he went to a lot this year.

He hit a mini-swoon in February, averaging 14.0 points per game on 35.9/29.0/78.4 shooting splits. He took 3.9 3-point attempts per game during that stretch. For now, Banchero is going to have to work on his 3-point shot.

That game against Gonzaga is worth pointing out too.

Going head to head with Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero scored 21 points on 8-for-17 shooting. He figured out how to shoot against the supreme shot blocker in this draft. It is hard not to call that individual battle at least a draw — Duke also won the game by three points.

Banchero’s primary skill to contribute to the NBA is his scoring. But there is a lot more to his game. Like so many of these young prospects, the context of his play within Duke’s system is a big part of the story.

Banchero can be more than his scoring. And he will have to be.

Banchero is actually quite a skilled passer. He averaged 3.2 assists per game last year but did not put all of his passing wares on display. Other players took over the playmaking responsibility to get the ball to Banchero.

It was similar to the way Tatum played. But Tatum has grown his passing game once he got to the NBA.

Indeed, Duke observers would say Paolo Banchero was really gifted at finding Mark Williams on dump downs and was good at keeping the ball moving despite his ability in isolation. He may not have been racking up assists, but that was not his role on this team.

Banchero had five or more assists in eight games, including a nine-assist game in that big game against Syracuse.

Banchero was plenty capable of filling up a stat sheet. And that is a big part of his game.

The other big criticism of Banchero is his defense. And this is certainly a big point of contention. The tape at times was not kind to Banchero. There were plenty of times when he was late on rotations or simply did not make the second effort.

But then there were plays where Banchero makes his rotation quickly and tracks back to his defender and blocks a shot or contests a shot. He has all the tools to be a great defender.

He led Duke in defensive win shares with 2.2, which is more a measure of his trackable defensive stats like steals and blocks (he averaged 2.0 “stocks” per game). He also posted a defensive box plus-minus of +2.3, according to Sports-Reference. That number is certainly buoyed by being next to strong defenders like Mark Williams and Wendell Moore.

No one should be going into this draft thinking Paolo Banchero is a world-class defender, that is a place that Jabari Smith and Chet Holmgren have him beat. But Banchero certainly has the tools to be a better defender than he showed in college. It is not the weakness that others make it out to be.

Part of the interview process will be sussing out how much he wants to work and improve on that end. But the tools are all there.

And that is what remains so exciting about Banchero. There are still a lot of areas of his game he needs to iron out and improve upon. That is true for any 18- or 19- or 20-year-old player.

dark. Next. Debunking the myths about Chet Holmgren

But the one place Banchero has things figured out might be the most important thing — the dude just knows how to score. And that is always a good place to start.