During a teleconference call with media as part of the NBA’s pre-draft preparation Friday, Paolo Banchero put his belief in himself and his place in the NBA in no uncertain terms.
Banchero said he believes he is the best player in this draft class. And it is hard to argue with him based simply on the play on the court in college.
Banchero was the driving force for Duke’s run to the Final Four, scoring at seemingly every level with a unique mixture of size and dexterity.
In a lot of ways, he is exactly the kind of player the Orlando Magic need: a primary scorer who will get the ball in the mid-post, isolate and score. At the highest levels, teams need someone who can get a bucket.
More than any other player at the top of this draft, Banchero gives that.
Paolo Banchero seems like the third wheel of the Orlando Magic’s top pick decision. But the big man is still a strong option and perhaps the best scorer in this draft.
While both Smith and Holmgren both made it to Orlando — with Smith meeting with the media following his workout — it is not yet clear whether the Magic will bring Banchero to Orlando. Whether that means the team plans to meet or has met with him off-site as they have done in the past or whether he simply will not make the trip to Orlando remains unclear.
It is extremely unlikely the Magic will conduct further workouts this week. The week of the draft is spent with media appearances and prep ahead of the NBA Draft for prospects and spent hunkered down in the draft room finalizing decisions and fishing for trades for front-office executives.
This would all seemingly point to what has become the conventional thinking: The Magic are picking between Smith and Holmgren. Banchero is on the outside looking in.
Whether that should be the case is certainly a fair question to ask.
Banchero averaged 17.2 points per game and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 47.8-percent from the floor on a 27.5-percent usage rate. In ACC play, Banchero averaged 17.4 points per game and 8.0 rebounds per game while shooting 44.9-percent from the floor with a 29.1-percent usage rate. He shot just 31.5-percent from three in ACC play and 33.8-percent from deep overall.
A lot of that is obviously his high usage rate.
Of the guys at the top of this draft, Banchero is the one who plays like a star. That was the role Duke gave him. So that clearly depressed his ability to shoot effectively from the outside. And his need to score depressed some of his playmaking ability.
These top three prospects have separated themselves because they are all very good. And it is also evident that all three were a bit limited by the nature of college basketball.
So why has Banchero seemingly fallen off the pack? What has him at this place where the best individual scorer in this draft seems destined to land with the third pick with the Houston Rockets?
Banchero is right that he has a lot of the intangibles to make himself great.
He is a better passer than he gets credit for. He has that great isolation, mid- and low-post game. His 3-point shot has all the suggestions that it could come around — he made 72.9-percent of his free throws.
More importantly, Banchero stepped up in the biggest moments for his team.
Banchero’s stock began to waver with a rough February. In his eight games in February, Banchero averaged 14.0 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting 35.9-percent from the floor and 29.0-percent from beyond the arc.
But in March during the ACC and NCAA Tournament, he bounced back to average 17.8 points per game and 8.0 rebounds per game with shooting splits of 54.1/40.0/65.0.
In the biggest pressure-packed games, not only did Banchero step up his scoring but he was the guy Duke repeatedly turned to. It is impossible not to look at the context of those games and see that Banchero was Duke’s star. The team went how he went.
And everyone could argue going away from Banchero in their Final Four loss to North Carolina is a big reason Duke did not win the national title — Banchero scored 20 points on 8-for-17 shooting for the game and easily could have had more.
But it is those intangibles that also likely have him falling off the pace too.
He had the ball in his hands so much and was such an inconsistent shooter, Banchero sort of becomes a litmus test.
If a team believes he is the number one option that an entire team should build itself around, he is undoubtedly the pick. If a team does not see him as the guy who can carry a team to a title with his isolation-heavy style, then it becomes a lot harder to pick him.
The question for every prospect that is not destined for stardom is what can they do when they do not have the ball in their hands. And that is the biggest question facing Banchero.
Really, this is a bigger statement about the state of this draft class.
This is not considered a particularly strong class. Most draft experts believe these top three players are in a tier below the certainty they had about Cade Cunningham last year. Sam Vecenie of The Athletic says these players are of the same type as Evan Mobley, Scottie Barnes and Jalen Suggs in his pre-draft evaluations.
That is still bringing in a very good player. But teams might be hesitant to turn over the keys to a player of that type. They may be looking for more versatility. Versatility means upside in this case.
Banchero has the intangibles. He has the scoring chops that teams like. He still has plenty of room to grow.
What Banchero lacks is the versatility and perhaps some cover if he does not hit his ceiling. Holmgren might be the biggest swing. But even he has a downside role if he does not become the runaway star. Smith will enter the league as a strong 3-and-D player even if he does not take the step up to true superstardom.
Banchero may be the safest player to average 20 points per game in the league. But the real question is whether that alone is enough to build a roster in the league anymore. Whether they need a different kind of primary scorer.
Five or 10 years ago, Banchero likely would have been the top pick in this draft no question. He would have been the exact kind of scorer that was in vogue in the league. But this is a different kind of league.
It is not that Banchero cannot be effective in the league still. The question is whether his play and his style are the kind of team the Magic — or most teams — want to build.
The Magic, for their part, seem to be favoring a team with versatility and movement. Paolo Banchero certainly could fit into a pick and roll with Markelle Fultz — anyone could. But the Magic right now do not have the shooting to give him the space. Nor does it seem the Magic want to run an isolation-heavy offense — the Magic ran 4.7 isolations per game last year, the second-fewest in the league.
Banchero has the intangibles to be a scorer. He is right to say that he might well be the best player in this draft class. And that kind of confidence is absolutely what a top pick in the draft must have.
But it is those other intangibles that have him falling off the pace. And it remains the biggest question Banchero has to answer as a prospect.