This is a part of our NBA Draft Prospect Review series where we evaluate the top players of the 2022 NBA Draft by reviewing every shot, assist, turnover, steal and rebound during their most recent collegiate season. Every writer was given access to game footage and asked to deliver their takeaways about the player in whatever manner they saw fit.
We will begin with some transparency. I have Paolo Banchero No. 1 on my personal NBA Draft Big Board. He was No. 1 before I started this draft review process, and so I entered with some biases about what I would see. I have spent the past handful of months watching as much film and listening to as many “experts” as possible to get a better sense of these prospects, and I used all the information to formulate my own opinion on each player.
Banchero was not always No. 1. For the longest time I had Jabari Smith Jr. first, but at a certain point I could not get past the total package Banchero seemed to offer offensively. After watching some full games, I came to feel that the defense wasn’t as bad as some had made it out to be. Don’t get me wrong, there are concerns defensively and most likely he is going to peak as a “net neutral” defender which some would say is actually a negative for a big in the NBA. That is a conversation for another article.
After reviewing even more game film for this prospect series, my mind has not changed on Paolo as the No. 1 pick BUT it has allowed me to pinpoint even more what he brings to the table on both ends of the floor. I hope this breakdown will give you a better idea of who this young man is on the basketball floor if he does end up joining Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey, and the Detroit Pistons.
Attacking Closeouts & Grab and Go
I had a hard time deciding exactly how I wanted to separate his offensive game, I just knew there was too much to do it all in one video. I decided on him attacking closeouts, and a few straight isolations from the 3-point line, and situations where he simply “grabs and go’s.” Essentially, it’s an attempt to highlight the most important question — how does Paolo look with the ball in his hands attacking downhill?
Let’s start off with a couple themes that really stood out. First, Banchero absolutely loves going to his spin move when attacking. It is a beautiful and effective move ... when the opponent does not know it is coming. You could tell that some teams had this scouted and would force Paolo into some turnovers when he started his spin move. Second, and maybe the thing I think he will have to adjust the most, is he gets a little “tunnel vision” and just tries to bully his way through defenders with his right shoulder. Yes, I realize this young man is 6-foot-10, 250 pounds, and that his size is a major positive but his skill level is SO high that there is no reason for him to force up a tough shot at the rim.
Early on in the film breakdown, I had major questions about his ability to finish with his left, as I barely saw him use it, but throughout the season you could see him go to it more and more. It is not a finished product by any means, but I think the foundation is there for him to utilize it effectively after a few years in the league. One final “negative” before we get to the good stuff. I have to mention that he sometimes takes one too FEW dribbles when attacking the basket. Usually the issue is with players taking one too MANY dribbles, but I saw multiple instances where taking one more dribble and using that bulk to push through contact would have gotten him an easier shot at the basket.
So, if he can get tunnel vision at times and needs to work on his left, why am I so high on him? Because his size and skill level make him a nightmare to stay in front of when attacking closeouts. You give him any sort of advantage on the catch and he will take advantage. He also doesn’t only rely on you making a mistake. He can create an advantage on his own with beautiful shot fakes and rocker step “shimmys.” Once he gets a step, he has the size to keep it and then the skill level to make you pay. I won’t talk, or show, a lot about the 3-point shot but he will have to show to be a respectable shooter to keep defenses honest and force the close outs that he can then attack. He hit on 34% on 130 attempts in college and ended on a great 10-of-19 stretch in the NCAA tournament. If he is anywhere close to 35% from 3 in the NBA, good luck staying in front of him in these situations.
Speaking of skill level, how about a TRUE grab-and-go-big. I am not talking about a big who can grab a rebound, dribble up the floor, and then pass to the primary creator without ever putting pressure on the defense. I am talking about a guy who can grab a rebound, ATTACK the defense and finish OR use what I believe is very good court awareness to create opportunities for teammates. *We will get to his overall passing more in the next breakdown* What I love is how willing he is to outlet the ball or kick ahead when that is the right play. He is not trying to dribble it up every time he gets the board. There are of course areas for improvement as teams will scout his love for the right to left euro in transition and the tunnel vision shows up at times. All in all, I love that he has the ability to add this to an NBA team.
Playing in the Mid Post, Ball Screens, and Playmaking
I know these three areas of his offensive game do not all necessarily correlate together, but I wanted to make sure I highlighted them and if there is any sort of commonality between them it is his ability to create for others within them.
Let’s start with his mid-post game, which I am absolutely bought into being a sustainable part of his offensive game in the NBA. He has the aforementioned jab steps, rocker step, shoulder shimmy, AND he will hit you with the Kevin Durant swing-through if you have your hands in the wrong place. If he gets the right mismatch he can just bully his way to the rim and score and if he doesn’t then he has the ability to use any of those moves to create an advantage to the rim. What I love most about his mid post game is he showed an ability to create easy shots but also make really tough shots, as well. I do think he will be a willing creator out of this when teams give him too much attention but I just did not see as many possessions of that as I anticipated.
If none of this has piqued your interest, what if I told you that at his size he can also be the primary ball handler in ball screen situations? Again, it is not perfect, but the fact he has shown an ability to be an effective ball handler really separates him from the pack at the top of the draft.
I can’t help but think about some of the creative ballscreen situations the Pistons could draw up! I will say this is another area where the 3-point shot being legit would be big. My guess is right now most teams will simply go under any ball screen involving him as the ball handler and negate his ability to attack the basket to create for himself or others. I did not see nearly as many reps of him on the other side of the coin as the roll man in these situations as I was hoping. I do think he has some vertical pop with time and space but not sure how well that translates to roll man possessions. The area where I think he could really do some damage is a short roll scorer and passer, though.
Creating for others is something I do think Paolo is willing and able to do. There was a stretch during the middle of the season where it looked like maybe he was trying to prove himself as a scorer and was not flashing the passing ability as much. In general, though, the vision is real. He does throw some inaccurate passes, a lot of his turnovers actually came trying to throw post passes to Mark Williams, but I would much rather have the guy who reads the right pass and has to work on the execution to complete it than the other way around.
Now, let’s take a look at what is the most scrutinized part of Banchero’s game. He has defensive issues, yes, but he could eventually become a “net neutral” on that end of the floor. That depends on how engaged and active he is willing to be off the ball in the NBA. There were flashes of him being engaged, and you could see the makings of a guy that would be a contributor in a good defensive system. I also was able to see exactly why some had questions about his engagement on defense. This is an aspect of his game I am not sure how you can say which translates more as he moves to the next level without truly knowing the player and his work ethic.
Nobody will mistake Paolo as a rim protector but there is a path for him to be serviceable if he can improve at using his size along with the verticality rules. When he has space and time to gather he even showed some weak side rim protection. The real question will be what ball screen coverage can he be most effective? Is he going to have the feet to switch? I am not sold. Drop coverage? Probably not ideal. And I did not get as many looks with him truly defending the post to see if he can play that small ball 5 many have pitched.
I thoroughly enjoyed taking this deeper dive into Paolo Banchero, and I hope I provided you a detailed look into what type of player he is and may become. Again, I have the young man at No. 1 on my board, BUT I willingly admit and accept that there are plenty of areas for improvement for him and that may lead you to having Chet or JSJ at the top of your board. After seeing enough to believe that he has a path to NOT being a negative on defense combined with the all around offensive game he can develop I would love to see him in a Detroit Pistons uniform next season.