In the world of NBA Draft sickos, Paolo Banchero has been famous for too long—he’s been a stalwart on recruiting rankings since he was eligible to be included in recruiting rankings, never falling below sixth in his high school class since his freshman year of high school in 2018. But now, after years of hype as the prospective number one pick in the draft, he has seemingly lost ground to Jabari Smith and Chet Holmgren, who present a novel, alien goodness rather than Banchero’s quotidien greatness. Familiarity has bred contempt—the nits are being picked. Still, Paolo Banchero is the best player in this year’s NBA Draft, no matter what the Orlando Magic think.
The most basic explanation for Banchero’s appeal is that he’s more skilled than just about anybody who’s bigger than him and bigger than just about anybody who’s more skilled than him. Even as the NBA charges into its age of monsters, he's built different; 6’10, 250-pound teenagers shouldn’t be able to pass, dribble, and shoot with his level of fluency. During his one season at Duke, Paolo Banchero was the unquestioned best player on a Final Four team—his 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game over the course of the full season were very good; his NCAA Tournament run, punctuated by 20+ point outbursts against Texas Tech and UNC, was even better.
Although Banchero isn’t an overly elastic ball-handler or bursty speed merchant, the basic fact that he’s a 6’10, 250-pound person who can score off the dribble offers a basic physics problem for opposing defenses. Smaller, faster defenders will be battered by his 6’10, 250 pound frame; bigger, slower defenders will be dusted. It hardly takes the scientific method to deduce that that boy nice; his 17.2 points per game were the most of any power conference freshman. Even within Duke’s recent lineage of highly-drafted wing scorers, he stands alone—his 131 unassisted two-point field goals represent a level of self-sufficiency that fellow Dookies Brandon Ingram (111 unassisted twos), Jayson Tatum (98) and Jabari Parker (97) couldn’t reach.
For Duke, Banchero was the nominal power forward who served as the de facto point guard by virtue of being the team’s most capable ball-handler. While he initially processed the game with the torpor and uncertainty of a guy who hadn’t played high-stakes basketball since the start of the pandemic, he regained his sharpness as the season progressed. In the Sweet 16, he hung 22 points and 4 assists (and just a single turnover) on Texas Tech’s top-ranked defense, the sole Duke player who didn’t seem dragooned by the Red Raiders’ suffocating no-middle defense.