Duke's Paolo Banchero entered his freshman season with lofty expectations and locked in a dead heat with Gonzaga's Chet Holmgren for the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
As the season has gone on, other prospects — most notably Auburn's Jabari Smith Jr. — have made a case to take the top spot, but Banchero is still firmly planted in those discussions to be the first player to hear his name called by NBA commissioner Adam Silver on draft night.
In my 2022 NBA Mock Draft heading into the NCAA Tournament, I slid Banchero down to the No. 2 pick in favor of Holmgren for the first time this season. Holmgren has been absurdly dominant over the second half of the season and he continued that into the start of March Madness, but Banchero was quick to remind us why he still rightfully deserves consideration.
Paolo Banchero scouting report: Offense
The Duke star made his presence felt in the first weekend of the tournament. He went for 17 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and one steal in a first-round win over Cal State Fullerton, then followed that up with 19 points, seven rebounds, four assists and one block in a close win over Michigan State to advance to the Sweet 16.
He shot a combined 15-for-28 (53.5%) from the field and 4-for-9 (44.4%) from 3 over the weekend, displaying his scoring efficiency as well as some clutch shot-making.
What makes Banchero so special as a prospect is his dual ability to threaten defenses as a shot creator and playmaker. At 6-foot-10, 250 pounds, Banchero is a walking mismatch because he's too quick and fluid for bigs, but he's too strong and physical for guards.
He spends a lot of time out on the perimeter to hunt these mismatches and he specifically did a great job of using all of his tools as a scorer and passer to keep Michigan State's defense guessing when he attacked.
There were three plays in particular that stuck out to me as high-level, NBA-caliber moves and reads that led to buckets.
One-on-one scoring ability
It started with this play early in the first half, where Banchero recognized he had space to work with and could take a slower defender off the dribble to get to an open spot and knock down a shot.
First off, Banchero is a righty. Even though that little lefty hesitation wasn't exactly And-1 mixtape worthy, it's impressive he has the ball-handling control to get into half-spin move out of the post like that with his off-hand. He finishes the play off with some balanced footwork and a ridiculously skilled fadeaway that you don't typically see from 19-year-old bigs.
Improved passing and playmaking
Later in the first half, Banchero found himself in a similar situation but this time, he's attacking a slower defender who closed out on him too hard on the 3-point line.
When he puts the ball on the floor to drive, he easily could have forced up a midrange jumper or tried to bulldoze his way to the rim. Instead, when Michigan State's defense collapsed, he delivered a slick no-look dime (in traffic!) to Mark Williams for a much easier basket.
That's a drop in the bucket for his decision-making, processing the game in real-time to make the right read and know when to score for yourself or set up others. It's also a sign of growth for Banchero who didn't make those reads early in the season.
Driving and inside finishing
And on that topic, when Duke's season was on the line and it desperately needed a bucket to end a Michigan State 9-0 run, Banchero called his own number to stop the bleeding.
Note that this time, he spun over his other shoulder compared to the post-spin fadeaway in the first half, which is impressive in its own right.
But it's also worth mentioning that even though Duke's best player was attacking the basket, not one Michigan State player helped off of their man, knowing Banchero can now beat you as a passer too. (Michigan State's on-ball defender even threw his hands up after the bucket, presumably wondering "what else could I have done?" or "where the heck was the help?").
It's three separate plays like those that make it very easy to see why Banchero would be worthy of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. There just simply aren't many 6-foot-10, 250-pound shot-creating playmakers out there, never mind at 19 years old.
As Duke continues its run in the Sweet 16 and beyond, we'll have the pleasure of seeing more NBA-level plays like this from the star freshman.