As Paolo Banchero approaches the 2022 NBA draft, he stands to be next in a long line of Duke lottery selections. This was, of course, intentional. Over the years, many high school recruits have tied their fates to Duke University and Coach K with both the hope and expectation that the brand would elevate their status.
Looking over the last decade, there’s an argument to be made that Banchero is the most unique Duke prospect yet. He stands at 6’10” and a staggering 250 pounds with the finesse to score anywhere on the floor but the strength to pound the rock inside. This is complemented by a willingness to handle the ball and distribute to run the offense. Banchero is the definition of a modern “point forward” and was often tasked to do just that during his freshman campaign at Duke. He averaged 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists while helping propel the Blue Devils to their first Final Four since 2014.
However, part of coming from such a prestigious program is the inevitable thought exercise: How does Banchero compare to those who preceded him? Jabari Parker (2014), Jahlil Okafor (2015), Brandon Ingram (2016), Jayson Tatum (2017), Marvin Bagley (2018) and Zion Williamson (2019) were all Duke forwards who went in the top three of the draft. Though Banchero projects to have occupied the same position and go equally high in the draft, there are a lot of differences between the 2022 prospect and his fellow Blue Devils.
If you had to compare Paolo Banchero to one of
– Zion Williamson ‘19
– Marvin Bagley ‘18
– Jayson Tatum ‘17
– Brandin Ingram ‘16
– Jahlil Okafor ‘15
– Jabari Parker ‘14
Which former Duke top 3 selection would you go with? #Rockets
— John Crumpler (@JohnHCrumpler) June 5, 2022
To begin, Banchero is not a back-to-the-basket scorer and is nothing like Okafor. Okafor was a true back-to-the-basket big man during his tenure at Duke and more frequently manned the center position than the power forward position. A wonderful college player in his own right, Okafor lacked the versatile offensive skillset that Banchero brings to his eventual team and was much more a representation of the traditional five.
Bagley could be examined in a similar light. Although now frequently ridiculed by virtue of being the pick before Luka Doncic, he was a great college player. Bagley had a stunning 21 points per game on 61% shooting. However, at 6-foot-11, he operated as a much truer post player in a fashion more similar to Okafor than Banchero.
There is speculation that, at his current playing weight, Banchero may be able to close lineups as a “stretch center” that is well optimized to take advantage of how small some NBA lineups are today. However, that massive level of projection from what he showed at the college level means fans may want to look elsewhere for their expectations.
🔹 Paolo Banchero
🔹 Zion Williamson
🔹 Marvin Bagley III
🔹 Jay Williams
The only @DukeMBB freshmen with multiple double-doubles in the ACC Tourney over the last 25 seasons 😈 pic.twitter.com/EQY05y4dgD
— ACC Network (@accnetwork) March 12, 2022
In the same breath, Williamson equally feels like a poor comparison for Banchero. Zion lit up the NCAA en route to becoming the unanimous No. 1 overall selection and going first overall to New Orleans. Banchero’s game lacks the sheer physical domination that Williamson brought to the court. Rather, he happily works a large portion of his offensive game from both the mid-range jump shot and outside the perimeter while Zion feasted on inferior college athletes on the interior.
Three players who, despite scoring at a high clip, did so in a very different fashion than Banchero projects to do at the next level. Despite the similar size, they’re poor comparisons.
Banchero is worse than Jabari and Okafor on defense. I don’t think he’s a top 5 pick.
— Jack Davis (@NotJackDavis) March 13, 2022
This leaves us with Ingram and Tatum, both All-Stars in 2021, and Bagley and Parker as the remaining fair comparisons.
Fans of Banchero, especially those in Houston, may be quick to point to Ingram or even Tatum as great comparisons. All three players averaged roughly 17 points per game. Both Ingram and Tatum had the perimeter game that makes Banchero so unique as a prospect and, truthfully, it’s always more fun to compare to successful NBA players.
The one problem here? Banchero might be too large. Tatum was listed at 6’8” and 205 pounds in college and Ingram at 6’9” and 190 pounds. This is a 50-pound difference that can make a world of difference in terms of perimeter quickness on both the offensive and defensive fronts. Their small frames were a huge reason it took a few seasons for the pair to truly succeed at the NBA level. At the college level, this showed up in their lower shooting percentages (44% and 45% respectively) while Banchero got baskets inside that yielded a 47.8% clip from the field.
The Boston Celtics were patient as Tatum filled out his frame and have been awarded with an MVP caliber player that propelled them to the NBA Finals. The Los Angeles Lakers were less patient and have now been forced to watch Ingram flourish into an All-Star caliber player with the Pelicans. Whoever drafts Banchero will likely not have to wait as long for their player to be “NBA strong.”
Finally, this leaves Parker from 2014.
Parker had a similar frame to Banchero at 6’8” and 235 pounds and used it to play a more traditional frontcourt role with the Blue Devils. Parker averaged 19.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per contest while attempting three 3-point shots per game, compared to Banchero’s 3.3 per game. They have remarkably similar effective field goal percentages (.511 vs. .52 for Banchero) and free-throw shooting percentages (73.8 vs. 72.9 for Banchero). Both players were dominant scorers who could find points at every level of the court.
Per 100 minutes, Banchero carried a 113.8 offensive rating and a 98.1 defensive rating. Parker? The 2014 forward held a 115.0 offensive rating and a 99.3 defensive rating during his time at Duke. The similarities are stark.
Should Banchero’s similarities to a player widely regarded as a bust for Milwaukee serve as a red flag? Probably not. Banchero has ball-handling skills and a passing game that far surpasses what Parker was entering the NBA with nearly eight years ago. The game has evolved to focus on the perimeter and basketball prospects, like Banchero, have evolved to resemble that. Additionally, Parker’s injuries must be acknowledged here.
Parker averaged 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds a game as a rookie before tearing his ACL in his first season. Khris Middleton arrived on the Bucks that same season and turned into the complementary scorer that was needed next to Giannis Antetokounmpo. Parker tore the ligament again in 2017 and NBA fans never got to see the Duke product in his full powers.
“I’m happy for him…He got the bag.”@Giannis_An34 on @JabariParker signing with the Bulls pic.twitter.com/vcjgfHC2Gp
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) October 2, 2018
Overall, Parker feels like the best comparison. A potentially more dynamic Parker with better playmaking and passing skills is an amazing compliment in terms of the Duke-only criteria. Maybe the absurdity of that statement alone is a testament to just how unique and dynamic Banchero is.
Only time will tell how Banchero performs compared to his peers at Duke but one thing is for certain: It’s going to be fun to watch.
This post originally appeared on Rookie Wire! Follow us on Facebook!