Paolo Banchero is currently rated #3 on ESPN’s latest mock draft. He creates a high volume of offense for himself and his teammates, and is built like a tanky PF at 6’10 250. There is quite a bit to digest with him, so let’s start with some statistical comparisons before moving on to more qualitative analysis.
Because of the tanky PF build, Paolo has drawn comparisons to Blake Griffin, Chris Webber, Julius Randle, and Jabari Parker.
Let’s start out by comparing him to the career NCAA stats per 100 possessions of the two guys that went #1 overall:
These guys all got buckets and were great passing bigs. But Webber and Blake played more like true bigs. Both were better rebounders than Paolo, Webber was a better shotblocker, Griffin drew far more FTA from bullying in the paint, and both were more dominant scorers in the paint with much higher 2P%.
But Paolo has far more perimeter skill– even though these guys are elite passing bigs, both had a substantially lower assist rate and a higher turnover rate. Paolo is also the better shooter, as both of these guys badly struggled on free throws, and both finished with a lower NBA career FT% than Paolo’s FT% at Duke while never becoming reliable from 3.
So there are some minor parallels in play, but these are not quite right as comparisons.
Now let’s discuss the guys who are more recent and less optimistic:
Once again, Parker + Randle offered more of a bully ball approach, grabbing more rebounds and getting to the line more often. Unlike Webber + Griffin, they at least made similar FT% to Paolo. But they get absolutely destroyed in assist and assist:TOV rates, and Randle’s steals are anemic compared to Paolo.
Jabari Parker failed because he had all time bad defensive IQ, and there was a clear signal that his basketball IQ was limited given his assist:TOV rate. This also showed up with his offensive approach in summer league, where he played a horribly inefficient style. I ranked him 8th on my final 2014 board, and am not surprised that he disappointed as badly as he did.
Randle showed a number of similar flaws to Parker. His instincts were slow on both ends at Kentucky, and I was not particularly high on him entering the draft. To his credit, he developed his perimeter skills, became a good passer, and stretched his shooting out to NBA 3 point range, and is now a decent NBA player. Perhaps I underrated him by putting him 22nd on my big board. Or given that he maxed his abilities out and still is largely unwanted by NBA teams, perhaps that was an accurate rating.
Randle and Parker have some parallels to Paolo, but they seem fairly pessimistic because at the same age they showed major weaknesses where he is strong.
Because he plays like a big wing, let’s compare Paolo to other big wings who went in the front end of the lottery who are good shot creators and passers with an acceptable FT%. Let’s start with a Duke flavor, since Coach K has been recruiting big wings with versatile perimeter skill for decades:
Note that Grant Hill’s #’s are over his first 3 NCAA seasons, since that sample is both large and most closely approximates Paolo’s age.
This is a fairly optimistic trio, so let’s clarify why other past Dukies weren’t chosen: Danny Ferry only averaged 5.9 pts/game at age 19, Elton Brand was a true big, Carlos Boozer was a slow big and slid to round 2, Mike Dunleavy Jr. only scored 9.1 pts/game at Paolo’s age, Shane Battier more defense oriented, Marvin Bagley had a bad assist:TOV ratio, RJ Barrett too short, Brandon Ingram too skinny, and Wendell Carter Jr. had some parallels, but is ultimately a slow big.
That leaves these three Blue Devils as most similar, and by the #’s it does not look like Paolo clearly stands behind any of them. Tatum has a clearly significant advantage in shooting with his FT%, and he had a slightly better steal rate and is likely more mobile. So it may be too much to ask Paolo to be a star like Tatum. But given his superior passing, if his shooting improves over time and he turns out to be not far behind Tatum defensively, he can make a similar impact as a top 10 superstar.
Grant Hill is a fascinating comparison because he is a rare big wing that has similar assist and turnover rates as Paolo. Hill’s vastly superior steal rate implies that Paolo will not be able to match his perimeter defense as Hill was clearly the better athlete, but Hill never became a 3 point shooter. If Paolo develops an NBA 3 and becomes a modern day Grant Hill who trades some athleticism + defense for shooting, he would be fairly exciting to build around.
Luol Deng is not exactly the type of guy you target at #1 overall, as he does not stand out from Paolo in any way outside of a few ticks in steal rate, and Paolo unsurprisingly has the better passing. This is why Deng went #7 overall and Paolo is a near lock for the top 3. But if you stack Luol Deng’s career numbers up against 30 #1 picks from 1985 to 2014, he ranks 12th in career win shares (likely to be passed by Kyrie Irving and finish 13th) and 13th in VORP (already passed by Kyrie). He was a two time all-star and gave a truckload of quality minutes to the Bulls.
Even though Deng is a relatively disappointing outcome compared to a Grant Hill or Jayson Tatum, he is nevertheless an approximately average outcome for #1 overall. This is not so disappointing after all.
Now let’s get out of the Duke family and discuss who else could be similar to Paolo:
Carmelo was 6 months younger than Paolo as a freshman, but there is not much to suggest that Paolo is significantly behind him. Melo was better at getting off a higher volume of shots without turning it over, and Paolo is (unsurprisingly) the better passer.
Interestingly, they rate similarly as shooters at a similar age. Melo was more confident in his 3 with a higher 3PA rate (which is an even bigger gap considering that 3PA rate is up 17.7% from Melo’s college season) and he went on to shoot 77.7% FT as an NBA rookie. Melo does get the edge as a shooter, but Paolo is not too far behind at the same age and it is plausible that he peaks as a similar caliber NBA shooter.
Defense is the area where Paolo has a clear opportunity to outshine Melo. Melo’s college steal and rebound rates indicate that he is physically capable of defense, but due to some combination of apathy and bad awareness he was a liability on defense in the NBA. Even if Paolo is a bit slower, being better defensively than Carmelo is a low bar to clear. If he becomes something like Carmelo with better D, that’s a great return on #1 overall.
Lamar Odom is the closest comp who is the same height as Paolo at 6’10 and not an explosive athlete. Odom has an even higher assist rate, but slightly worse assist:TOV. He has a longer wingspan than Paolo as well at 7’4 vs 7’0, but in spite of this Paolo had a slightly higher steal rate. Perhaps he can use his vision and instincts to be a versatile NBA defensive player like Odom.
What is further interesting about Odom is that he had a productive NBA career without developing his shooting with 31.2% 3P 69.3% FT for his career.
Tobias Harris is another low end outcome for Paolo, where he could end up falling a bit flat but still not be a productive NBA player.
Josh Jackson is not all that similar to Paolo, as his slight frame and busted shot for an old freshman 9 months older than Paolo made him somewhat weird. But he was athletic and overall productive, and is the best example of a top 5 wing with good college passing busting in the NBA.
How Big is Too Big?
Now we just compared Paolo’s game and numbers to a wide range of past guys, but somewhat glazed over how much bigger he is than any of them. Let’s do a quick comparison to see how he measures up:
This makes the Randle comparisons somewhat understandable, as that is the player that Paolo most closely resembles physically.
It seems that the disconnect between the numbers and perception is his thickness. And it makes some sense– most bulky guys are not particularly quick or good defensively in the NBA, so perhaps we should place a pessimistic skew on Paolo.
And perhaps we should. It would not be shocking if he did end up as a Randle type who offers a bit of everything on offense, but does not have the shooting or efficiency to overcome his defensive flaws and on net be an impact player.
But at the same time, should we give his beef too much attention? Carmelo Anthony offered a ton of offensive value, and Paolo is not all that much thicker than him. The extra 2+ inches of height should be helpful for seeing, passing, and shooting over the defense, so there is no reason to assume that Paolo cannot make a similar offensive impact.
Luka Doncic is a 6’7 230 Arnold Palmer guzzler, yet is on the verge of finishing top 6 in MVP voting for the third time in spite of having just turned 23 due to his monstrous offensive output.
Draymond Green measured 6’7.5 235 pounds at the combine and Metta World Peace was listed 6’6 244 in college at St. John’s. Both guys won NBA defensive player of the year. Paolo is not on their level defensively, but he does not need to be DPOY to justify #1– he merely needs to be adequate on this end.
Not many people fretted over fellow Blue Devil Zion Williamson’s girth when he went #1 overall, but at 6’7 285 he makes Paolo look anorexic. Of course Zion’s thickness (in tandem with questionable work ethic) seems to be his undoing, but he was productive when he was on the floor for the Pelicans.
Banchero may not be the most agile or explosive guy in the draft, but he is a decent enough athlete and may be getting wrongfully pigeonholed for his bigness given all of the perimeter production he has provided for Duke.
It’s incredibly rare for somebody of his size to offer this much perimeter output, so perhaps the first assumption should be that Paolo is a rare super sized wing prospect rather than a dime a dozen archaic PF.
Being big and strong is typically an advantage, so it seems wrong to treat it as a negative when a tanky 6’10 guy plays like a star wing.
How Does Paolo Compare Athletically?
Even though some of these comparisons are smaller, most of them are not notably more athletic. Almost all of the aforementioned comparisons fall under the “more fluid than explosive” type of athlete much like Paolo.
The most explosive guy was Grant Hill, and even with Hill it is not clear that his athleticism is his most scarce quality, as his passing for his size seems more outlier. And he needed to be more explosive than the rest of this group since he never developed a reliable 3 point shot.
But let’s humor the idea that Paolo’s size is a reason to place a slight pessimistic bias on his athleticism, and suppose that in terms of explosiveness, this is how the group rates among NBA wings in percentile terms:
Hill 85th percentile
Carmelo 60th percentile
Tatum 50th percentile
Paolo 40th percentile
But Paolo is 2″ taller and stronger. Is this really such a notable physical disadvantage such that these comparisons are nullified?
It is hard to see that as a reasonable argument. Paolo has 38 dunks so far this season. Most of these prospects played before dunk stats became available, but that is almost as many as Tatum (18) and Tobias Harris (21) had combined as NCAA freshmen.
An Unexpected Big Comp
If people are going to compare Paolo Banchero to bigs who he has little in common with such as Blake Griffin and Chris Webber, we may as well compare him to a big who he has a few things in common with in Nikola Jokic:
Adriatic League and ACC are not an apples to apples comparison, but they are close enough such that I am not sure which one is more difficult. Jokic was more efficient than Paolo, but Paolo is more athletic and played a bigger offensive role than Jokic.
This is not an apples to apples stylistic comparison either, as Jokic is 1″ taller, 3″ longer, and plays like a true center. But enough statistical parallels are there for this to be a friendly reminder to not sleep on elite passing teenage bigs with non-broken shots.
But the parallels are clear. The intersection of height and passing is a great indicator of sneaky upside, and Paolo got even more assists than the GOAT passing big while only being 1″ shorter and more athletic.
And even though Paolo is unlikely to match Jokic’s NBA shooting, sometimes guys make major shooting leaps from their 18/19 year old selves. Having a non-broken shot at that age gives you a chance of that happening, and when they come attached to elite playmaking ability it can yield massive draft wins.
While Paolo will not play the same defensive role as Jokic, who could have seen Jokic posting a season where he deserves DPOY consideration like he has this season? There is a significant correlation between height and defense as well as passing and defense, so guys who have both often overachieve. Paolo is not that much smaller than Jokic, and he is more athletic, so he has outs to be a great defensive player in his own rite.
While they are different stylistically, there are a number of parallels in statistical output of Jokic and Paolo. If nothing else Jokic serves as a friendly reminder to sleep on young, tall, elite passers with non-broken shots at your own peril.
What Does This Amount to in the NBA?
Like most prospects, Paolo’s NBA career will have swing based on how well his shooting and defense develop. Both are on the fence of potentially becoming good vs. being a long term liability.
He could be a sieve like Julius Randle or Carmelo Anthony, or he could be a perennially + defensive player like Lamar Odom or Luol Deng.
He could be a limited jump shooter like Odom or Randle, or he could be a good one like Nikola Jokic, Tobias Harris, or Carmelo Anthony.
What is clear is that he offers a rare level of creation ability for a player of his size between his scoring and passing. The intersection of height and passing is an upside indicator that goes often overlooked by most observers, and offers sneaky upside on both sides of the ball.
If his shooting and defense see favorable outcomes, he could be a hall of fame level superstar like Jayson Tatum, Grant Hill, or Carmelo Anthony.
If they hit middling outcomes, he will still likely be a quality player in the vein of Luol Deng, Lamar Odom, or Tobias Harris.
And if they hit low end outcomes, he could be a productive but not particularly coveted NBA player like Julius Randle. Perhaps in the absolute worst case outcome he could outright bust like Jabari Parker, but it seems very unlikely unless he has major off court issues.
If anything he seems more likely to become an MVP candidate at some point than bust like Jabari. Carmelo Anthony and Grant Hill both finished third in MVP voting once, and Jayson Tatum will likely finish top 5 in MVP voting at some point. Two of these guys even went to the same school as him, and all three of them went #3 overall which is incidentally where Paolo is projected to go this season.
So if 3 exciting comps exist vs 1 terrifying Jabari comp, why is everybody so much more worried about the latter?
What about all of the other busts in draft history?
It may seem like cherrypicking to focus on the good outcomes and dismiss the few bad ones. But let’s look at the biggest busts for tweener forwards taken in the top 3.
From 1985 to 2014 there were 7 such players who finished with < 20 career win shares and have pre-draft stats (Darius Miles is the exception who declared from high school). Let’s look at their assist:TOV ratio in their final pre-draft season:
Len Bias may be an unfair example since he died of a cocaine overdose and never played in the NBA. But this group includes some all time bad basketball IQ’s, and dying of a drug overdose suggests poor off court intelligence. Perhaps he would have busted in the NBA had he lived to have a normal career.
Further, if we look at the guys who had the lowest WS/48 among guys with 20+ win shares (basically the least efficient guys who produced enough to get regular minutes), they are past #1 overall picks Glenn Robinson (0.47 A:TO) and Andrew Wiggins (0.68)– both fairly significant mistakes to take with the top pick.
Having a bad assist to turnover ratio implies some combination of limited ball skills and limited basketball IQ that is almost a pre-requisite for a big, talented wing to flop. If we include #4 overall picks, we get Josh Jackson as an example of more assists than turnovers who busted, so it’s not a completely infallible mold. But he was also a worse prospect than Paolo due to his busted shot, thin frame, and old age for his class, which is why he did not go in the top 3.
Draft history is still a small sample, and anybody can bust if their development goes poorly enough. But there is not a bust comp that resonates as truly scary for Paolo at this time. Josh Jackson and Jabari Parker are the closest we can get, and he is clearly better than both based on pre-draft.
Where Does This Place Paolo in 2022?
Paolo is obviously a good prospect that belongs in the top 3, but Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith are also very talented. So how do we rank him within the scope of this year’s top 3?
The current narrative in ESPN’s latest mock is that Paolo has slipped to #3 because his defensive intensity and awareness is weaker than that of Jabari Smith and Chet Holmgren, who fit stronger two way molds.
But is it reasonable to rate Chet or Jabari as better offensive prospects than Paolo?
Jabari is obviously the better shooter, but he is limited outside of shooting. Notably, he is making 43.5% inside the arc, which is downright pathetic for a 6’10 prospect projected in the top 3. His main issue is that he struggles to create rim attempts, with just 65 of his 239 2PA (27.2%) coming at the rim. Banchero is known to take a high volume of mid-range attempts as well, but he balances this out by regularly getting to the rim where 194 of his 353 2PA (55%) have come. And even though Paolo has taken a far higher volume of rim attempts, he still converts more than Smith at 63.9% vs 61.5%.
People like to assume that Paolo is the worse athlete because he is thicker than Jabari, but in terms of performance, Jabari has shown the much bigger flags relative to lack of athletic pop. Paolo also dunks significantly more often with 38 vs 14 on the season.
Both guys have Jayson Tatum as a statistical comparison, but Paolo is the guy where it is easier to buy it as the superior athlete and creator. Smith is leaning heavily on his outside shooting to overcome his lack of first step and creation off the dribble, and the most realistic comps are 6’10 Klay Thompson, Rashard Lewis, Khris Middleton, Danny Granger, Brandon Ingram, and Harrison Barnes. But where is the top 10 fringe MVP candidate upside?
Michael Porter Jr. is a common comparison, as he shares Smith’s dimensions and elite shooting. If you trade MPJ’s interior scoring for Jabari’s better health and defense, they could be of similar value. But MPJ is still developing, who knows whether he justifies his max contract extension for Denver or not. Kevin Durant has 5″ more wingspan (7’5 vs 7’0) and is more athletic, and does not seem realistic or Smith. Dirk Nowitzki is 2″ taller and frankly may be more athletic than Smith as well.
Smith is 6 months younger than Banchero and could blaze his own trail to stardom, but offensive stardom is normally built around an elite creation package where the shooting catches up over time, not the converse. Paolo fits a more traditional NBA star mold, which is why it is so much easier to comp him to past greats.
Given that Paolo likely has an easier path to offensive greatness, it would require high confidence in Smith’s defensive superiority to value him higher. He moves his feet better on the perimeter and it makes sense to give him the edge, but he is not necessarily a stopper nor is Paolo a sieve. Defense is random and difficult to predict, and there does not seem to be a glaring discrepancy between the two defensively like there is in terms of offensive upside.
Smith has a great chance of being a fringe all-star who is useful in any NBA lineup, similar to Klay, Lewis, Middleton, and Granger. His bad outcomes may even be more useful than Paolo’s bad ones– it is difficult to see him being worse than Harrison Barnes, who fits a more useful role than Julius Randle.
But most of the value comes in that star upside, which is quite a bit easier to see in Paolo.
What About Chet?
As elite and productive Chet is statistically, it is impossible to come up with a realistic NBA comp for him because nobody has ever had his physical deficiencies besides Aleksej Pokusevski. Poku has made big strides this year and is rapidly trending toward replacement level player, but his longterm upside is still looking bleak.
Evan Mobley is similar statistically, but he is stronger, more athletic, and did not shrivel up and die offensively when he faced high level athleticism. How did Mobley slide to #3 last year when an emaciated version of himself is projected at #1 this year?
It is ridiculous to fret over Paolo being slightly too thick when plenty of thick players have thrived in all different NBA roles, when relatively Chet is far more skinny than anybody who has had significant pro success, with underwhelming athleticism to boot.
Chet is still a great player and should be valued highly as a prospect since there has never been anybody this good with his flaws to compare to. But it is difficult to see how he should be picked over the guys who are similarly talented and fit more proven NBA molds.
This is an excellent top 3, and one of the most difficult decisions to be made at #1 possibly in draft history. But if we are going to filter it down by who can be compared to the highest tier of past NBA players, we are left with a clear pecking order of:
And this is how I would rank the top of the 2022 NBA draft.