With the 1st pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, the Orlando Magic shocked the media and fans by selecting Paolo Banchero over the projected number one pick leading up to that point, Jabari Smith. Banchero had a fantastic freshman season with the Duke Blue Devils capped off with an excellent March Madness run, but he was projected to be taken behind both Smith and Chet Holmgren. However, the Magic were able to smokescreen their selection and take Banchero and he is now going to serve as one of their many franchise pieces.
Banchero was selected number one because of his three-level scoring at 6’10. He’s a footwork tactician with incredible movement skills for someone of his size and stature. His advantage creation was remarkable and his ability to generate paint touches at a high level was on full display during his freshman season. Nobody was able to match his combination of strength and size while also being as horizontally explosive as he was. His strength based creation along with his footwork fueled his offensive production:
The physical tools and surprising craft from someone this large and powerful is unheard of. Despite the massive disparity in physical gifts, it was the poise and control Banchero played with that really stood out. His driving process was tremendous, as he was methodical and patient, searching for lanes and using craft and deception instead of barreling his way to the basket every time.
The shot-making flashes stood out as well. The advantage creation and ability to pressure the rim made him a highly touted prospect, but it was the scoring arsenal he displayed that made him a contender for the #1 pick. 6’10 player rarely can whip-out hard fakes into fadeaway mid-range shots and rocker steps into a pull-up.
The mid-range game really popped for Banchero last year. The three-point shooting was streaky all season but the ability to punish defenses even when he couldn’t quite get all the way to the rim made him borderline unguardable. How do you game plan for a 6’10 fluid athlete who’s built like a tank and can hit jumpers from anywhere inside thirty feet? The answer is that you can’t; you just have to hope he misses.
However, scoring won’t be why he takes home the Rookie of the Year award. The scoring production will be highly impressive, and the flashes will be absurd, but it won’t be the true separator. The reason why Banchero will win it is because he is the only top pick who combines NBA ready scoring along with playmaking contributions. Keegan Murray and Jabari Smith, the 3rd and 4th picks respectively, will likely score a lot early on. Both of them are terrific shooters and off-ball scorers with pull-up equity. However, neither of them have the ball-handling nor passing repertoire to run an offense. Banchero likely won’t be able to perform that role consistently right away either, but he’s much more capable than the other two. Not to mention, he will flash and have nights where he is able to put it all together, but it will likely take a few years for him to do it on a nightly basis.
The main thing that sticks out with Banchero’s passing is his ability to make interior reads. Using the threat of his drive, he leverages his size and lightning-quick processing to zip passes inside to bigs to generate easy baskets at the rim. Duke sophomore Mark Williams, the 15th pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, had multiple easy baskets underneath because of Banchero’s ability too quickly deliver passes through tight, contested windows. It takes a certain level of processing and awareness to make reads like this:
Still living for the Paolo passing flashes pic.twitter.com/1xKc7yfT01
— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) February 24, 2022
Banchero’s complexity in his deliveries as well makes him so unpredictable as a driver. He can shovel passes quickly through the gaps between defenders, hit passes over the top using his size, or throw lob passes for monster dunks. Interior passing is the most valuable form of passing because it creates the easiest looks for offensive players. There’s a ton of value to being a great kick out passer and finding shooters, but it will never be more valuable than being able to find someone on the block for a dunk or layup. Banchero is a masterful passer and decision-maker who will thrive surrounded by high IQ players in Orlando
The offensive upside with Banchero is truly sky-high. His combination of advantage creation through his incredible movement skills and physical tools with his three-level shot making is something we don’t see often. He’ll likely be given freedom to grow, learn, and make mistakes all season long. Jamahl Mosley did wonders for the development of Franz Wagner last season, and Banchero fills a similar archetype as a jumbo creating wing. Banchero and Wagner should be one of the most fun young duos to watch in the NBA next season.
So what truly makes Banchero the runaway rookie of the year favorite? Simply put, it’s the fact that he’s the only top prospect from the draft who combines great scoring with playmaking mixed in. He’ll be tasked with ball-handling responsibilities from the minute he steps on the court, and he’ll have the usage to put up big time numbers. He also won’t be bad defensively and could showcase his secondary rim protection tools next to Wendell Carter Jr. on the team. Paolo Banchero will bring home the NBA Rookie of the Year award in the 2022-23 NBA season and began his journey towards NBA superstardom.