With 2:05 left in the second half of a close matchup, Paolo Banchero received the ball in the corner with one man to beat. The Duke forward drove to the rim against Michigan State’s Joey Hauser and scored a tough bucket through contact, giving the Blue Devils a 75-74 lead.

On MSU’s ensuing possession, the ball found its way to Hauser who drove to the basket himself. Banchero timed his feet in pursuit and blocked Hauser’s shot at the rim.

Banchero’s back-to-back clutch plays swung the momentum entirely Duke’s way. The Blue Devils held onto their lead the rest of the way, and their defense held MSU to only two points in the final two minutes of the game.

Duke’s 85-76 victory over Michigan State sent them on to the third round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, giving Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski a win in his final game against MSU. Banchero’s 19 points led all Duke scorers. The Freshman also tallied seven rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes.

This season, Banchero is averaging 17 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. He is shooting 47.5 percent from the floor and 31.3 percent on three-pointers. the 19-year-old is one of the most versatile offensive players in the 2022 draft. He can put the ball on the floor, he can play in the paint, he can play along the perimeter and he has great court vision. Banchero is one of the three big men headlining the 2022 NBA Draft, alongside Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Auburn’s Jabari Smith. The 19-year-old is one of the most exciting prospects, and he flashed his wide skillset in Duke’s victory against the Spartans.

Banchero did it all against the MSU

The opening nine minutes of the first half were slow for Banchero. The freshman managed two points and a single assist on three attempts from the floor to open up the game. At the 10:44 mark, Banchero started to heat up. He knocked down a mid-range jumper from the top of the key. Banchero made two dump-off passes that led to easy Duke buckets, and the 19-year-old later drilled back-to-back three-pointers. He finished the first half with 10 points, five rebounds and three assists.

If Banchero showed off his passing and shooting in the first half, the second half was all about his driving ability. Banchero made his way to the basket through burst and physicality. At the 19:11 mark of the second half, Banchero had a one-on-one in transition against Hauser. He put the ball on the floor and bodied his way to the basket forcing a foul and finishing at the rim. Four minutes later, the freshman took Malik Hall off the dribble at the top of the three-point line. He sped past Hall in a cut to the rim and forced an and-one foul.

With the Detroit Pistons in prime lottery position to land a top five pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, Banchero is sure to be a prospect the front office is keeping a close eye on. He was named to the All-ACC First Team as the leading scorer and rebounder for the Blue Devils.

Just as I did for Jaden Ivey in MSU’s matchup against Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament, I spent the entirety of the MSU vs Duke game with my eyes locked on Banchero.

Banchero could be a three-level scorer in the NBA

Banchero combines a solid 6-10, 250-pound frame with great athletic ability. On drives, the 19-year-old can use finesse to get past one man then use his strength to play bully-ball through another. This versatility showed through against MSU’s big men. Against Hauser and Hall, Banchero was able to impose his physicality to get to the basket. Against Marcus Bingham Jr, the freshman utilized agility to get open space, including a spinoff of a post-up around the five-minute mark of the second half.

While it was not on full display against the Spartans, Banchero has an excellent mid-range game. The 19-year-old does a good job of finding his spots on the court and creating space.

Three-point shooting is a major area of improvement for Banchero. Against MSU, he sank two of his five attempts from beyond the arc. Both attempts came off catch-and-shoot opportunities. The big man has a fluid jump-shot, but he is inconsistent. Against Syracuse in late February, Banchero shot four-for-seven from beyond the arc. He followed it up by sinking all three of his three-pointers against Pittsburgh. He then only managed to sink one of his 11 three-point attempts over the following four games.

If Banchero can become more consistent with his three-point shot, he could be a deadly three-level scorer in the NBA. But the 19-year-old’s impact on the offensive end of the court goes beyond his scoring ability.

Banchero creates plays on and off the ball

Duke University forward Paolo Banchero (5) blocks the shot of Michigan State University forward Joey Hauser (10) with less than two minutes in the second half of the NCAA Div. 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament preliminary round game at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C. Sunday, March 20, 2022.

Banchero is underrated as a playmaker for Duke. Multiple times against the Spartans, the 19-year-old made great reads out of double-teams. With 9:07 to go in the first half, Banchero drew two Michigan State defenders on a drive, he quickly pulled off and identified Mark Williams on the baseline. He delivered the ball for an easy dunk. In transition, Banchero found Wendell Moore Jr with a cross-court pass that led to an MSU shooting foul.

The 19-year-old is not without his mistakes as a playmaker. Banchero finished the game with five turnovers, he averages 2.4 per game. Two of those turnovers came when the freshman bailed late out of a shot. He ended up sending the ball out of bounds with no teammates nearby.

Off-ball, Banchero is in perpetual motion. On a single Duke possession, the big man will set multiple off-ball screens and set a pick-and-roll/pop for the ball-handler. The constant motion and screens help make Duke’s offense run smoothly. Screening off-ball gets his teammates open and keeps the ball moving. He ends up creating opportunities for multiple teammates on the same possession.

Defense leaves a lot to be desired

Untapped potential is what comes to mind when considering Banchero’s defense. Besides his block against Hauser, the big man was silent on the defensive end. He did not want to tread too far from the paint against MSU. On multiple occasions, Banchero called for a switch when his mark ventured out to the three-point line. He is not a rim protector, and Duke did their best to simply hide him on the defensive end of the court.

Banchero’s size and athleticism all indicate he has the potential to be at the very least a neutral defender in the NBA. He lacks top-end lateral quickness, but he has the agility and strength to stick around with other big men. Guards on the other hand, not so much.

Ultimately it is a lack of engagement that makes Banchero a poor defender. His block on Hauser shows what he can do when he is locked in, but it will take the right coach to unlock Banchero’s potential on the defensive end. It starts by getting him to care.

Banchero’s fit in Detroit

If the Pistons draft Banchero, it likely means that Jerami Grant will be on his way out the door this offseason. Both players play the same position, and with Grant entering the final year of his contract, it would be the perfect opportunity for the Pistons to maximize his trade value and establish an even younger core.

Banchero would be an incredible fit alongside Cade Cunningham and Saddiq Bey. He would not be a rim-running lob threat, but he would be a really good off-ball scorer who can create for himself as well. He is solid in the catch-and-shoot, and a more consistent three-point shot would make him very dangerous. On-ball, his versatility as a scorer should translate well to the NBA. He can finish with both power and finesse.

The 19-year-old is going to force the defense into double teams. When he drives to the basket and the defense collapses, he is willing to pass up a decent look for a better one. At the very least, he will keep the ball moving at all times. At his best moments, he will find open shooters and cutters when he draws multiple defenders.

Banchero is the prototypical build of a modern four in today’s NBA. He is versatile enough to play in the paint and along the perimeter, and he has the ball skills to put the ball on the floor and create for himself. In Detroit, he would form a young trio with Cunningham and Bey. With a top-five pick in the draft, Banchero is definitely in play for the Pistons.

(Featured Image Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)

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