Updated: Dec 2, 2021
In the latest edition of ‘P.I. Pulse’, Pro Insight’s Tyler Glazier provides analysis following one of the biggest college basketball regular season matchups in recent memory, as he was on the ground in Las Vegas to witness Duke’s victory over Gonzaga. He recaps the game, debates Paolo vs. Chet for the number-one pick in June, and highlights other projected future pros who caught his eye.
Rarely does such a highly-anticipated heavyweight battle live up to the hype as much as top ranked Gonzaga vs. Duke did in Vegas, last week. Between coaching legends facing off, two passionate fanbases, and numerous NBA prospects on the floor, T-Mobile Arena was the place to be on Black Friday. In an intense battle from the jump, Duke came out as the aggressor behind strong first half performances by potential number-one pick Paolo Banchero and sophomore Mark Williams. Both were sensational at controlling both ends of the floor and kept Gonzaga on their toes, early. However, Gonzaga did an excellent job staying composed while dealing with foul trouble, weathering micro-storms, and keeping the scoreboard relatively even heading into the break.
In the second half, with the personal-foul-to-minutes ratio more in check, the Zags were ready to go on the attack and throw a few punches of their own. And with Banchero struggling with cramping issues in both legs, the Zags slowly shifted momentum in their favor and started to inch closer to victory, up by five points with a few minutes remaining. While Chet Holmgren and Drew Timme were excellent, it was the hot shooting of Julian Strawther that was the x-factor for what seemed to be a signature win in the making for Coach Few. But Wendell Moore, Jr., Mark Williams, and Trevor Keels had other plans, as they shouldered the scoring, facilitating, initiating, and defensive load to help Duke reclaim the lead down the stretch en route to a hard-fought 84-81 victory. With a total of eight lead changes in the second half alone, it was Duke who walked away with the win in what could be a 2022 Final Four preview.
The Case for Number-One: Paolo vs. Chet
Duke | 6’10” | 250 | Forward | Freshman | 19.1 years old
Few freshman prospects are as physically gifted or all-around talented when it comes to Banchero’s immediate impact potential at the NBA level, and in a much-anticipated matchup between two of the top draft candidates in college basketball, it was Banchero who came out swinging. Known for showing up in big games, Banchero was an absolute handful for the Bulldogs and showed off the full arsenal by knocking down off-the-dribble pull-ups, transition threes, finishing on drives to the basket, and acting as a bully inside, en route to dropping 20 points on 8-13 shooting in the first half, alone. Pair that with his hard hat mentality and what he showed as an on-ball creator, facilitator, and smart decision-maker throughout the game and it soon became more difficult to pin down what Banchero couldn’t do rather than what he could. Even as one of the top prospects coming out of high school, the speed at which Banchero continues to evolve, specifically as a mature creator and consistent shot maker, has been enthralling to watch eight games into his Duke career. While he’s always been adept with the ball in his hands, the jump in how and when he chooses to attack off the bounce has noticeably improved over the past six months as he doesn’t find himself stuck or forcing the issue in this area as often as in the past. In addition to his on-ball improvements, Banchero has also expanded his shooting arsenal, becoming more consistent from range throughout COVID. Not always properly respected as a three-point shooter, Banchero used a large portion of his senior season as a training ground to iron out kinks, add new ways to create space, and expand his range — and although he’s still in the “prove it” phase, the early signs of legitimacy are encouraging for his long term projection as a versatile shot maker.
In Vegas, we were robbed of a potentially historic performance as Banchero finished with 21 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists on 8-17 shooting after sitting out much of the second half due to leg cramps. However, final stats aside, Banchero emphatically showed a packed house of NBA evaluators why he’s fully capable of being a franchise cornerstone who could electro-shock a struggling team back into relevancy early in his pro career and is worthy to hear his name called first in the 2022 draft.
Gonzaga | 7’0” | 195 | Center | Freshman | 19.6
While Duke freshman Paolo Banchero stole the show early, it was a tale of two halves for each highly-touted prospect, as Holmgren finished strong down the stretch, resulting in an efficient 16-point, 7-rebound, 3-block performance on 8-13 shooting. Not many seven-footers have the natural coordination to handle the ball in the open court while being pressured by guards, take it to the chest of larger bigs inside, have the versatility to pop or attack in pick-and-roll, switch everything defensively, or put an absolute lid on the rim, all of which when infused inside of a single prospect, make him a bonafide game-changer. Enter Chet Holmgren — a lanky prospect who has all of the abilities above in addition to a gritty never-back-down mentality. While his approach, style, and skillset differs significantly to his matchup counterpart, both share a toughness gene which raises the sharpness and competitive floor of their respective teams. While Holmgren has always been off-the-charts in terms of skill level, the battle vs. Duke was another reminder that a player of his caliber is constantly expanding his repertoire and how the great ones always find a way. The match-up was billed as “Paolo vs. Chet,” but Duke sophomore big Mark Williams wound up squaring off with Holmgren for a substantial chunk of the game. Not unlike Holmgren, Williams is a mobile seven-footer who uses all of his insane wingspan to make life difficult for opponents. While Williams was brilliant all night and forced Holmgren into some tough initial looks, it was encouraging to see The Minnehaha Academy product counter by generating space as if he weighed 30 pounds more than he does and easing into Nowitzki-esque mid-post fade-aways, a move that he has clearly honed over recent years. Aside from flashing his on-ball ability and shooting touch, Holmgren was especially impressive in his timely slashing ability, feel for the game, and unwavering approach in a pressure-filled environment. While some may point to his lack of early season scoring numbers, Chet is currently averaging an insanely efficient 13.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 3.5 blocks on 7.8 field goal attempts/game while shooting 71.0% from the floor, which not only suggests his ability to be a star in his role, but also hints to his scoring upside with increased volume.
In today’s NBA, where the pairing of size and skill is becoming all the more coveted, Holmgren has the tools to be a unicorn-type of prospect who could warp the floor on both ends. While he might not be the most outwardly flashy player, his efficient play and two-way ability bode well for him being the most impactful prospect from this class when it’s all said and done, which merits serious consideration for the top overall pick in June.
Additional Draft Prospects
Duke | 7’1” | 242 | Center | Sophomore | 20.0
Aside from Paolo and Chet, Duke sophomore big man Mark Williams was the next most impressive prospect on the court. After showing flashes of his potential toward the end of his freshman campaign, Williams has carried that momentum into this season. Standing at 7’1” with a 242-pound frame and a reported 7’7” wingspan, he immediately pops on the court as a potential projected difference-maker at the NBA level. While Paolo set the tone early, Duke doesn’t come close to winning without Williams roaming the paint inside. In front of all 30 NBA teams, he showed everything you’d want from someone gifted with his tools as he effectively ran the floor, gobbled up rebounds, protected the paint, switched defensively, set big screens, finished inside, and kept the game simple. With a final stat-line of 17 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks, and 2 steals on 8-9 shooting, Williams was a two-way force who significantly boosted his draft stock while helping lead Duke to a victory.
Wendell Moore, Jr.
Duke | 6’5” | 213 | Wing | Junior | 20.2
After only showing glimpses of his smooth athleticism and three-level scoring upside over the past two years, Moore, Jr. had struggled to string anything productive together through his sophomore year and seemed to be fading as a legitimate NBA prospect. However, after dedicating himself to improving athletically, physically, and mentally during the off-season, Moore, Jr. appears to have rounded a corner this season in terms of his leadership, confidence, assertiveness, and consistency. As potential is now shifting to tangible production, Moore, Jr. was a total force for Duke in Vegas and showed evaluators what he can do as a secondary creator, creative finisher, knockdown shooter, and positional defender. With season averages of 17.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 1.8 steals on 68.8/32.4/70.0 shooting splits, Moore has shown an uptick in every major category so far this season. His 20-point performance against Gonzaga marked his third straight game with 20 points or more, a feat that was never accomplished his first few seasons and already matches his total of 20+ point outings from last season. At this rate, look for his name to continue to rise up boards as we inch our way closer to the draft.
Duke | 6’5” | 221 | Guard | Freshman | 18.3
After putting the world on notice with an impressive season-opening performance at MSG, Keels has since firmly established himself as a dynamic go-to option and legitimate first round prospect early on in his Duke career. An immensely important piece for the Blue Devils, Keels does an excellent job wrecking havoc as the primary initiator/facilitator and, aside from Banchero and Moore, Jr., he was the straw that stirred the drink offensively vs. Gonzaga. Packaged with a thick NBA-ready frame, a high motor, quickness/burst athletically, and advanced perimeter skills, Keels can be a tough opponent to slow down when he has the ball in his hands. Although he had a rough shooting night in Sin City going 2-11 from the field on his way to 6 points, it was his ability to find other ways to impact the game through his playmaking and overall activity that was crucial to Duke sealing a victory. While Keels still has room to grow in terms of his efficiency, the blend of tools, mental toughness, two-way ability, and budding skill-set bode well for his current draft stock and impact potential at the NBA level. If he enters his name, for it to be called sooner rather than later come June.
Gonzaga | 6’7” | 205 | Wing | Sophomore | 19.6
After playing his way into the rotation his freshman season and learning behind the likes of Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi, and Jalen Suggs, Strawther has now earned a starting role and seems poised to take a major leap as a sophomore. A combination of positional size, functional athleticism, secondary creating, knockdown shooting, and a competitive mindset, Strawther is perhaps Gonzaga’s most important perimeter weapon and will be a pivotal piece for their title run odds, moving forward. And in a highly-touted game against Duke, Stawther hit a number of timely shots to not only keep the Zags upright when things got slow, but also to extend the lead during the final minutes of the game. While it remains to be seen if Strawther will opt to enter the draft this spring, his 20-point, 10-rebound performance on college basketball's biggest stage to date was certainly an eye-opener for the evaluators across the league.
Gonzaga | 6’5” | 193 | Guard | Senior | 21.9
Coming off a strong 24-point, 6-assist and 3-steal performance against the #2-ranked UCLA earlier in the week, evaluators were anxious to see if lightning could strike twice for Canadian native Andrew Nembhard against fifth-ranked Duke. While the senior point guard was productive in his own right dropping 11 assists and grabbing 8 rebounds, he was invisible for stretches and struggled to get much going offensively when Gonzaga could’ve used an additional scoring spark. With that being said, Nembhard did impress with under-control pace and advanced court vision, as well as with his ability to generate space on his way to the basket. The crafty guard may lack star upside, but his blend of IQ, physical tools, playmaking, and slowly improving scoring ability could allow him to carve out a niche as a reliable backup NBA lead guard for years to come. Look for him to continue being a key piece for the Zags and they look to capture their first NCAA championship.
Gonzaga | 6’10” | 235 | Forward | Junior | 21.2
The lone unanimous selection on the AP preseason All-America team and one of the most productive, efficient players in college basketball, Timme has been the ultimate bell-cow for the Bulldogs in each of his two seasons with the program. And with early season averages of 17.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.4 assists with a TS% of 65.1, Timme is picking up exactly where he left off last season where he put up averages of 19.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 2.3 assists on a TS% of 67.6. In a difficult test against the long, athletic, and defensive-minded Mark Williams, Timme remained effective on his way to 17 points on 7-13 shooting. While Timme isn’t necessarily a mouthwatering prospect in terms of upside, he’s someone who puts a coach or executive’s mind at ease due to his leadership, productivity and consistency. While his draft outcome is uncertain, it’s not about making it to the NBA, it’s about staying in the NBA, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Timme stick on a roster not because of his tools, but due to his traits.
Gonzaga | 6’5” | 175 | Guard | Freshman | 18.7
A five-star prospect coming out of high school from Omaha, Nebraska, Sallis is a dynamic two-way combo guard who has all the makings of a potential first-round pick down the road. While he’s currently trying to make the most of his limited opportunities on the floor, keep an eye on Sallis to have his “star” moments throughout the season as he continues to develop.
Gonzaga | 6’2” | 185 | Guard | Freshman | 18.6
A polished lead guard, Hickman had originally committed to Kentucky before opting to stay closer to home and become a Gonzaga Bulldog. After a stellar senior campaign at nationally-ranked Wasatch Academy (UT), Hickman appeared to be one of the more “college-ready” guards in his class due to his natural feel for the game, positional tools, shot making ability, shifty creating, and mature demeanor. While he likely would’ve been a starter at a number of other programs around the country, not unlike fellow freshman teammate Hunter Sallis, Hickman is making the most of his opportunities while learning from senior guard Andrew Nembhard. Although it’s unlikely he enters the draft after this season, look for Hickman to continue earning more minutes throughout the year as he’s groomed to become more of a featured prospect, next season.
Duke | 6’6” | 222 | Wing | Freshman | 18.3
Still recovering from a sprained knee suffered in practice before the season kicked off, Griffin is slowly being eased into his Duke career as he only played a total of six minutes and posted a single shot attempt against Gonzaga. Gifted with an NBA-ready frame, functional athleticism, and soft touch as a shooter, Griffin has many of the prerequisites to be a productive 3-and-D wing at the next level and is still learning how good he can be. Regardless of how the rest of this season plays out, due to his upside, he’ll be a hard prospect to leave on the board for too long if he opts to enter the draft.