The Duke star and potential number-one pick doesn’t get enough credit for his play on the defensive end, and while it remains a work in progress, Paolo Banchero flashes some high-level ability. This is the first of five mini articles that will focus on the top big men in the 2022 NBA Draft and their ability to defend, notably with unique tracking data geared toward exactly how they accrued their blocked shots during this past season and what we can learn from them.
In the latest edition of ‘P.I. Pulse’, Pro Insight contributor Bjorn Zetterberg kicks off ‘Data Tracking,’ a new series which will explore some of the nitty-gritty nuances surrounding different groups of 2022 NBA Draft prospects, beginning with Paolo Banchero:
We’re entering the time of year where ‘potential,’ ‘upside,’ and ‘high ceiling’ headline the allure of the NBA draft. The players who have untapped ability and talent that can be molded into superstar caliber play on a pro floor become all the rage because of their seemingly unlimited room for growth. These are the guys who may not be able to shoot yet, aren’t quite aggressive (or even assertive), don’t look to pass or create for others, or are reluctant to show aspects of their game that scouts suspect may be there in a more open floor, up-tempo style of play.
Then there are the players like Paolo Banchero, a polished, intelligent and versatile modern NBA big with healthy margin for development, coupled with a high floor of NBA readiness. Banchero doesn’t have the same perceived tantalizing length or over-the-top explosive athleticism as some of his peers in the upper tier of this draft, but one would be mistaken to discount the invaluable assortment of traits he brings to the table as a projected two-way impact player. A lot of the question marks raised for Banchero as a top prospect come from the defensive end, so let's delve into exactly what he does there and how it projects moving forward.
At 6’10” and 250 pounds, Banchero has a strong, dense frame that is nearly immovable around the rim. If the reported physical info for Paolo is true, that’s already a 94th percentile weight in the NBA (via NBA.com Advanced Stats, PB would be tied for 39th/605 players), so he’s going to have no issues holding his ground and anchoring in the post physically against most. It’s likely he will try to lean out his frame over time to adapt to a greater load of games and ultimately extend his career, but the majority of that strength should remain. Looking at the tracking data I collected from watching all 39 of his blocked shots at Duke, he got over two-thirds of his blocks playing at the point of attack, (a very high rate). Of those 23 on-ball blocked shots he generated, six of them came with mid-air contact, and he was solidly unmoved by those collisions from the opposition.
Help defense isn’t currently Banchero’s strong suit, but as the above video demonstrates, he has shown instincts for tagging over from the weak side to the roll man and rotating out to the perimeter. He likes to swing on his block attempts at the rim, and while he doesn’t strike like thunder (and he might not be a fan of that statement altogether), he tends to go up off two feet like most shot blockers in this study series. He is a very right-handed shot blocker, registering around 80-percent of his rejections with his right hand raised, tied for the highest rate of right-handed blocks in the group that we had tracked data for (the others being Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith, Jalen Duren, and Mark Williams). He showed the ability to contest vertically at the rim on a quarter of his paint shots challenged (7 of 28), a median rate. Fouling is not something Paolo struggled with at Duke, but he can potentially be an unabashed contributing shot-changer at the rim in some cases as he refines his vertical technique, which he’s already shown a competency with while grounded and in the air.
The part about Paolo’s defense that was a surprise when going back to dissect film was his perimeter defensive competency in one-on-one situations to challenge shots from mid and three-point range. Approximately one out of every five blocks Paolo garnered came from defending the perimeter, by far the highest of the top big prospects in this draft. For perspective on his proclivity with this, despite recording a fraction of the blocked shots that Chet Holmgren and Mark Williams did, Paolo actually registered as many or more total perimeter blocks than each of them.
PB shows good ability to contest shots outside, as the anticipation, instincts and hand positioning for when the shooter is going up are all there. Banchero is going to be challenged on switches and forced to answer the call on the perimeter, something he can sneakily respond with when taken to task. He’s not an elite lateral mover for a big at the NBA level, but competent and agile enough to survive on an island if he locks in. It’s off-the-ball D where he can play a step slow or be a no-show on rotations, or fail to recover back to his man in pick-and-roll coverage. Perhaps his biggest sin though is playing with his hands down in the proximity of the shot going up.
These instances are infrequent and correctable with coaching, experience, and effort, areas Banchero is more than capable of picking up. He has blemishes defensively, but there’s no reason to think that, like most big men, he can’t get where he needs to be as a big defender with multiple seasons of experience. In time, he should be a fine individual and team defensive contributor, but he will take his lumps first. I came away encouraged with Paolo’s prospects as an NBA defender, he just doesn’t get much credit on that end with it being overshadowed by his potent offensive arsenal. It’s easy to knock the mistakes and discount him because of those shortcomings relative to his peers, but would point to the vertical contest upside, strength through contact, and perimeter contest acuity as a big man to offer optimism as a defender.
Bjorn has worked in the NBA for about a decade as an associate analyst with the Orlando Magic, Video Analyst Manager for the Portland Trail Blazers and Advance Scout for the Idaho Stampede. You can follow him on twitter @bjornzetterberg and reach him by email at email@example.com.