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Duke men's basketball 2021-22 player preview: Paolo Banchero

Banchero (left) will likely be the centerpiece of this year's Duke men's basketball roster.
Banchero (left) will likely be the centerpiece of this year's Duke men's basketball roster.

As November nears, it is becoming apparent that basketball season is on the horizon. That means that it is time for our player previews of every member of Duke men's basketball. Next up is freshman forward Paolo Banchero. Read the previous previews here: Stanley Borden, Spencer Hubbard, Keenan Worthington, Michael Savarino, Bates Jones, Jaylen Blakes, Theo John, AJ Griffin, Joey Baker, Trevor Keels, Jeremy Roach, Wendell Moore and Mark Williams. 

Paolo Banchero

Year: Freshman

Height: 6-foot-10

Position: Forward

Last year’s statline: N/A

Game breakdown: Paolo Banchero, a projected top NBA draft pick, brings incredible value to the Blue Devils. He is an imposing, 250-pound power forward with the versatility of a wing and the interior dominance of a center, and he has the physical tools and intangibles that could be the marks of a future superstar.

His junior year of high school, his last season playing for O’Dea High School, the No. 3 overall recruit for the Class of 2021 averaged 22.6 points, 11 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.6 blocks per game and was named the Washington Boys Basketball Gatorade Player of the Year. Before that, he led his team to back-to-back state championships his freshman and sophomore seasons, and in early 2021 he was named to the McDonald’s All-America team.

Before his inevitable departure to the league, the spoils of Banchero’s talents are at Duke’s disposal. He is an extremely athletic big with elite explosiveness that sets him apart from his peers. He’s a high-speed train in transition and has the size and strength to be a bully down low, and his NBA-ready frame paired with his high basketball IQ are why he has proven to be an exceptional rebounder. Additionally, his speed relative to his size means he’s positioned to be one of the nation’s most versatile defenders, truly capable of guarding every position on the court, and such quickness and solid ball handling allow him to play at the top of the key and take players off the dribble if necessary. A capable shooter and a threat from long distance, Banchero will also be a force offensively, especially if he continues polishing a post game that’s already coming along nicely.

Role on the team: Although Duke looks to have a well-rounded roster this season, Banchero will likely be the focal point. A big year by the Preseason ACC Player of the year and Karl Malone Award hopeful would almost guarantee a bright season for the Blue Devils.

Banchero is naturally a power forward, but his intimidating size, especially at the collegiate level, means he could even thrive at center. Right now, he’s expected to start games in the frontcourt alongside 7-foot center Mark Williams, however there could be instances when he is at the five among a small-ball lineup. Banchero has already proven to be comfortable spending extended periods of time at the low post, and, whenever he does stretch out to the perimeter, he is capable of serving as a point forward or point center in specific play designs.

NBA comparison: Blake Griffin—when he was on the Detroit Pistons and more skill-oriented—is a great point of comparison for Banchero’s unique playing style. Griffin wasn’t nearly the rebounder or defender that Banchero is, but he shared his guard skills and shooting touch. If we go further back, we may find an even better comparison in Hall of Famer Chris Webber. Webber, like Banchero, was an incredible rebounder for his position, averaging nearly 10 over his career. He also displayed similar defensive capabilities, consistently averaging around or above 1.5 in both steals and blocks during his prime.

Projected stats: 17.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.1 APG and 27.0 MPG 

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