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

Banchero earned ACC Freshman of the Year and second-team All-American status this season.
Banchero earned ACC Freshman of the Year and second-team All-American status this season.

With Duke’s season officially in the books, the Blue Zone breaks down each player's season, including comparisons to their preseason projections. We previously looked at Jaylen Blakes, Bates Jones, Joey Baker, Theo John, Trevor Keels, AJ Griffin, Jeremy Roach, Mark Williams and Wendell Moore Jr. Last but not least is Paolo Banchero:

Paolo Banchero

  • Year: Freshman
  • Height: 6-foot-10
  • Position: Forward
  • This year’s stat line: 17.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 3.2 APG, 33.0 MPG
  • The Blue Zone’s projected stat line: 17.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.1 APG, 27.0 MPG

Season breakdown: In the two seasons preceding this one, Duke lacked the type of surefire top-three NBA Draft pick that’s become a mainstay in Durham throughout the one-and-done era. But this year, the Blue Devils—along with the season as a whole—returned to normalcy. Paolo Banchero walked onto campus last summer as a projected top-three selection, and that’s exactly how he’ll be leaving it after a highly successful freshman campaign (as of writing, he hasn’t yet declared for the NBA Draft, but that should surely change soon).

Banchero led Duke in both scoring and rebounding and placed second in assists while shooting 47.8% from the floor, 33.8% from downtown and 72.9% from the line. Although numbers never tell the full story, they do a pretty good job of telling Banchero’s this season—he served as the Blue Devils’ most reliable bucket-getter, an essential rebounder when Mark Williams was forced to contest, an underrated facilitator and an inconsistent shooter from deep. All in all, he garnered first-team All-ACC, consensus second-team All-American and ACC Rookie of the Year honors and will undoubtedly go down (especially following his fantastic NCAA tournament) as one of the top five one-and-dones in Duke history.

Despite his impressive numbers and notable impact, it still felt like Banchero flew under the radar at times. Perhaps it’s because he got his points in less flashy ways than previous one-and-done superstars, à la Zion Williamson. Another potential reason could be the countless double-teams from opposing defenses, forcing Banchero to utilize an even less flashy part of his talented arsenal: court vision. He seemingly disappeared at times, however, scoring in single digits in both of the Blue Devils’ games against Virginia and not attempting a field goal for the majority of the second half in Duke’s loss at Florida State.

But when Banchero was on, he was on. We saw it in the first half against Gonzaga in Las Vegas, when he rained threes and notched 20 points over the first 20 minutes. We saw it down the stretch in that game in Tallahassee, Fla., when Banchero took matters into his own hands and scored or assisted on every Duke field goal over the final five minutes of regulation to force overtime. Those examples are why several NBA teams have eyed him as their next face of the franchise.

Results relative to expectations: Before the season started, there were many that saw Banchero as a true National Player of the Year candidate. It’s safe to say he didn’t reach those expectations. Yes, he was a consensus second-team All-American, but he fell out of the National Player of the Year race by the beginning of ACC play, and there was definitely a healthy gap between Banchero and the five first-team All-Americans. However, first-team All-America status and National Player of the Year contention is a pretty unfair expectation of anyone, yet alone an 18-year-old freshman. The Blue Zone’s projected stat line had more reasonable expectations for Duke’s top recruit, and given those expectations Banchero didn’t disappoint.

No, Banchero didn’t consistently dominate the opposition like Williamson, nor did he become the same kind of human highlight reel. But he was an All-American, the best player on Duke’s first Final Four team since 2015 and a near-lock to be a top-three pick in this year’s NBA Draft. He’ll be remembered fondly in Durham.


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