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Peace, Love and Thunderstanding: The Case for Paolo Banchero

Previously, I stated my hope that the Thunder select Chet Holmgren with the second pick of the 2022 NBA draft. That is not necessarily a popular opinion. For instance, check the comment section on any article related to the NBA draft where you are bound to find a half dozen Thunder fans pleading that Sam Presti call anyone else's name.

For the people who want anyone else, here is a name for them:


Position: Combo Forward
Weight: 240 lbs
College: Duke
Player comps: Ben Simmons

The case for…

There was a time when Thunder fans were fed up with the Thunder always selecting long, athletic wing players who really contributed nothing other than an ability to be a pest on defense. The past few years, however, have seen a shift in that dynamic. Athleticism has taken a backseat as the team has brought in more skilled players that are able to handle the ball and pass well. Josh Giddey's calling card was as an elite passer, and the appeal of Aleksej Pokusevski was that at 7'0" tall, he could handle the ball like a guard and make highlight-level passes. Banchero would definitely follow in that trend.

Of the prime candidates at the top of this draft, Banchero is the one who most looks like an NBA player. Traditional scouts are generally high on Banchero being the top pick overall. He has the build of an old-school power forward and the strength to push around the skinny players Presti has selected in recent years. Looks aside, he is probably the best passer in the draft class, and was often the primary ballhandler as a freshman for a Duke team that reached the Final Four.

Though not considered a true scorer, Banchero did go off in his head-to-head matchup against rival Chet Holmgren, scoring 21 points in the first half against Gonzaga before sitting the second half with leg cramps. This performance labeled him as a big-game performer.

The case against…

Do you remember how the Thunder moved to Oklahoma City from Seattle? Paolo Banchero sure does, because he grew up in Seattle and was a heartbroken little basketball fan when the Supersonics relocated. In a recently surfaced interview, Banchero volunteered that he "never really liked the Thunder." When he said this is really unknown. Based on his appearance, it was probably during the lockdowns of 2020 (notice how unkempt his hair is) and well before he knew that Oklahoma City would be in a strong position to draft him someday. Regardless, if the Thunder were to make him a key part of this rebuild, damage control would be necessary.

Does his skill set make him an undeniable player the team could not pass on? Very debatable. He is not an outstanding athlete. His three-point shot needs work. No one thinks he's an elite defender, and many wonder if he even has an appetite to be a solid defensive player. Would the team really need a player who is basically Josh Giddey but thicker?

My projection…

Finding an NBA player who compares to Banchero was a chore. Plenty of websites have compared him to Julius Randle or Blake Griffin because of his build. Those comps fall apart when you consider Banchero neither plays beast ball like Randle nor raises up off the floor like Griffin. Some have likened him to Carmelo Anthony which immediately invokes elite scoring, but Banchero is not likely to rack up numbers like that. My own comp is to Ben Simmons, which again, is unfair in that it implies an elite defender, when really the likeness ends at the size and play-making ability (Banchero is a much more willing and better shooter).

Perhaps the best way to look at him is if Suns-era Boris Diaw was a more capable scorer.

Will Orlando take him?

Banchero appears to be a distant third in the power rankings. There are plenty of draft analysts that believe he will be the best player in the draft class, though. That is generally based on the belief he will be the safest prospect because he lacks the uncertainties surrounding the other top prospects. He won't need to live in the weight room, like Jabari Smith Jr, or at a Golden Corral, like Holmgren, and at a minimum he will be a capable starter for good teams. That said, he lacks the upside that either of those players can reach if they are able to develop their frames with NBA nutritionists.

In the event Sam Presti agrees with those traditionalist scouts that laud Banchero, odds are he can just stand pat at 2 and wait for Orlando to choose between the other two candidates.

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