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How Paolo Banchero would fit with the Houston Rockets

Paolo Banchero Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets

How Paolo Banchero would fit with the Houston Rockets

A look at how the Duke power forward would fit with Jalen Green and the Houston Rockets, now and in the future

We are now less than a week away from the NBA Draft and this one will be a doozie for Houston as they now hold three first-round picks, #26, #17 and the highly-anticipated #3 pick.
 
While we can’t say with 100% certainty who will be available at the third pick on June 23rd, the overwhelming buzz since the lottery results were announced has been that Auburn’s Jabari Smith and Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren are considered the top two prospects, going in some order to Orlando with the #1 pick and OKC at #2.
 
That could change, but it doesn’t look likely. That would leave Duke’s Paolo Banchero on the board as the almost-sure pick for the Rockets at numero tres.
 
If you’ve followed my comments on the forums or on Twitter, you know I’m much higher on Jabari and Chet for the Rockets than I am for Banchero, but I have to place some perspective on it: The Rockets will still be getting a top-tier talent with upside to be a special player if they stay at #3. Let’s talk about how this power forward would fit the current and future Rockets.
 
Strengths
 
Banchero’s size is not exaggerated. While some prospects may say they’re 6’10, 250 pounds, there’s no rounding up in Banchero’s case. He looks every bit of his listing.
 
He is the most polished offensive prospect in the draft, able to handle the ball very well for his size. He’s not uncomfortable facing up the defender as far out as the three-point line, which is rare for a big. Any player remotely resembling a traditional four will have an issue defending Paolo’s fluidity while guards and wings will find it challenging to defend his size and physicality. He’s got excellent footwork and a spin move that he uses on drives that reminds you of a Pascal Siakam. His arsenal of pullups and moves from mid-range to the basket reminds you of a Carmelo Anthony — bigger and not as quick, but with better vision.
 
For his size, Paolo has excellent passing skills. His assist percentage would be in the 95th percentile among NCAA players. He sees the floor really well and has plus court vision. There’s potential there for high-level reads out of the high and low post. He could both initiate and finish a pick and roll, which is a rare advantage to have in a player, while also being very effective on short rolls.
 
This highlight at the 2:06 mark was one of the more impressive plays I saw this year from Paolo, showing both his ability to get to the basket and find his teammates.
 

Duke has been a home-away-from-home for many of the top one-and-done prospects in college basketball and they have a track record of not featuring some of their best players. Jayson Tatum and Brandon Ingram were both capable of more as Blue Devils. Tatum, in particular, made a significant impact right away as a rookie with Boston. While those players aren’t ideal comps for Paolo, it does suggest he might be able to showcase more in the NBA than he did for Coach K.
 
Weaknesses
 
Paolo is not a great three-point shooter, hitting just 33.8% from deep, but he was strong from long range in the NCAA Tournament (10-19 3P in 5 games). He shot between 72-73% from the line, which is pretty good, and his shooting form looks clean so it’s not a mechanics issue. It’s very reasonable to project him to eventually be average in the three-point department, if not better than that.
 
Paolo Banchero Shot ChartBanchero’s plus effectiveness in college was mainly 14-15 feet and in, where he took almost 63% of his shot attempts. Outside of 15 feet, he wasn’t special.
 
Banchero is very crafty and smooth, but doesn’t destroy you with burst or elite athleticism (there’s no real weakness here, but it’s not a major strength). He draws comparisons to a late-stage Blake Griffin, which is to say a very strong, big and versatile creator but not the elite athlete we saw in Griffin early on with the Clippers.
 
Paolo does almost nothing to move the needle defensively. He’s a big body and not completely terrible on this end, but he’s not a rim protector, a lockdown defender or particularly great on switches. He’s prone to lapses in effort, which is a concern. He’s not a plus defender by any stretch. In some games, including Duke’s loss to North Carolina in the tournament, guards hunted him on switches, which is a tactic that has become very popular in the NBA (particularly in the playoffs). He can definitely hold his own defending the post and he’s not bad stopping straight-line penetration, but the lateral speed is not there to stay with guards and wings consistently.
 
There are very fair questions about what exactly Paolo does for your team when the ball is not in his hands, and in a nutshell, that’s the big reason he might be available at #3.
 
Comps

The best comp might be a 2020-21 Julius Randle as far as Paolo’s scoring role as a point-power foward on a team. Two NBA execs told Michael Scotto of HoopsHype that they compare Paolo’s upside to that season of Randle, when he put up 24-10-6, hit 41% from three and made the All-Star Game. Player for player, Randle is not a good comp — he’s possibly stronger and quicker than Banchero and plays more brutish, but he would fall short of Paolo in height, smarts, craftiness and vision.
 
Detroit Pistons Blake Griffin, Juwan Howard and Jabari Parker also make some sense for their offensive versatility or ability to score as a four. On the offensive side of the ball, a comp of a Ben Simmons-like player who isn’t afraid to shoot and has a three-point shot that has to at least be defended also has some merit.
 
Fit In Houston
 
Banchero would be a clear core piece in Houston and the Rockets would have to start looking at their foundation as “Paolo Banchero and Jalen Green”, with the potential that Alperen Sengun and Kevin Porter Jr. could eventually be part of that. Clutch City would feature two gifted and marketable offensive players who potentially could get big baskets in crunch time while also selling tickets at the gate. When you consider where Houston was as a franchise 18 months ago — rudderless and without any top young talent — that’s pretty incredible.
 
If the chemistry is there between Banchero and Green, there are several ways they could play off each other to be dangerous on the floor. While we’re not talking about Kobe and Shaq, there’s still potential there for them to be a superstar inside-out pairing. They’re different players, but Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns might be a closer model.
 
The Rockets have several players that are best operating with the ball in their hands, including Green, KPJ and Sengun. Does adding a fourth starter like that bring benefits or pose a problem?
 
The new starting frontcourt, Paolo and Sengun, would be a gifted 4-5 combo on the offensive end as both have solid hoops IQ, can create for others with their passing ability and can get you a bucket in the post or mid-range. Some of the passing and reads from these two could be a lot of fun to watch and there’s room for growth.
 
But… the spacing of the floor would be a big issue, especially when you place a priority on clear driving lanes for guards like Green and KPJ to operate. And the defensive concerns would be, well, significant. Very significant. Neither of your two bigs would offer much rim protection, putting more pressure on your perimeter defense — and neither is particularly strong in that department, either. If the Rockets take Paolo, Sengun is probably not the right fit long-term as the starting center. That’s just the overwhelming likelihood. There would be no need to make any changes over the next year — after all, neither has reached their 20th birthday — but if this weakness proves to be glaring, it becomes mandatory to add a bigger center with defensive upside that backs up Sengun, or more likely, starts over him.
 
In my opinion, Banchero is the better prospect between the two. So if it comes down to eventual change, Sengun will likely be the target of an adjustment. And it won’t be just Sengun. Drafting Paolo is going to put a few of the young players on the current roster under a microscope. Flanking Green and Banchero with strong defensive options at the three and the five is mandatory and I don’t see much of that on the current roster (Usman Garuba may prove me wrong). Over the next year, I would like to see a more aggressive front office in moving young players for better fits.
 
Final Thoughts
 
There is almost no bust potential with Paolo — at a bare minimum, he should be a big presence and solid inside scorer in the NBA. He’s my pick to win Rookie of the Year because he’s the most NBA-ready and should produce out of the gate.
 
But it comes down to this: Does Paolo project to be an elite scorer in the league? I’m talking about a potent top 10-15 offensive force where defenses have to focus on stopping him? Perhaps even a primary facilitator? If so, the Rockets would be getting the guy who should go #1 in the Draft. Both Orlando and OKC would be silly to pass on him if the path for him to get there is clear. There is no argument there from me.
 
That may seem an unfair standard since the bar on offense is not as high for Jabari Smith and Chet Holmgren, but the brutal truth is it’s not. Jabari and Chet potentially do so much more for your team to impact winning beyond scoring, including defense, spacing and playing off the ball. Banchero will improve in other areas, but it’s unlikely he will do anything else at an elite level in the NBA. It’s got to come from his scoring and facilitating. Just based on the role that he will play to maximize that skillset, you do not want just a “top 50” guy here. If you’re going to give the ball to a player in a high-usage role who doesn’t boost your defense, he can’t be just a good scorer. He has to be elite at it in time if the ultimate goal is to be good enough to win a title.
 
But there is a possibility here where Paolo could ultimately be that guy, a true superstar player, and maybe the prospect who proves to be the best player in the draft. That’s enticing.
 
In the end, however, the Rockets don’t have their choice of the three prospects.
 
The Magic and Thunder will ultimately dictate which big is available to Houston at #3. If the Rockets passed on Jabari or Chet for Paolo, I’d be second-guessing, but taking him third with those two off the board is not something you can really be upset about, especially when the Rockets could have easily been picking 5th in this draft. There is a guarantee here to get a high-upside prospect, and that has the rebuild continuing on a great path.
 
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Armed with a bizarre fascination for Mario Elie and a deep love of the Houston Rockets, Dave Hardisty started ClutchFans in 1996 under the pen name “Clutch”.

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