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#nbatwitter Reacts To Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, and Jabari Smith Jr’s Debuts

It’s not a genuine night of watching the NBA if your timeline isn’t filled with hot takes, predictions, and photoshop. Three weeks after the NBA wrapped up its highly successful 75th season, it returned with its staple of Summer League action. And as expected, all eyes were on this year’s top-three draft picks– Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, and Jabari Smith Jr– when they made their respective league debuts.

Whether you watched them play or placed complete (and possibly questionable) trust into what your timeline said, the reactions from #nbatwitter were swift and didn’t lack personality. For many viewers, it was their first time watching Banchero, Holmgren, or Smith Jr play– an everyday reality for those who don’t follow high school or college basketball.

But regardless of how you feel about the trio’s performances, they provided highlights and a closer look at their potential. Banchero (17/4/6) and Holmgren (23/7/6) produced a pair of memorable games, and Smith Jr proved he could be comfortable doing a bit of everything on the floor.

Below are some of the reactions to the NBA debuts of Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, and Jabari Smith Jr.

Chet even had KD talking about him!

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Sports

Why Paolo Banchero is the Best Player in the 2022 NBA Draft

In the world of NBA Draft sickos, Paolo Banchero has been famous for too long—he’s been a stalwart on recruiting rankings since he was eligible to be included in recruiting rankings, never falling below sixth in his high school class since his freshman year of high school in 2018. But now, after years of hype as the prospective number one pick in the draft, he has seemingly lost ground to Jabari Smith and Chet Holmgren, who present a novel, alien goodness rather than Banchero’s quotidien greatness. Familiarity has bred contempt—the nits are being picked. Still, Paolo Banchero is the best player in this year’s NBA Draft, no matter what the Orlando Magic think.

The most basic explanation for Banchero’s appeal is that he’s more skilled than just about anybody who’s bigger than him and bigger than just about anybody who’s more skilled than him. Even as the NBA charges into its age of monsters, he’s built different; 6’10, 250-pound teenagers shouldn’t be able to pass, dribble, and shoot with his level of fluency. During his one season at Duke, Paolo Banchero was the unquestioned best player on a Final Four team—his 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game over the course of the full season were very good; his NCAA Tournament run, punctuated by 20+ point outbursts against Texas Tech and UNC, was even better. 

Although Banchero isn’t an overly elastic ball-handler or bursty speed merchant, the basic fact that he’s a 6’10, 250-pound person who can score off the dribble offers a basic physics problem for opposing defenses. Smaller, faster defenders will be battered by his 6’10, 250 pound frame; bigger, slower defenders will be dusted. It hardly takes the scientific method to deduce that that boy nice; his 17.2 points per game were the most of any power conference freshman. Even within Duke’s recent lineage of  highly-drafted wing scorers, he stands alone—his 131 unassisted two-point field goals represent a level of self-sufficiency that fellow Dookies Brandon Ingram (111 unassisted twos), Jayson Tatum (98) and Jabari Parker (97) couldn’t reach. 

For Duke, Banchero was the nominal power forward who served as the de facto point guard by virtue of being the team’s most capable ball-handler. While he initially processed the game with the torpor and uncertainty of a guy who hadn’t played high-stakes basketball since the start of the pandemic, he regained his sharpness as the season progressed. In the Sweet 16, he hung 22 points and 4 assists (and just a single turnover) on Texas Tech’s top-ranked defense, the sole Duke player who didn’t seem dragooned by the Red Raiders’ suffocating no-middle defense. 

If Tech throttled offenses by turning their opponents into quivering worrywarts, Banchero calmly exploited their aggression. Since no-middle defense is a fairly dogmatic scheme built upon pre-programmed rotations, he forced Tech to tip their hand, provoking help defense before firing the ball to the open space where the help came from. Aware of his own gravity as a scorer, he punished overzealous rim protectors by feathering lobs and drop-offs to Mark Williams and caught perimeter players in traction by finding AJ Griffin for open threes. To paraphrase the honorary poet laureates of Daytona Beach, Banchero is scary and he knows it. 

Certainly, Banchero isn’t a perfect prospect. There’s a nagging feeling that he’s distracted by the vastness and variegation of his own talents—at times, it looks like he’s preoccupied with side-missions, hunting down perfect pelts rather than advancing the plot of the possession. Accordingly, he sometimes showed a frustrating tendency to settle for pull-up jumpers rather than dunk through the cranium of some terrified Clemson galoot; there’s no reason that somebody as physically dominant as Banchero should take more mid-range jumpers than shots at the rim. As a result, Banchero’s 55% True Shooting at Duke was probably lower than it should’ve been.

Ultimately, Banchero is at once the safest and riskiest player in the Draft. Regardless of where he’s drafted, he’ll be the runaway favorite to win Rookie of the Year; he’s clearly better-equipped for immediate success than Holmgren or Smith or Jaden Ivey. Nobody doubts that Banchero is an exceptional scorer and rebounder; the question is whether he can be exceptional enough

Whereas Holmgren’s defense and Smith’s shooting provide both of them with a high floor, Banchero doesn’t have those same auxiliary skills to be a role-player if he can’t reach his ceiling. As a spot-up shooter, he’s fine; his defense is whatever. Instead, his appeal lies in his potential to be the guy for his team, which is a tremendously high bar to clear. Every player in the NBA is so good that true eliteness is exists within tiny, fungible margins. The difference between Julius Randle making 2nd team All-NBA as the leader of a playoff team and Julius Randle getting booed as the scapegoat for a bad one is about three extra missed three-pointers every two weeks. If Banchero can maintain the efficiency to command primary initiator status, he’ll be the kind of omnipotent jumbo creator that racks up fistfuls of All-NBA berths. If he can’t, his value becomes considerably murkier.

But this is a risk worth taking. More than shooting, more than defense, more than having that dawg in you, advantage creation—the ability to force defenses to react to what you do— is what greases NBA offenses. This is why the Luka Doncic-led Mavs proved to have a more resilient offense in the playoffs than Chris Paul’s Suns or why the Warriors offense remains so deadly even with Steph Curry as the only functional dribbler in their starting lineup. Before you create an open corner three, you need to force a rotation; to force a rotation, you need to make defenses afraid of you; to spook defenses, you need to be very good in very specific ways. In this sense, Paolo Banchero looks like a future star because he’s good at the primary, star-making skill.

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Sports Strength

ACC Tournament Preview

If the NCAA Tournament is March Madness, then consider this to be its pre-psychotic warm-up—in the run-up to Selection Sunday on March 13th, all 32 Division 1 conferences will stage their conference tournaments and reward the champion of their mini-fiefdom with a bid to the Big Dance. With tons of high-stakes games on tap over the course of six, this is the best and most disorienting part of the college hoops calendar. Luckily, we’re here to help. Here is our guide to the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

ACC Tournament
Notable Teams

Duke (26-5, 16-4; -135 to win): In terms of pure talent, Duke is unparalleled; their entire starting lineup will be picked in the first-round of this year’s NBA Draft. Even after hilariously losing Coach K’s final home game against UNC, Duke easily won the ACC regular season title and has the conference’s best offense and defense. They’re on an entirely different level than the rest of the conference.  

Wake Forest (23-8, 13-7; +1000 to win): After Duke, the rest of the ACC is pretty grisly, but the Demon Deacons are probably the best of the bunch. Presumptive conference player of the year Alondes Williams combines with Jake Laravia to form one of the most potent duo’s in the nation.  Despite being low pre-season expectations, Wake Forest should make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2017.

UNC (23-8, 15-5; +700 to win): This may not be a vintage UNC team, but it’s still a UNC team. Although the Tar Heels have gotten their teeth kicked in nearly all of their high-profile matchups, Saturday’s win at Duke offers proof of concept that this team’s ceiling is the roof.

Miami (22-9, 14-6; +1100 to win) : Led by the best conference’s best backcourt, Miami scores 114.7 points per 100 possessions, the second highest mark in the ACC. Still, the Hurricanes have struggled with inconsistency and have a tendency to play to the level of their competition; their three Quad 1-A wins are balanced out by their three Quad 3 losses. 

Notable Players:

Alondes Williams, Wake Forest: After three seasons as a little-used reserve at the University of Oklahoma, Williams was just named the ACC Player of the Year.  Averaging 19.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game, the 6’5 Williams is a  forceful athlete and shot-creator whoo also doubles as an elite passer.

Armando Bacot, University of North Carolina: According to Coach K, Bacot is the best player in the ACC. Bacot may not offer a ton of juice as a shooter or ball-handler, but he’s brilliant at everything else. He’s huge with soft hands around the basket and impeccable rebounding instincts. Watching him, his 16.6 points and 12.4 rebounds per game somehow seem like they don’t totally capture his dominance; it feels like he grabs every single offensive rebound and then promptly dunks it. He’s a monster.  

AJ Griffin, Duke: I don’t think he’s missed a jumper all season. Sneakily, he could be Duke’s best player.

Paolo Banchero, Duke: He was the top recruit in the country going into this season and he’s going to be a top three pick in the draft. You know who he is. 

Blake Wesley, Notre Dame: A slinky, stylish scorer, Wesley is one of the most under-appreciated and overlooked studs in college basketball.

Prediction:

Duke. Duh.

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Sports Strength

Chet Or Paolo? Comparing The Two Best 2022 NBA Draft Prospects

In any given year, there’s usually one prospect who towers over his peers in the NBA Draft. This year, though, the conversation about who should be the #1 pick is more muddled. As we navigate through this men’s college basketball season, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Duke’s Paolo Banchero are considered to be the headliners of next year’s NBA Draft. But is it possible for either of them to become the draft’s leading man?

The pair of five-star prospects from the Class of 2021 represents what basketball is about these days: A game where positions are simply a label for which role you fulfill on paper but not on the court because of massive transformation of skills, play calls, and body types. Whether you prefer Banchero or Holmgren is one thing, but how do you feel about their collective impact and ability to transition between now and the NBA in possibly less than a year?

When looking at Banchero’s game at the next level, he will likely operate as a versatile combo forward with the ball-skills to be a go-to scorer on the perimeter and the size (6-foot-10 250 pounds) to operate inside. During Duke’s 84-81 win over Holmgren and Gonzaga a week ago, Banchero displayed his scoring prowess, putting up 20 points in the first half of that game.

But for everything to like— and honestly love—about the Duke product’s game, there’s an equal amount of things to enjoy about Holmgren, if not more. Even though Holmgren doesn’t have the same ceiling as Banchero as a scorer, he has a higher ceiling because of his potential as an ultra-competitive rim-protecting and playmaking center with the height (seven-foot) and wingspan (seven-foot-six) that NBA teams are drooling over right now. And by the way? Last year’s National High School Player of the Year can score, as proven by his 71% field goal percentage and 36% mark from downtown this season.

Even if both players have only had a handful of chances to showcase their talents to a national audience, both players have demonstrated their respective strengths and weaknesses. Banchero is not having a problem scoring at this level and being a leader, but he’s struggling with his conditioning and is limited defensively by his relatively short wingspan. On the other hand, with Holmgren, we have to see how he holds up against bigger opponents given his thin frame and whether or not he’s able to take over a game for Gonzaga when necessary.

With four-plus months remaining in this men’s college basketball season, there will be enough time to elevate, discuss, and support these tremendous young players.