Updated: Dec 1, 2021
The battle for the No.1 Pick in the 2022 NBA Draft continues between Gonzaga’s 7-foot-1 unicorn in Chet Holmgren, and Duke’s do it all 6-foot-10 big man Paolo Banchero with a thunderous crowd of over 20,000 fans at the T-Mobile Arena in what could be a National Championship matchup preview of two of the top five teams in the country.
In another thriller in Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski's final season after 41 years, scouts for every NBA team were present for the matchup between the two star freshmen. The No.5 Blue Devils rallied to a 84-81 win in an ultra competitive game between both teams, one where both the top prospects didn’t disappoint the NBA scouts in attendance.
"I'm sure you'll be watching these two battle each other on and off for the next 15 years," Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. "They're both incredible basketball players with a bright future."
First let's start with Banchero. Banchero has the most NBA ready body in the draft class standing at a tall and chiseled 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds and moves extremely swift as if he is 6-foot-3 inches tall. In high school he struggled moving his feet laterally defensively but has worked extensively with the Duke staff and has improved his explosiveness and footwork despite him not being considered an explosive athlete by NBA standards.
It has shown early this season as Banchero is averaging 17.8 points per game (ppg) and 8 rebounds per game (rpg) and put up 21 points and five rebounds with the majority of those points coming in the first half due to cramping issues that limited him in the second half. He has shown he can grab a rebound off the glass and push it in transition to create for others or for himself.
Banchero has a nice pullup transition three (he made two in the first half) and a nice soft touch from the mid range. He’s a much more fluid decision-maker right now then Holmgren is and much more physical, as he showed on one play where he had Holmgren on him and drove to the lane, going into his body to draw the foul and finish the three point play. They both guarded each other throughout the majority of the game and as of right now Banchero gets the slight edge to me as the No.1 prospect.
Now onto Holmgren. There isn’t another prospect like him in this year’s draft class, weighing just 195 pounds at 7-foot-1, something he’ll have to really address if he wants to reach his full potential as a player. But, he showed why he’s so highly regarded by being the best shot blocker in college basketball with his 7-foot-5 wingspan, averaging over three blocks per game.
He also, like Banchero, can take the ball full court and make plays for himself, handling the ball like a guard, a position he first started playing basketball at before he had a massive growth spurt in high school. He also can stretch the floor and has been compared to guys like Kristaps Porzingis and Dirk Nowitzki.
Banchero gave Holmgren praise by stating "Chet's a game-changer on defense and there were a couple of layups that I would usually make with no problem but with him at the rim, that wasn't happening tonight." Holmgren is averaging 13.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg, and 3.5 bpg.
Holmgren is solid in the pick-and-pop on offense and connected on 62% of his shots. Similar to Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Evan Mobley, Holmgren has a slight frame but great footwork in the paint. Mobley’s early success in the NBA is helping Holmgren’s case for the top pick as a do it all big man who can stretch the floor, protect the rim at an elite level, and be able to switch on guards in ball screens and guard multiple positions.
Some other prospects that stood out were Duke big man Mark Williams and guard Trevor Keels. Williams is a 7-footer who can run the floor like a gazelle and has tremendous hands in transition and can finish through traffic. He finished with 17 points and five blocks in the game demonstrating how valuable he is as a rim protector and showed he has the agility to step out and guard wings on defense.
Keels is a 6-foot-4 strong freshman guard at 221 pounds who can knockdown the three, is a tenacious on ball defender, and showed some flashes of being able to split the pick-and-roll while being a pass-first guard, dishing out six assists in the close win over Gonzaga. His teammate Wendell Moore also had a productive game with 20 points, six assists, and four steals.
Speaking of passing, Gonzaga guard Andrew Nembhard is a 6’5 senior guard who is a true floor general that finished with 26 points and six assists against UCLA and finished with 11 assists against Duke. Drew Timme is really skilled in the low post and has an array of moves, while also being a good passer out the high post, and can shoot it but his lack of athleticism and lateral quickness will hinder him at the NBA level.
Overall, it was a thunderous crowd at the T-Mobile Arena in a highly anticipated game that lived up to the hype as both teams competed to the final buzzer. But, the main event was Banchero vs Holmgren and they did not disappoint.