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Making choices is hard. Having to choose between a number of excellent players is even harder. There is no exact science. Seemingly surefire picks have found a way to lose their luster in the NBA before. We have no idea. Nitpicking between these guys feels very cruel too since they are all incredible at what they do. Most peg this year’s NBA Draft as a three-man duel between Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr., and Duke’s Paolo Banchero. If you want to throw Purdue’s Jaden Ivey, Duke’s AJ Griffin, Iowa’s Keegan Murray, or anyone else into this mix, be my guest. They’re all great prospects. But the best and most complete player in my opinion is Paolo Banchero. 

Defense – Good Enough

The area Holmgren and Smith best Banchero at is on the defensive end of the floor. Holmgren is already an engulfing rim protector that can switch onto guards and straight swat their shots with his 7-foot size and pterodactyl arms. Jabari Smith at 6-10 220-pounds can guard just about anybody on the floor. It isn’t as clean with Banchero. At 6-10 250pounds, he isn’t the most nimble player on the floor and is prone to get left in the dust by smaller, shifty guards.

(That lack of burst athleticism can show up at times offensively too, but I’m not overly concerned by it.)

Make no mistake about it, however: Paolo Banchero is still a damn good defender. A very versatile one at that. According to Synergy, Banchero ranked in the 94th-percentile in isolation defense, allowing 0.459 points per possession. That extends to guarding on the perimeter as well. This play is a great example. In a crucial moment against Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament up just one with under two minutes to go, Banchero sticks with Joey Hauser, throws him off-kilter with his size, and blocked his layup attempt. 

This play is probably even more impressive. He cuts off Third-Team All-American guard JD Notae’s drive off a switch, forcing him to kick the ball back out. After Duke has time to reset their defense, Banchero gets back onto his original man (Trey Wade) and blocks his dunk attempt from behind.

This play also provides a glimmer of Banchero’s potential to wreak havoc off the ball and even play some minutes at the center spot as a rim protector. His consistency in that area comes and goes enough to warrant playing a true rim-protecting center with Banchero for most of his minutes at the beginning of his NBA journey but he has the size, intellect, and athleticism to make do there. Banchero’s steal percentage (1.9-percent) and block percentage (2.7-percent) lag behind Holmgren (1.6-percent; 12.6-percent) and Smith (2.1-percent; 3.8-percent) but are still very solid. He’s not near the defender those two are but is far from a liability either.

Space In Spades

In my opinion, the edge Paolo Banchero has over everyone in this draft is how complete an offensive player he is. Both Smith and Holmgren hold the edge over him as shooters from three but Banchero is still solid there. On catch-and-shoot jumpers, Banchero generated 1.16 points per possession, good enough to finish in the 79th-percentile and ahead of Chet Holmgren. It adds to Banchero’s versatility and allows him to be deployed as a pop threat out of pick and rolls. 

Three-Level Scoring

But Banchero is best with the ball in his hands. This is where he can really differentiate and stand out from the rest of the field. Not only can be a threat without the ball but he can also run bully people on the block, create off the bounce, playmake in almost every situation, and whip the ball all over the floor. There really isn’t anything Banchero can’t do offensively. When he’s got a bigger-bodied defender on him he’s got a tenacious spin move (like he uses here) and is great at changing speeds to leave them in the dust.

Brady Manek is 6-9 230-pounds and is still searching for where Banchero went on that spin. He’s guarding Banchero there because he has enough to size to at least stand a chance inside against him. Manek was able to muster some stops against Banchero in their three matchups but he’s nowhere near as fleet of foot to consistently stay with Banchero, nor are a number of bigs Banchero will play against in the NBA sooner than later. If you want to take those drives away with a smaller, more lateral defender, that’s not going to work either. Banchero was a football player in high school and that physicality shows up in the post. Almost anybody is too small for Paolo Banchero, but especially the 6-8 200-pound Leaky Black.

If you put a bigger defender on Banchero and play him for the drive, he is more than happy and capable of burning you with the jumper you concede him as well.

Playmaking Wizardry

Like I said, pretty damn complete offensive player. But it’s not just as a scorer this well-roundedness of Banchero’s game pops. In a draft without a ton of excellent playmakers, you could argue Banchero might be the best passer in this draft. He reads the floor exceptionally well and can playmake from any spot or situation on the floor. Playmaking while running pick and roll? Check.

Playmaking as the roll man in pick and roll? Check.

What about passing after attacking off the bounce? Yeah, he’s got that too. Notice how Banchero sees Trevor Keels’ man sliding over to him to force Banchero to get rid of it? Well, Banchero does too and only does right when RJ Davis bites to dig on the ball, creating an all-the-more open look from three for Keels. 

What if Banchero isn’t even involved in the play? No worries. Here, he slides to the middle of the floor as Mark Williams is diving to the paint. The passing angle isn’t there for Duke’s guard to feed Williams so he swings it to Banchero, who then sets up Williams perfectly on a high-low pass to get him a dunk. 

Backpacker

Banchero’s playmaking and overall offensive packages are leaps and bounds ahead of Holmgren and Smith. Not that those are bad offensive players because they provide plenty of utility, but Banchero can do more than those two can. Banchero averaged 3.9 assists per-40 minutes; Smith and Holmgren averaged 2.8. Holmgren was mostly used as a roll-man and floor spacer, hence his 21.6-percent usage rate. Smith’s 27.6-percent usage rate actually bested Banchero’s, but Banchero’s shot creation ability is nowhere near up for question the way it is with Smith (I myself share some of those concerns, especially having seen Smith play in person earlier this year). Banchero can be deployed in any way those two can offensively, but neither of them has the combination of scoring and playmaking Banchero has that can carry a team.

Paolo Banchero’s versatility on both ends of the floor and ability to take over a game offensively were on full display in Duke’s run to the NCAA Tournament. While Tournament runs are hardly an indicator of NBA success, it is notable when picking the tiniest of nits that Banchero was able to keep his (flawed) team alive in ways Smith and Holmgren couldn’t. Smith and Holmgren are no slouches by any means; both should be able to help their new teams right away and warrant inclusion in the discussion for the top pick. 

Conclusion

But with the NBA shifting positionless and the emphasis on versatility on both ends of the floor, being able to play with other stars, and creating for yourself or others, no one threads those needles in this draft class better than Banchero. Do you need someone that can get you a bucket? Does your electric point guard need a versatile pick-and-roll dance partner to play off of to make his life easier? Do you need a small-ball center? Do you need a playmaking fulcrum at the elbow to run your offense through that can also shoot threes to clear the paint? How can you generate and expose mismatches in the playoffs when the other team knows what you want to do and trots nothing but tough, physical, rangy defenders against you? 

Arkansas Head Coach Eric Musselman was the only coach in the country who was tasked with sketching a game plan against all three of Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, and Jabari Smith. When asked in an interview with The Athletic who he would take number one overall, he said Banchero and that Paolo was ‘the hardest for us to deal with.’ I agree. Banchero is a true matchup nightmare and can answer all the questions above much more than the other Big Three candidates can at this stage of their careers. Perhaps Holmgren and Smith will improve their areas of weakness over time and make this article look foolish; it is certainly possible and I won’t put it past either of them. But for now, Banchero earns the crown of the top jewel in the 2022 NBA Draft in my eyes.

Steph Curry just won Finals MVP for the now once-again champion Golden State Warriors. Steph did just about everything imaginable on the hardwood, but he did not finish with the highest net rating during the Finals nor the highest plus-minus. No, this is not me trying to take away his Finals MVP more so than hyping up someone who did all the little things like setting tough screens, versatility defensively, and being able to keep the Golden State offensive machine humming. No, it wasn’t Andrew Wiggins either. Draymond Green and Klay Thompson did all those things too, but they didn’t finish first in those regards either. Of course, I’m talking about Kevon Looney.

Kevon Looney was +48 in 130 minutes during the NBA Finals. The Warriors boasted a +23.7 Net Rating when he was on the floor. Looney never did anything spectacular. He’s not a leaper, and you could see many players where lobs or layup attempts at the rim went begging due to his lack of athleticism. But Looney is solid in every area. He’s a good enough passer to capitalize on the advantages Steph and Golden State’s shooting provides him. If you try him 1v1 you’re probably not beating him. He held serve on the glass against Robert Williams III and Al Horford after wiping out Memphis and Dallas’ frontcourts devouring them with offensive rebounds. He knows where to be defensively protecting the rim.

Kevon Looney is just solid in so many areas. Luckily for other NBA teams who missed out on Looney in 2015 (though he is about to be a free agent), there’s a big man in the 2022 Draft who is built from a similar blueprint. That would be Arkansas’ Jaylin Williams.

Charging the Defense

Like Looney, Williams is not a vertical or explosive athlete. But he makes up for it by reading the game at a very high level. Defensively, that comes by positioning himself a step ahead of the offense. That’s how he was able to take 54 charges (as well as the block/charge rule being broken in college basketball).

You could argue some of those should be considered a block. Sometimes Williams would get blocks on plays he beats drivers to the rim but tried to get a charge instead of just contesting the shot. But there are plenty of clips of him shutting off drives or pick-and-rolls positioning himself just like that. That positioning helps him defend on the perimeter too. He finds the balance of not giving enough space to let shooters shoot while also not pressing them into blowing by him. His mobility allows him to cover a lot of ground.

Inverted Playmaking

Jaylin Williams is stout defensively, but he’s very polished offensively as well. Williams’ best skill is his passing. He averaged 2.9 career assists per 40-minutes compared to 2.3 turnovers, a fine number for a guard but a great mark for a center. His 13.3-percent assist percentage is well above the NBA average of roughly 11-percent. For added context, both of Williams’ playmaking numbers best the career playmaking numbers of Wisconsin guard Johnny Davis. Davis averaged 2.2 career assists per 40-minutes and an assist percentage of 12.5-percent. Getting guard-like passing out of your center allows for teams to open their offense and deploy that center in numerous ways to get easy looks.

That’s exactly what Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman did with Jaylin Williams. Sometimes, Williams would operate as the halfcourt fulcrum for Arkansas at the elbow while the rest of the players on the floor would look to spring a teammate free as a cutter. Williams had no problem finding those cutters. Sometimes, that meant finding someone like Justin Smith converging to the rim from the wing…

… Sometimes, Williams would find a cutter sliding from the baseline from the other side of the court, as he does here. Stanley Umude sets a flare screen off the ball on JD Notae’s man. Umude’s man doesn’t communicate with Notae’s man. By the time Notae’s man gets around Umude’s screen, Notae’s gone and Williams finds him to get Arkansas a layup.

That’s not the only way Jaylin Williams’ passing excels. In a pick and roll league, screeners need to be able to scan the floor for open shooters once the ballhandler is forced to get rid of the ball. Luckily, Williams shines there too. And here’s a good example of him doing exactly that. Third-team All-American JD Notae gets trapped so dumps it off to Williams. Williams, under control (he was great all year at staying under control on rolls and not barrelling into defenders for charges), waits until Au’Diese Toney slips to the rim as his man rotates over to Williams. Williams sees it and then slips it to Toney to get him a dunk.

Grounded Rolling

That composure on rolls feeds into Williams’ lack of explosion and overall skill in his game. He’s not going to beat defenses over the top as a lob threat like Anthony Davis or Giannis Antetokounmpo but he does have a soft touch on short rolls. If the defense rotates over and doesn’t leave shooters, Williams has no problem lofting a floater over the defender. The threat of scoring unlocks kick-outs for threes or dump-offs for dunks so this is an important shot to have as a center. Williams has it.

Jaylin Williams isn’t a lob threat but he can still punch it if he’s got a head of steam on short rolls too. Paolo Banchero needs no reminders. Devo Davis got Mark Williams to bite on a shot here. Davis bails out of the shot and dumps it to Williams as he embarks on the rim. Duke’s defense behind Mark Williams so Jaylin Williams went for the dunk and threw it down on Banchero’s head.

You can see Williams’ lack of explosion in traffic, however. Williams’ touch around the rim is good and knows how to use the rim and angles to find intricate finishes near the rim on rolls or camping at the dunker spot. But, can be discombobulated by longer and more athletic bigs. This is a good example. On the move, he can’t get by Auburn’s Walker Kessler. Instead, he gets enveloped by Kessler and blocked.

Shooting in Progress

Playmaking isn’t the only area Jaylin Williams can contribute offensively. Williams is not a great shooter but he’s capable. His 25.5-percent mark from deep may not reflect it but he has good touch around the rim (as shown above), looks comfortable shooting midrange jumpers, and boasts a career 73.1-percent percentage from the free-throw line. His confidence as a shooter has yet to follow him past the three-point line. He will turn down shots in search of something better even. Sometimes, something better never comes. Other times, Arkansas got a layup or a better look. You admire Williams’ selflessness but becoming a more confident shooter would serve him very well in the NBA. When he lets it fly the shot looks pretty solid leaving his hands. He needs to improve as a shooter but there’s at least something to work with there.

Conclusion

Jaylin Williams may not be a top-flight athlete. He’s not the best stretch five out there. But, a lot like Golden State’s Kevon Looney, he’s just solid. He’s a very smart, well-rounded player who excels at amplifying the players around and making winning plays. It’s hard to find bigs who can stay on the floor in a playoff setting but I have none of those concerns with Jaylin Williams. The NBA is going away from bigs but having one who can contribute in those settings is and will continue to be invaluable. I recently asked Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman where Jaylin Williams could go in the 2022 NBA Draft and he speculated Williams is more likely to last until the second round. 

I think that is likely with how the center position is valued in comparison to guards and wings. But, every team in the 20s could use additional center depth and this year’s center class is not overly deep. I could see one of the teams starting with the Spurs at 20 draft Jaylin Williams and looking to fill other positions with later picks or via free agency. If that does indeed happen, Williams is more than worthy. We do all of this to be the ones holding up the trophy when all is said and done. Why not draft someone who can give a team what one of the most reliable players on a great team gave to help win a championship?

Every year the NBA has held its scouting combine, and players use that opportunity to their advantage to boost their draft stock. The 2022 combine was no different. After four different scrimmages over the course of two days, here are a few guys that I am a fan of and thought did themselves a service not only competing with their contemporaries but helping their draft stock in the process to get themselves in consideration to be a late first-round pick or potential early-to-mid second-round pick.

Jalen Williams, Santa Clara

Last year, it was Josh Primo who used the NBA Combine to his advantage and skyrocketed his way all the way up to the lottery. He was mostly regarded as a fringe first-round pick, but there he was hearing his name called by the San Antonio Spurs with their 12th overall selection in last year’s draft. This year’s favorite for the Josh Primo bump is Santa Clara’s Jalen Williams. He slaughtered the combine in every which way imaginable. First is the testing aspect. Williams measured in at 6-5.75 with a 7-2.25(!!!) wingspan. He also posted a monstrous 39-inch max vertical jump and a vertical reach greater than the likes of springy big men Rudy Gobert and John Collins. Holy shit. Despite giving a couple of inches, Williams’ overall size and athleticism compares favorably to some of the best wings in the NBA.

But the NBA isn’t just about testing measurements; there have been plenty of workout warriors who get drafted too high but can’t play. Luckily, that isn’t Jalen Williams. He’s got a smooth feel and three-level scoring chops. He can play off the ball and nail catch-and-shoot threes, he can play and finish through contact, and rise for a midrange jumper if the lane gets congested. According to Synergy Sports, Williams finished in the 86th-percentile on plays he was the pick and roll ballhandler and in the 97th-percentile on spot-ups. He laid all of these skills out for everyone to see this week.

Jalen Williams is also a very savvy playmaker. He finished college with a career 2.9-1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio and had a +2 ratio in his final season at Santa Clara. He can make any read out of the pick and roll. This here is a good example. He sees the man defending his teammate on the wing tagging the roller and delivers the ball as his defender is tagging. Once his teammate attacks the open driving lane, Williams finds space along the baseline to get a dump off and finish a dunk. He essentially created a dunk for himself.

Lastly, Williams is a staunch defender. He was defending Christian Braun for much of his first scrimmage and didn’t let him do much. This play was another of many Williams made. Hugo Besson does a good job of maximizing the screen to get the big to commit. Once the big bites and steps out, Williams veers back to the roll man, got a deflection on the ball, and ultimately forces the turnover. You can’t ask for better execution than this. 

Jalen Williams typically found himself in the 40s of mock drafts and big boards. As a Lakers fan who hoped he’d slip through the cracks, this week was devastating for such hope (as was the entire season so what is new). Jalen Williams is undoubtedly a first-round pick and likely a lottery pick now. He’s going to make a fan base extremely happy.

Andrew Nembhard, Gonzaga

The West Coast Conference is getting some love today! Andrew Nembhard was awesome for Gonzaga the past two seasons. He’s as steady a point guard as any in this class. His career assist-to-turnover ratio is just under +3 (2.94); during his two seasons in Spokane, it sat at +3.2. That terrific feel and playmaking were on display from the jump. This one was my favorite from the day. Nembhard runs a pick and roll from the right side of the floor, sees the weakside man tagging the roll man, and then zips the ball all the way to the left corner to create an And-1 corner three.

The concern regarding Andrew Nembhard was whether or not he can create for himself against NBA length and size. Au’Diese Toney of Arkansas totally shut Nembhard down in Gonzaga’s Sweet 16 loss at the hands of the Razorbacks. But Nembhard quelled those concerns. He looked as cool as a cucumber hitting floaters and pulling off the bounce. He only played the second of his team’s scrimmages after sitting the first one with a quad issue. He made up for lost time and then some by finishing with 26 points and 11 assists compared to just two turnovers.

On top of that, Andrew Nembhard finished with one of the best agility times for a guard at the combine. For any team looking for a backup point guard, look no further. Seeing how Tyus Jones and Monte Morris kept their teams afloat after injuries hit their starters this season, it’s not hard to envision Nembhard playing a similar role for whoever selects him. I waivered on Nembhard after his tournament display, but I’m back in after he dominated the combine.

Christian Braun, Kansas

Christian Braun didn’t have much to improve at the combine on the floor, but he competed and showed out between the lines anyway. I loved watching Braun as a Jayhawk and he kept the National Championship momentum in Chicago. Braun is a great secondary playmaker and off-ball player who fills the gaps for whatever a team needs. He runs in transition, he’s a savvy cutter and typically makes the extra and/or right pass. He’s also a pretty damn good shooter. He was just under 38-percent for his career at Kansas from deep and 75-percent from the free-throw line. He didn’t shoot the lights out in Chicago but didn’t have a problem adjusting to NBA range.

I love the pump fake to get his man to bite before stepping up for a more open three. It’s an example of Braun’s feel and composure on the floor. 

Christian Braun also gets after it defensively. At 6-6 218-pounds, Braun can guard multiple positions and did exactly that at Chicago. This play was a great example. He gets switched onto Georgetown’s Aminu Mohammed (who himself had a nice showing at the combine) and holds his ground. More than that, he stands Mohammed’s drive up and packs him in the process, forcing a 24-second violation.

To ice his performance on the court, Christian Braun proved his athleticism was not just sneaky. He lit up the vertical testing, finishing with a 40-inch max vertical and a 33.5-inch standing vertical. He tested as one of the best athletes at the combine period. Braun was on the fringes of the first round but likely solidified himself as one this week.

Ryan Rollins, Toledo

Ryan Rollins is one of my favorite players in this entire draft. Nothing I saw in his lone scrimmage dismayed me from that train of thought. Rollins has a smooth CJ McCollum-esque game (his words, not mine); he loves getting to the elbows and flipping in floaters when he gets to the paint. He also looked very comfortable playmaking out of pick and roll scenarios, frequently making the right play whether that be hitting the roll man or finding shooters in the corners. He put all of his tantalizing offensive skills on display in his scrimmage on Thursday.

My main concern with Ryan Rollins is that he’s not the best athlete and still needs to extend to NBA range as a shooter. He actually tested pretty well and better than other guards in his draft range. But, he had a few open looks beyond the arc and I don’t remember hitting one of them. I don’t view this as a major problem; Rollins has a great touch and shot just under 80-percent from the free-throw line during his career. I believe the three-point shooting will come in due time. Ryan Rollins is a top-20 pick.

Terquavion Smith, North Carolina State

Remember when Bones Hyland lit up the combine last year? Enter Terquavion Smith.

Bones Hyland’s numbers were a bit more efficient than Terquavion Smith’s but similar nonetheless. In Hyland’s sophomore year at VCU, he averaged 19.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 3.1 turnovers, and 7.8 three-point attempts per game on 44.7/37.1/86.2 shooting splits. Smith? He averaged 16.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.7 turnovers, and 8.1 three-point attempts per game on 39.8/36.9/69.8 shooting splits. Similar enough? If you liked Hyland last year (I did), it’s not hard to like Smith. Every team seemingly has or values these roaming three-point chuckers; using a first-round pick on Hyland, Jordan Poole, and Immanuel Quickley has worked out very well over the past three years. Smith is one of them in this class. He was picking up steam before the combine and gained more this week. He likely played himself into the first round.

Dereon Seabron, NC State

If Terquavion Smith at 6-4 160-pounds was the lighting for the NC State Wolfpack this season, the 6-7 180-pound Dereon Seabron was the thunder. It was rare for a defender to stay in front of Seabron, and once he got by his man he roared to the basket and routinely finished through contact. Just watch how many times he bulldozed to the rim here.

Dereon Seabron may be a wrecking ball as a driver, but he also flashed playmaking chops. He has only 14 more assists than turnovers through two seasons at NC State but knew how and when to find his teammates when handling the ball. The biggest hurdle for Seabron to clear is his shooting. In two seasons, he only shot 63 threes, making 16 of them (25.4-percent). He hit just 69.4-percent of his free throws too. Seabron showed well but still seems more like a second-round pick or candidate to return to college than a first-round pick. But he put himself on more radars this week, and that’s all anyone in his shoes could ask for.

Kenneth Lofton Jr., Louisiana Tech

No one, at least from this event, improved their stock more than Kenny Lofton Jr. Everyone knew he was a burly post-up brute who can plow through just about anybody. But, his skill and feel were amongst the best in both the G League Elite Camp (for more from that event, click here). Lofton Jr. shined so much during the G League Elite Camp that he earned an invite to the NBA Combine. More of the same followed in the one NBA Combine scrimmage he participated in. He wasn’t just a low-post threat; he was also a pick and pop weapon. Lofton did not shoot a single three during his freshman season and made just four of 20 last year, but wasn’t afraid to let it fly in Chicago.

A three-ball would unlock so much more to Lofton’s game. This play is a good example. The defense runs him off the three-point line, putting Lofton in a 5v4 advantage. From there, he uses a euro step to get off a floater that he misses. But after getting the offensive rebound and a quick second jump, the ball is in the basket anyway.

Lofton’s bread is buttered in the post but it is important to show he’s got these skills in his toolbox. Teams are not wanting bigs posting up other bigs in today’s NBA, nor should they unless they’re the best of the best. But if he can play bigs off the floor stretching them out to set up his post-game, then he’s going to be an incredible offensive weapon. Because his post-game is awesome.

If he gets a smaller defender on him, then it’s a wrap. He is too powerful and too skilled. That smaller defender is going to get put in the basket.

If he gets a smaller defender on him, then teams are going to need to send help. Luckily, Lofton is a brilliant passer. Double teams don’t phase him; just look at this play. The double comes and immediately Lofton looks to pass. He sees Jules Bernard zoning up in the corner. He looks at him making Bernard think he’s throwing it to the wing, only to gift the guy in the corner a wide-open three.

The NBA is trending away from guys like Kenneth Lofton Jr., but skill is skill no matter where it comes from. Lofton had a paltry three-point percentage and a negative assist-to-turnover ratio in college, but clearly showed he can impact those areas of the game and play in the modern NBA. The defensive end of the floor will absolutely be a challenge for Lofton, especially at his 6-7 275-pound size. But, Lofton dominated every scrimmage he participated in and showed skill and feel that superseded almost, if not, all of his peers. He can start as a scoring weapon against bench units as he gets into better shape. If/when that happens, a team gifts him a strong defensive stretch five to cover for him there, Lofton can be a dynamic offensive big man in the NBA.