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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?