Banchero Is The Best Point Guard In The Draft!
Just Give Him the Damn Ball!
It may not happen his first year or his second year or his third year…but sooner or later, a coach will succumb to the obvious logic of having their offense run through Paolo Banchero and the benefits of running a team with a 6’10”, 250 lb point guard.
Jud Heathcote’s decision to keep Magic Johnson at the point guard spot he’d played in high school may seem like a no-brainer almost a half-century later, but back when he did so, in 1977, it was a fairly controversial decision. There were plenty of skeptics who thought that, naturally, Magic would drift into a role as a college power forward. Magic was, in fact, the size of power forwards and was probably the best player, physically, to play that role on that MSU squad. Before Magic, no one had ever heard of a 6’8”, 240 pound point guard.
Heathcote, to his credit, believed that his team’s best avenue for success lay in giving Magic the keys to the car, letting him run the team and make decisions. Obviously, history has proven him correct, but Magic’s success obscures how easy it would have been for Heathcote to have done what everyone expected and put Magic in the front court and let one of his little guards run the offense. I’ve always though Heathcote’s move was one of the smartest and bravest decisions a college coach has made, as far as managing personnel is concerned.
Watching Banchero, one cannot help but imagine what both he and Duke would look like if Coach K entrusted the keys to the car with Banchreo.
As a disinterested fan, a couple of things seem clear, watching Duke this year.
Coach K seems to be securing an engine governor on Banchero, limiting his dribbling, forcing Banchero to tighten what is a pretty loose dribble at times, and generally shoehorning him into a traditional role as a college forward. He’s also literally taking the ball out of his hands and coaching Banchero to forego his natural instinct to grab the ball and go…to be the guy on the court - like LeBron and Luka, eg - who gets the ball and decides what is going to happen every time down the court. Banchero’s first couple of Duke games showed that clear tendency, with mixed results. There were eye-opening sequences where he looked like an bigger, present day version of Magic, grabbing boards and exploding downcourt, leading the break. But there were also lots of times where Banchero wasted time and possessions dribbling too much on the perimeter as he tried to set his man up or decide what to do. Now, it seems as though both Coach K and Paolo have settled on a role that allows him to play and grow, but with certain clear limits on his play.
I don’t really blame Coach K for this strategy with Banchero. While helping Banchero develop is undoubtedly something he’d like to do, he has a roster chock full of 5 star recruits to worry about also, and having Banchero dominate the ball - as he is capable of doing - would undoubtedly be very harmful to the rest of his star recruits’ development and future prospects. So, he’s putting Banchero in a nice little box that lets him develop certain skills and be a valuable player, and earn a nice high draft position, but it certainly does not fully exploit Banchero’s talents on the court. And with the wealth of talent on Duke’s roster, Coach K’s chances of winning aren’t too dramatically decreased by letting his other 5 star recruits dribble the ball and set the team up in the half court.
Coach K is basically doing with Banchero, what he did with Grant Hill. At Duke, Hill gave flashes of his ability to play the point and run an offense, but at Duke, Bobby Hurley and Chris Collins and the other traditional PGs ran the offenses. But once he got to the pros, it became obvious that many of his most important skills had been hidden within his role on the team.
Pro teams will hopefully remember Grant Hill when they critique Banchero. In the NBA, a smart coach will recognize when a dominant player is capable of driving a team’s fortunes to a title and most coaches are happy to let that elite talent take control as much as possible. In the NBA, star players, from MJ to Duncan to Lebron to Kawhi to Curry to Durant drive teams to titles.
Think about it…Ben Simmons, at 6’10”, plays the point…when he plays. His size and ability to go end to end in a flash, because of his size, is a huge advantage. Imagine Paolo - who is even more skilled than Simmons - in that same role. Imagine Paolo in transition, after grabbing a rebound. Imagine Paolo in the half court, brutalizing teams with a strong rim runner on the pick and roll. Imagine teams trying to play Paolo with their normal backcourt line up and visualize Paolo easily getting into the lane for that nice little turnaround. Imagine if teams run guys at him to double, Paolo easily locating and finding the open cutter cause he’s probably bigger than just about anyone who’d run at him. Simmons is really only a transition PG. In the half court, he typically turns those duties over to others. Paolo has no such limitation and the havoc he’d cause other teams as a 6’10” PG the full length of the court, going downhill all the way, well the possibilities are attractive…if you are on Paolo’s team.
I have to believe there are NBA front office people who see the same things I see. Now, it definitely takes some courage and creativity to work outside the norm - and making Paolo the PG on your team would definitely be outside the box stuff! - but if teams are really interested in winning, the idea should be floating like nice little dreams in their heads.