NBA

Paolo Banchero’s Team USA FIBA World Cup performance is showing his path towards an All-Star sophomore season

Paolo Banchero is coming off an impressive rookie campaign that had him winning the Rookie of the Year award in a landslide. As great as he was in the NBA, this FIBA Basketball World Cup tournament is showing that his first year was only the tip of the iceberg.

Banchero is playing a much different role for Team USA than he did with the Magic. That Orlando team was overloaded with size and had a dearth of playmaking guards, forcing Banchero into playing almost exclusively as a forward. Per Basketball Reference, only three percent of his minutes were at center. 

On Team USA, Banchero has grabbed the backup small ball five role behind Jaren Jackson Jr. and literally ran with it. In doing so, he’s shown a glimpse into the future and killed some of the criticisms about his game.

Paolo Banchero’s World Cup performance is showing his path toward an All-Star sophomore season

We already know that Banchero can create for himself. He averaged 20 points per game as a rookie on the offensively-starved Magic. The early knock on him has been efficiency — those points came on an ugly 42.7 percent from the field and 29.8 percent from 3. 

But what if Banchero didn’t have to do everything by himself? 

This World Cup tournament has allowed us to see what’s through that door. When Banchero has had more talented guards to set him up, he’s turned into a monster of efficiency. His 62.5 percent from the field is second on the team behind the 73.7 percent of Jaren Jackson Jr., and his 50 percent from 3 is behind only the 54.5 percent of Austin Reaves.

Banchero has been instant offense off the bench. In a shade under 16 minutes per game, he’s Team USA’s third-leading scorer at 11.3 points per game. He’s been fantastic as a roller, finishing plays with ease. And he’s been deadly in five-out lineups, where he can facilitate offense from the top of the floor against a spread out defense. 

The level of skill that Banchero has far eclipses the typical big man that he’s being guarded by. He has made his international opponents look like statues with some of the moves in his bag. 

Banchero’s speed has been a problem too. Every team wants to play fast in order to maximize easy transition baskets. As a center, Banchero has been able to either leak out past his slow-footed defender or grab-and-go to get Team USA’s second unit flying down the court.

When combined with his wiry strength, other teams have had no option left but to foul Banchero. His 5.2 free throw attempts per game lead Team USA. That shouldn’t come as a surprise — his 7.4 attempts per game as a rookie was a top 10 mark last season. He could very well lead the league in a few years. 

Defense is where the big questions are for Banchero at the five. While he’s rebounded well individually, he hasn’t been great at boxing out the biggest players in this tournament. But his post defense and rim protection have been better than expected. His 1.0 blocks per game has allowed coach Steve Kerr to employ him as a deterrent in drop coverage, and he’s had some impressive blocks flying in as a helper.

Alongside that drop coverage, Banchero has been solid when switching. He’s shut down some of the hottest players in this tournament like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. And his length has allowed him to obliterate drives from speedy guards.

Banchero hasn’t had this type of opportunity to be a hyper-efficient center because of the roster construction of the Magic. Defenses have loaded up on him in Orlando, and he’s had to take tough shots to bail out their offense.

That won’t always be the case. As the Magic trim the fat off their roster and construct around Banchero, he has a chance to take off. They’ve already parted ways with some of their big men and added a floor stretcher in Joe Ingles.

Banchero won’t be a full-time center next year, but the Magic could form some of their best lineups by trying it out at the end of games. If he can carry over some of the skills that he’s showcased, then it could be an All-Star year for him.

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