There’s no ACC player that’s been scrutinized more this year than Paolo Banchero. That’s the life when you’re a 6-foot-10, 250-pound basketball prodigy playing at Duke during Mike Krzyzewski’s final season.
Even before the season started, Banchero was already being discussed as a the possible No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. Every game Banchero plays is under the microscope and stacked against the performances of Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith of Auburn.
It hasn’t been a perfect season for Banchero, but holy moly, he’s so, so good. This is a top-heavy ACC rookie class; the All-Rookie team is composed of a rather obvious group of five players. However, Banchero is the clear-cut pick for this individual award. Blake Wesley has dazzled at Notre Dame, but Banchero is just on another level.
Banchero’s mix of size, coordination and skill is essentially unmatched in college hoops. (Holmgren is really freaking good, too.)
The numbers speak for themselves: 17.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, while shooting 51 percent on his 2-point attempts. Banchero is one of only 16 high-major players with 25 percent usage, 15 percent assist rate and 15 percent defensive rebound rate.
According to Synergy Sports, Banchero scored 0.93 points per post-up possession (44.1 FG%) in the regular season.
Banchero is at his best, though, when he sets up shop in the middle third of the floor and goes to work as a face-up weapon. It’s notable: Banchero seems more comfortable in this capacity — as opposed to playing with his back to the basket.
Moreover, Banchero has a variety of maneuvers to get to on face-up isolation looks. He’s a master of the stutter rip and loves spinning back to his right for finishes at the cup. Banchero shot 43.4 percent on isolation field goal attempts in the regular season.
At times, Banchero is a little too reliant on his midrange jumper. According to Bart Torvik’s data, Banchero shot just 38.2 percent on long 2-point attempts — with 75 percent of his midrange makes coming unassisted.
Of course, when the jumper looks this smooth, it’s understandable why Banchero would want to lean on it.
The real downside of this, though, were Banchero’s contact numbers. According to KenPom, through the first 31 games, Banchero drew 4.8 fouls per 40 minutes and posted a free throw attempt rate of 35.7 percent. Those are both solid numbers, but leave you wanting a little more — given Banchero’s power and handle.
The Blue Devils frequently isolate Banchero around the elbow or run 45 pick-and-roll: Banchero as the ball handler with one of the centers — Mark Williams or Theo John — as the screener.
One of the most spectacular bits of frontcourt creation in college basketball this season is when Banchero decides to attack the rim in these 45 ball-screen actions.
Banchero shot 64.1 percent at the rim in the regular season, including 33 dunks.
When Banchero draws help, he consistently makes the first read: either a kick-out for a 3-point attempt or a lob to the 7-foot Williams.
However, even when the primary read isn’t there, Banchero can get to the thing that makes him such a special prospect: his passing vision and ability to connect multiple actions.
With his height, Banchero has the ability to see over the top of defenders to make passes. He can also scan and see things as they develop — a step or two before things actually take place.
There just aren’t too many 6-foot-10 teenagers that can throw teammates open for easy finishes at the basket. Banchero, a former high school quarterback, is on the short list.
All-Rookie Team, 2021-22
Paolo Banchero, Duke, F
See above: Paolo Banchero is very good at basketball
Blake Wesley, Notre Dame, G
It didn’t take long for Wesley to announce his presence. Within the first 2-3 weeks of the season, it was obvious: Notre Dame added a special talent to the mix in South Bend. Wesley went for 21 points in the opener vs. Cal State Northridge; at the end of November, in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, the 6-foot-5 guard shredded Illinois on its home floor.
During the Illinois game, Wesley flashed his functional handle and the ability to get downhill. Time after time, Wesley attacked Kofi Cockburn in drop coverage. It was a clinic from Wesley, who flashed a variety of advanced finishing maneuvers.
There was no looking back after this performance.
Wesley is a creative ball handler and a daring finisher. With the acceptance of his veteran teammates, Wesley grabbed control of Notre Dame’s spacey offense, while averaging 14.8 points, 2.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game.
No other high-major posted a usage rate above 30 percent this season. In fact, going back to the 2007-08 season, only 17 high-major freshmen have eclipsed 30 percent usage, including Trae Young, RJ Barrett, Markelle Fultz, Jaylen Brown and Collin Sexton.
Mike Brey made sure to reorient his offense around the creation efforts of Wesley. The Irish ran a lot of continuity ball screen sets, which translated into lots of empty-corner reps for the freshman guard. Wesley isn’t overly-manipulative as a passer, but he can definitely make reads and understands how/when to attack.
Here’s a continuity ball screen look for Wesley. He catches Ebenezer Dowuona on the high side of the screen; with Terquavion Smith funneling him baseline, Wesley takes exactly what the defense gives him. Wesley rejects the screen and shows nice touch on the floater.
According to Synergy Sports, Wesley scored 0.75 points per pick-and-roll possession this season — with lots of volume. Wesley has deep pull-up range (32.1 3P%) and is completely unafraid to let it fly: 27 percent of his 3-pointers came unassisted.
Here’s another continuity ball screen set, which results in a step-back 3 from the corner for Wesley.
Make no mistake: Go under a screen vs. Wesley and he’ll look to light you up.
He’s also a high-volume off-dribble shooter from the midrange. Wesley shot 40.2 percent on long 2-point attempts this season, per Bart Torvik’s shot data. Over 94 percent of Wesley’s midrange makes were unassisted, too.
Wesley is at his best, though, when he’s flying around ball screens, looking to attack and get in the paint.
There’s an ease — a fluidity — with which Wesley’s able to shift and change directions in the middle of a live dribble. An opposing defense will look as though it has Wesley corralled off the ball screen — only to have him quickly alter his course and slip into a gap in the final third of the floor.
When Wesley’s freewheeling dribble-drive game forces teams into rotations, he can also make good decisions with the basketball.
On this possession, Notre Dame flows from its Blocker Mover offense into an empty-side ball screen with Wesley and Paul Atkinson. Clemson tries to Ice the ball screen, which Wesley rejects. Initially, it looks as though Chase Hunter and Ian Schieffelin have Wesley pinned; however, Wesley crosses over and splits the two defenders. He breaks contain, gets to the middle and collapses Clemson’s defense. The result is a kick-out corner 3 for Prentiss Hubb.
As dangerous as Wesley is with the ball in his hands, the rookie can play in half court without it, too. He’s an infrequent, yet sneaky good cutter (15 dunks).
Moreover, Wesley can also shoot from distance off movement, which is a really fun trait for him to possess.
Here’s Notre Dame running a Horns Away Double look into staggered pindowns from Wesley. This is gorgeous off-ball acceleration from Wesley — running with pace into the screens and ditching the disruptive Reece Beekman, a rare feat.
There are some inconsistencies with his shot form; however, when Wesley squares his feet and gets lift, he becomes a much better long-range shooter.
Defensively, Wesley is no slouch, either. He uses his length rather well — both guarding the basketball and in passing lanes. Wesley finished ACC play with a 2.8 percent steal rate.
Terquavion Smith, NC State, G
Regardless of class or position, Smith is one of the most electric scorers in the country: a 6-foot-4 basketball-grooving whiz kid. In a matter of months, Smith has gone from unheralded recruit to a prospect possibly worth a look in the 2022 NBA Draft as an upside candidate.
Smith, who finished the regular season second on NC State’s roster in usage rate (26.1 percent), averaged 16.5 points per game in the regular season, although he played his best ball of the season down the stretch.
Over the last five games of the season, Smith averaged 23.8 points per game (55.9 eFG%), while shooting 46.9 percent on nearly 10 3-point attempts per game. During his stretch, Smith’s usage rate jumped up to 32.3 percent, which is massive.
Wake Forest does a perfectly acceptable job Icing the side ball screen with center Dallas Walton here; however, great offense beats good defense. This is just absurd shot making from Baby T.
Whether he’s shooting off-dribble or off the catch, Smith is gifted long-range bomber. Smith has 96 3-pointers on the season (37.8 3P%), which is fourth most in ACC history for a freshman — behind only Curtis Staples, Dennis Scott and Gary Trent Jr.
Here, Smith comes across on the Iverson screens and instantly snaps into another triple.
Smith’s 3-point shooting volume is something to behind, especially when you consider the range on his jumper. He attempted 15.3 3-pointers per 100 possession this season. Smith is one of only four players in the country to shoot above 37 percent from distance while attempting 15+ 3s per 100 possessions.
Dating back to the 2007-08 season, only two ACC players have posted a 2.0 percent steal rate and shoot 35 percent on 15+ 3PA per 100 possessions: Smith and PJ Hairston (2012-13).
Smith shoots with comfort from well beyond NBA range. There’s absolutely no hitch in his shot, either. His gather is exceptionally smooth; Smith flawlessly transitions from between-the-legs dribbles to lofting a feathery jumper from 25+ feet.
Dereon Seabron and Smith formed one of the most dynamic 1-2 punches in the country this season. Smith can certainly play with the basketball, but he also floats around the arc — in transition or the half court — looking to let it rip on catch-and-shoot opportunities.
This pairs beautifully with Seabron, a slithering downhill driver, who collapses defenses and loves to kick out to Smith.
According to Synergy Sports, Smith scored 1.2 points per spot-up possession (61.3 eFG%) this season. This ranked in the 93rd percentile nationally and was ninth among ACC players with 100+ possessions.
Smith is one of only nine ACC players to finish the regular season with an offensive box plus-minus of 5.0. There’s only one other rookie in that group: AJ Griffin.
Another large portion of that package is Smith’s pick-and-roll offense. He was one of three NC State ball handlers — along with Seabron and Cam Hayes — to use at least 160 pick-and-roll possessions.
The finishing around the basket is still a work in progress, but Smith can use his wipeout crossover to freeze defenders and get in the paint.
He’s a slippery player, who finished the regular season with 11 dunks — most of which came with his left hand, interestingly enough.
NC State doesn’t run a lot of off-ball actions, but Smith has shown he’s able to use pindowns and flares to find offense, including curling off this staggered look and spiking one down on Virginia’s defense.
Even when Smith can’t get all the way to the rim, he has wonderful touch on his shot and a lot of different tricks in his bag.
Floaters, runners, running lefty layups. Whatever you need, Smith has it.
AJ Griffin, Duke, F
The season started slowly for Griffin as he worked his way back to the court following a slew of injuries. There were flashes during the first month of the season when you’d catch a glimpse of Griffin’s tremendous potential. Things started to really gather steam, though, following Duke’s loss at Ohio State.
The Virginia Tech game — right before the holiday break — marked a significant hinge point. As Duke leaned on its small-ball lineup, Griffin flew around the floor — splashing jumpers and getting to the rim.
With 13 points from Griffin, Duke won its ACC opener. Two games later, Griffin entered the starting lineup and never looked back.
Going back to the South Carolina State game (Dec. 14), Griffin averaged 12.4 points per game with a shooting slash of 51.8 FG%, 49.5 3P% and 75.7 FT%.
Griffin is arguably the best shooter in the 2022 NBA Draft class. He’s connected on 58-of-120 3-point attempt this season: 48.3 3P%.
His step-back game is absolutely nasty. There just aren’t many people who stand 6-foot-6 (with 7-foot wingspans) and weigh 225 pounds that also shoot this fluidly off the bounce.
The development context at Duke has been beneficial for Griffin, too. Duke has several guys that play with the ball and want to run offense: Paolo Banchero, Wendell Moore Jr., Trevor Keels and Jeremy Roach. Griffin gets to play alongside those guys and work on his craft as an off-ball mover.
He’s a really good cutter and the flashes of movement shooting make you want to dream big when it comes to Griffin’s potential.
On this possession, Duke runs its Floppy action, which stalls out — until Griffin relocates around a late screen from Banchero for a deep 3-ball.
As Griffin’s jumper continued to hum, he started to find more confidence as a downhill driver — using off-ball movement to kickstart a drive to the rim. In turn, the Blue Devils started running more designed actions and sets for Griffin, including their “thumbs down” wide pindown action.
Duke also puts Griffin in motion from its baseline runner action, which he uses to crack the defense and attack the paint.
Of course, Griffin can also look for his 3-pointer off the baseline runner action.
Griffin is a ridiculous shooter, but his form is a little funky: wide base, with some split foot stuff. The shot goes in, though. So if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Plus, with his wingspan and fluidity, Griffin can get the shot off in tight spaces.
However, if Griffin is to continue to develop as an off-ball movement shooter in the NBA, he may need to streamline that approach. It’ll be more of a challenge to consistently to get his shot off while exiting a screen, especially with an NBA-level chase defender in his hip pocket.
Regardless, Griffin’s been incredible this season; he ranks behind only Banchero as far as ACC draft prospects go. The gap between those two is smaller than it may seem, too. Griffin is absurdly talented.
AJ Griffin: 20 points, 6 3-pointers vs. the Cuse zone — an update: 52 2P%, 49 3P% (10.5 3PA per 100)— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) February 27, 2022
72 eFG% catch-and-shoot FGA
71 FG% rim
1.22 points per spot-up possession
86 FG% on cuts
1.75 points per off-screen possession (13-19 FGA) https://t.co/KH71WSoYyp
Trevor Keels, Duke, G
Keels is built just a little bit differently than any other player in the ACC. A 6-foot-4, 221-pound combo guard, Keels is all about pressure — on both sides of the floor.
Defensively, Keels uses his strength and low center of gravity to be a force at the point of attack.
As Keels heats up the ball, Duke is able to extend its man-to-man defense, create turnovers and push for transition opportunities.
Keels finished the regular season with a 2.6 percent steal rate.
On offense, Keels is a power guard who can muscle is way to the rim or bomb away from distance. Keels shot 50.3 percent on 2-point attempts in the regular season, including 57.3 percent at the rim (only 2 dunks). In total, 69.4 percent of TK’s 2-point field goals came unassisted.
There’s some intriguing shot-creation capabilities for Keels, although the jumper was inconsistent this season (33.9 3P%). He shot just 67.1 percent from the line, too.
Keels, however, scored 1.04 points per pick-and-roll possession in the regular season. This ranks inside the top 25 nationally among players with 50+ possessions.
During the regular season, Keels made some opponents pay for going under on him in screen-roll action.
This is pretty well defended by Reece Beekman and Kadin Shedrick; however, Keels can take and make tough shots. There’s even some step-back space creation to his game.
As a passer, Keels has the ability to put defenses into rotation and find the open man. His decision-making isn’t needs to be tightened up; however, Keels can set guys up for easy finishes.
Keels is especially fond of running slot ball screens. Duke constantly put Keels in these types of ball-screen scenarios.
Over the last five games of the regular season, Keels shot 50 percent from the floor (38.7 3P%) and averaged 13.8 points per contest.
Matthew Cleveland, Florida State, G/F
- 2.2 percent block rate, 1.7 percent steal rate
- 26 dunks, 48.6 2P%, 70 FG% on put-backs
- Averages: 11.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists per game
- Per 40 minutes: 17.5 points, 5.9 FTA, 7.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals
The shooting numbers were disappointing this season for Cleveland: 18.8 3P%, 55.6 FT% and 30.6 2P% from the midrange. However, there’s real defensive potential with Cleveland; he just needs the offense to catch up.
There are some reasons for optimism — assuming he solves the jumper. Cleveland is strong transition finisher and he showed some intriguing flashes playing with the ball this season, too.
John Butler, Florida State, F
Butler is dripping with potential on the defensive side of the floor. The lanky 7-foot-1 freshman posted a block rate of 7.5 percent. Butler can switch around and defend all five positions, and he’s capable of covering ridiculous amounts of ground on defense.
Obviously, Butler needs time to develop. If he decides to remain in college, in lieu of leaving for the draft, well, he’s at a great place: Florida State is one of the premier player-development programs in the country
Beyond the defense, though, Butler shot the ball well from deep this season: 40 3P% (32-of-80 3PA). Butler has the ability to shoot off movement, too.
Butler is one of only nine freshmen — since the 2007-08 season — to post a 7.0 percent block rate and shoot above 35 percent from deep (50+ 3PA). He’s joined on that list by Chet Holmgren (2022), Jaren Jackson Jr. (2018), Jontay Porter (2018) and Tyler Lydon (2016).
Jaeden Zackery, Boston College, G
- Shot the ball incredibly well this season: 46.5 3P%, 1 of 4 Division I rookies (along with AJ Griffin) to finish the regular season shooting above 46 percent from deep
- 45.1 3P% in ACC games, No. 4 in the conference
- 3.1 percent steal rate, only 2.8 fouls committed per 40 minutes — according to KenPom
- 3.2 percent steal rate in ACC play, No. 8 in the league
- Going back to the 2007-08 season, Zackery is one of only 29 ACC freshmen to post a steal rate of at least 3.0 percent