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Duke’s Banchero makes his case to be No. 1 pick with performance against Holmgren

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 26 Continental Tire Challenge - Duke v Gonzaga

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 26: Duke Blue Devils forward Paolo Banchero (5) guards Gonzaga forward Chet Holmgren (34) during the Continental Tire Challenge college basketball game between the Duke Blue Devils and the Gonzaga Bulldogs on November 26, 2021, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Any respectable 2022 NBA mock draft has Chet Holmgren of Gonzaga and Paolo Banchero from Duke as No. 1 and 2 in some order.

Which is why there were a lot of scouts and team front office personnel in the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to watch Duke and Gonzaga square off on Friday.

Banchero scored a team-high 21 points but had 20 of them in the first half before cramping issues limited him in the final 20 minutes. He had to miss time in the second half to get IV fluids but returned to the game. Holmgren finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and three blocks, but missed time in the first half due to foul trouble.

One game does not make or break a draft pick — at least with NBA teams listening to their scouts — but Banchero helped his cause on Saturday, according to experts and team officials Adam Zagoria of Forbes spoke to in Vegas.

“He will be No. 1 [because of] his size, strength and ability to score at all 3 levels,” one of the 60 NBA GMs and scouts said after Banchero’s performance Friday night in No. 5 Duke’s 84-81 win over the Bulldogs.

As noted by Zagoria, ESPN draft expert Mike Schmitz put it this way after the game.

“It was Paolo Banchero and it really wasn’t even close. He looked like the No. 1 pick today. He had 20 first-half points and he did it in a variety of ways. A lot of NBA shots from him, making transition pull-up 3’s, scoring in mid-range spots and he just big-bodied Chet Holmgren. He took him to the woodshed and scored over him in the post.”

Banchero is a 6'10" stretch four or stretch five who fits the modern game because he can play inside or out. Holmgren, the rangy 7-footer who can make plays on both ends of the court and shows impressive handles and touch for a big man, has plenty of fans in NBA front offices.

We are seven months away from the 2022 NBA Draft and a lot can change between now and then. How these players develop (and are projected to develop), how they look in individual workouts, what teams take away from interviews, and which team ends up with the No. 1 pick all will play a role in who gets taken at the top of the board. It’s too early to make a definitive call.

But Paolo Banchero has staked his case.