The case for 2022 NBA draft's No. 1 pick: Chet Holmgren vs. Paolo Banchero

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  • Chet Holmgren
    American basketball player
  • Paolo Banchero
    American-Italian basketball player

LAS VEGAS — The battle for the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA draft continued as Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren went head-to-head with Duke’s Paolo Banchero. 

The 20,000 fans at T-Mobile Arena were also in for a treat as two of the top-five teams faced off in November in a game that felt like the end of March. In another thriller in Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski's final season after 41 years, scouts for every NBA team were present for the matchup between the two star freshmen. 

The No. 5 Blue Devils edged No. 1 Gonzaga 84-81 with both prospects putting up big numbers.

"I'm sure you'll be watching these two battle each other on and off for the next 15 years," Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. "They're both incredible basketball players with a bright future." 

Who had the upper hand and impressed scouts Friday evening? Yahoo Sports makes the case for both prospects and shines a light on a few other NBA draft prospects who could hear their names called in June.

Duke's Paolo Banchero moves the ball.
Duke's Paolo Banchero is one of the top 2022 NBA draft prospects. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Paolo Banchero

Duke: Freshman

Position: Forward

Ht./Wt.: 6-10, 250 pounds

2021-22 season: 17.8 ppg, 8 rpg

Banchero has the most NBA-ready body in this draft class and moves extremely well on the court for his size. As a high school prospect, Banchero’s lateral movement on defense was one of his weakest traits, but he worked on his explosiveness and footwork this summer with the Duke staff. It’s showing early in the season. Banchero was the best prospect on the court and finished with 21 points and five rebounds in the upset win over Gonzaga.

Neither Holmgren nor Banchero shied away from the head-to-head matchup and 10 minutes into the first half, Banchero bullied Holmgren in the lane for an and-one play to put the Blue Devils up by three points.

Banchero showed NBA scouts that he’s a grab-and-go defender who can handle the ball in the open court. When running the sideline after a missed shot, he’s confident calling for the ball and isn’t afraid to take a transition 3-pointer (he hit two in the first half). Banchero is much more fluid in his decision-making on the court. After seeing both prospects on the court at the same time, Banchero gets the slight edge as the No. 1 overall prospect.

Gonzaga's Chet Holmgren dribbles the ball.
Gonzaga's Chet Holmgren also has a strong case for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA draft. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Chet Holmgren

Gonzaga: Freshman

Position: Center

Ht./Wt.: 7-0, 195 pounds

2021-22 season: 13.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 3.5 bpg

There isn’t another prospect like Holmgren in this draft class. 

He’s the best shot blocker in college basketball with his 7-foot-5 wingspan and is averaging over three blocks per game. 

"Chet's a game-changer on defense and there were a couple of layups that I would usually make with no problem but with him at the rim, that wasn't happening tonight," Banchero said after the game.

Holmgren can handle the ball like a guard and dominated the paint in the game earlier this week against UCLA and showed off how deadly he can be in the open court when he went coast-to-coast for one of the best plays of the game. 

Holmgren is solid in the pick-and-pop on offense and connected on 62% of his shots. Similar to Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Evan Mobley, Holmgren has a slight frame but great footwork in the paint. Mobley’s early success in the NBA is helping Holmgren’s case for No. 1, despite being undersized for an NBA center.

Other 2022 NBA draft prospects

Mark Williams

Duke: Sophomore

Position: Center

Ht./Wt.: 7-0, 242 pounds

2021-22 season: 8.7 ppg, 6 rpg

Williams runs the floor well for his size and has great hands in the open court. When Banchero is on the court and draws defenders, Williams has mastered the short-corner shot off the block and is great in the pick-and-roll. He has the athleticism to step out and guard the wing on defense and is a projected late first-round, early second-round pick in the 2022 NBA draft. Williams looked fantastic Friday and finished with 17 points and five blocks.

Duke guard Trevor Keels brings the ball up the court.
Duke guard Trevor Keels brings the ball up the court. (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Trevor Keels

Duke: Freshman

Position: Guard

Ht./Wt.: 6-4, 221 pounds

2021-22 season: 13.3 ppg, 3 apg

Keels is a bully guard who loves to get downhill. He can also hit deep 3-pointers and is tenacious on defense. Keels showed glimpses of splitting the defense on the pick-and-roll and is a pass-first guard who dished out six assists in the close win over Gonzaga.

Andrew Nembhard

Gonzaga: Senior

Position: Guard

Ht./Wt.: 6-5, 193 pounds

2021-22 season: 9.8 ppg, 5 apg

Nembhard is a true floor general who looked like an NBA-ready guard Tuesday night against UCLA. He finished with 26 points and six assists in the convincing win and led both teams in assists with 11 in the close loss against Duke. He’s now on NBA scouts' radar, and teams will be watching for more consistency on his shot selection as the season progresses.

Wendell Moore Jr.

Duke: Junior

Position: Guard

Ht./Wt.: 6-5, 213 pounds

2021-22 season: 17.5 ppg, 5.7 apg

Moore is a former five-star recruit who has been patient with his development at Duke. He was the most consistent guard on the court against Gonzaga and hit a clutch free throw with 17 seconds remaining to extend the lead to four points. Moore finished with 20 points, six assists and four steals and was named the Player of the Game on Friday.

Nolan Hickman

Gonzaga: Freshman

Position: Guard

Ht./Wt.: 6-2, 185 pounds

2021-22 season: 8.3 ppg, 2 apg

Hickman has great court sense and is an extremely good passer in transition and in the half-court set. He’s a strong defender who challenges players at the rim and can sit down and keep players in front of him. Hickman is a former teammate of Banchero and was originally committed to Kentucky before eventually committing to Gonzaga.

Gonzaga's Drew Timme dribbles the ball during a game.
Gonzaga's Drew Timme dribbles the ball during a game in Las Vegas this week. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Drew Timme

Gonzaga: Junior

Position: Forward

Ht./Wt.: 6-10, 235 pounds

2021-22 season: 18.7 ppg, 6 rpg

Timme is the Luka Garza of this college basketball season. He’s a Player of the Year candidate and does all the little things that make Gonzaga the No. 1 team in the country. The high-low between Timme and Holmgren is virtually unstoppable, and he has a nice hook shot off the block. Timme has high-level footwork around the rim and has an old-school back-to-the-basket game where he excels in the up-and-under move. Defensively, he can slide over and defend off the block well, too. Timme finished with 17 points, five rebounds and five assists Friday.

A.J. Griffin

Duke: Freshman

Position: Small forward

Ht./Wt.: 6-6, 222 pounds

2021-22 season: 5.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg

Griffin is coming off a knee injury and is getting limited minutes early in the season. He’s an explosive wing who loves to get in the lane and has great body control in traffic. Even with his limited time on the court, Griffin remains a projected first-round pick in the 2022 draft and has tremendous upside as an NBA wing.

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