The Whiteboard: Paolo Banchero shows small ball upside at FIBA World Cup

Paolo Banchero is impressing, Brandon Ingram is not and more from Team USA's 2-0 FIBA World Cup start.
2023 FIBA World Cup - USA Men's National Team v Puerto Rico
2023 FIBA World Cup - USA Men's National Team v Puerto Rico / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

Paolo Banchero is impressing, Brandon Ingram is not and more from Team USA's 2-0 FIBA World Cup start.

Anthony Edwards dominated the headlines through Team USA's FIBA World Cup warmups but through the first two games of group play, Paolo Banchero has arguably been the most impressive player on the roster.

Team USA has been +36 in the 33 minutes he's been on the floor, and he's racked up 29 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 blocks, shooting 9-of-12 from the floor and getting to the free throw line 13 times.

From a long-term perspective, the most interesting part of his breakout performance is that he's doing it playing primarily as the backup center.

Is Paolo Banchero's future at center?

Banchero played almost exclusively at power forward for the Magic last season, logging just 66 total minutes without at least one of Orlando's nominal centers — Mo Bamba, Mo Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr., Bol Bol or Goga Bitadze, on the floor alongside him.

It's not all that surprising that the Magic didn't experiment much with him at center as a rookie — centers carry enormous defensive responsibility, the rookie learning curve on defense is steep regardless of position and the Magic had a lot of other big men on the roster.

But Bol, Bamba and Bitadze are all gone and it seems likely Banchero could get a lot more run as the long big this season, particularly given what he's shown for Team USA.

Banchero racked up four blocks in the opener against New Zealand, and while his athletic advantages are much greater in this setting than they would be in an NBA game, he showed fantastic patience and awareness, reading rotations and shadowing ball-handlers to the basket. He didn't record a block in the second game against Greece but did an excellent job of shutting down space in the middle of the floor, contesting shots, cutting off passing lanes and corraling dribble penetration.

Again, this is a small sample and in a non-NBA context but getting these kinds of reps (and building confidence) could pay huge dividends when the Magic give it a try during the regular season. And it's worth noting that even though Banchero doesn't have a strong defensive reputation from either his single season at Duke or his rookie year, he has the tools to be good at that end, even at center. He's strong and quick, with comparable measurements to players like Bam Adebayo, Dwight Powell, Ed Davis or Blake Griffin.

If Banchero is able to hold up defensively at center, even situationally and for shorter stints, it could help unlock some of the Magic's most potent offensive lineups.

Team USA has mostly been playing five-out in the halfcourt with Banchero at center, letting him screen around the top of the key and slip into the middle of the floor for scoring opportunities or kick-outs. He has the handle to take advantage of slower matchups in these actions and his passing is a huge advantage.

The Magic's backcourt rotation is loaded with players with questionable reputations as outside shooters — Jalen Suggs, Markelle Fultz, Anthony Black. Removing a non-shooting big from their rotation limits the impact of their lack of gravity and opens more space in the paint for cuts and drives, leveraging Banchero's passing ability.

His grab-and-go potential on the glass is also an enormous offensive weapon, initiating the break himself and letting those guards get out into transition earlier, becoming finishers.

The Magic still have a lot of work to do building their offensive and defensive structures and continuing to tweak their roster to match. But what we've seen from Banchero this summer implies that small ball lineups could be a really important tool for them this year.

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Brandon Ingram
2023 FIBA World Cup - USA Men's National Team v Puerto Rico / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

Brandon Ingram almost gets it

Brandon Ingram was remarkably quiet in Team USA's first FIBA World Cup game — 2 points on 1-of-4 from the field — but his post-game comments made a stir.

Per The Athletic, Ingram said, "This is totally different than what I am used to. The team is winning right now, so I can’t be selfish thinking about myself. But it’s a little frustrating right now for me, and I’m just trying to figure out ways I can be effective."

Ingram is undoubtedly a talented player capable of putting up big numbers. But maybe, for a player who has made just one postseason appearance in seven years, there's a lesson to be gleaned from the fact that team success is possible with him doing a little less on offense? That maybe he has more to offer than drilling difficult jumpshots?

Apropos of nothing, he put up five points on 2-of-4 from the field in Team USA's second game against Greece. His team won by 29.

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