Duke basketball: Have Blue Devils already landed top 2021 recruit?

Duke basketball (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
Duke basketball (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images) /

The mere dispute over who is No. 1 highlights Duke basketball’s 2021 reign.

A few months back, Bleacher Report lead NBA scout Jonathan Wasserman argued that Archbishop Stepinac (N.Y.) small forward AJ Griffin might be the top longterm prospect in his class. In other words, the first 2021 Duke basketball commit’s game could translate to the NBA better than that of any other rising senior.

This week, 247Sports director of basketball scouting Jerry Meyer asserted that O’Dea (Wash.) power forward Paolo Banchero instead deserves the No. 1 billing, pointing out his advantages over two specific undecideds in Hamilton (Wis.) small forward Patrick Baldwin Jr. and Minnehaha (Minn.) center Chet Holmgren.

But Wednesday’s updates to the Top247 (the site’s own rankings) kept the latest Blue Devil pledge at No. 3 behind No. 2 Baldwin Jr., whose Crystal Ball continues to point to a future in Durham alongside Banchero, and reserved No. 1 for Holmgren. Also, No. 3 matches Banchero’s spot on the 247Sports Composite, where Baldwin Jr. is still above Holmgren (and where Griffin still sits No. 6).

If left entirely up to Meyer, though, here’s the nuts and bolts of why Banchero’s scouting report would outweigh that of Baldwin Jr. and Holmgren:

“All three have length, high skill levels, and athleticism. Banchero, however, has valuable qualities that separate him from the other two, even if we settled on Holmgren in the top spot.”

Meyer then sized up the 6-foot-9, 235-pound Banchero, who surprised insiders by suddenly unveiling his Duke basketball commitment in August, next to the 7-foot, 190-pound Holmgren, whose top seven includes North Carolina but who seems more likely to end up at Gonzaga:

“Holmgren has three more inches in length, but Banchero has at least 45 more pounds … I’ll take strength over length, and the horizontal over the vertical … Functional athleticism is athleticism that counts, and strength is a bigger factor than length. Making plays in traffic, scoring against contact, handling in a crowd, and securing the ball in chaos are the plays that [most] impact winning.”

Specifically, Meyer summed up why Banchero is permanently a more fitting No. 1 than Holmgren:

“He is more dominant physically now, will be more physically dominant in the NBA, and his skill set will translate more seamlessly to the NBA because of his functional athleticism.”

As for Banchero vs. Baldwin Jr., Meyer came across a touch less certain of his take that the former outperforms the latter:

“Looking particularly at Baldwin, he, and Holmgren as well, is a superior shooter than Banchero. But Banchero isn’t a bad shooter at all … Both might also dribble better than Banchero, but I don’t see a functional difference in the handle of the three other than Banchero possibly doing more with less because of his functional athleticism.”

Meyer continued by focusing on Banchero’s supremacy over both Baldwin Jr. and Holmgren on the less-hyped end of the floor:

“[Banchero] has the lateral quickness, strength, and explosive leaping ability to adequately defend most any position most anywhere on the court. Holmgren does bring rim protection to the court, but Baldwin brings little impact to the game on the defensive end at this point. And I much prefer Banchero as a rebounder.”

Finally, Meyer outlined his individual conclusion:

“Banchero gives a team the best chance of winning because he is the better basketball player of the three, and I expect that to remain the case throughout the careers of the three.”

Would Duke basketball faithful be able to pick a favorite?

So what will Duke basketball fans do if Baldwin Jr. joins Banchero and Griffin in the #TheBrotherhood? Well, just as they did when facing comparisons between RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cam Reddish to start the 2018-19 campaign, most will probably try to ignore the debate and instead just enjoy the show.

The Duke basketball staff also remains in pursuit of three more top 25 recruits from the class: Montverde (Fla.) small forward Caleb Houstan, who just moved up a notch to No. 7 on the composite; Paul VI (Va.) shooting guard Trevor Keels, who moved up a notch to No. 15; and IMG (Fla.) center Charles Bediako, who dropped two spots to No. 22.

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