Duke Star Paolo Banchero Could Be Walking Down the Aisle Into an Awkward NBA Marriage

John Elway and Eli Manning took stands against playing for the Colts and Chargers, respectively, and got their way in the NFL. Somehow, we don’t think Paolo Banchero would raise much of a fuss if the Oklahoma City Thunder should select him at No. 2 in the NBA Draft.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the Duke power forward doesn’t have some tidying up to do in the public relations department. It seems he’s been holding a grudge.

Paolo Banchero of Duke will be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft

Paolo Banchero of the Duke Blue Devils reacts in the second half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the 2022 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament semifinal at Caesars Superdome on April 02, 2022. | Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Paolo Banchero of the Duke Blue Devils reacts in the second half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the 2022 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament semifinal at Caesars Superdome on April 02, 2022. | Tom Pennington/Getty Images

As the NBA postseason draws to a close with the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors battling for the title, executives of all the franchises are deep into preparations for the NBA Draft, which takes place on June 23 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

This year’s crop of eligible players is deep in big men, with 6-foot-10 Auburn forward Jabari Smith frequently mentioned as the likely selection of the Orlando Magic, who hold the first pick after a forgettable 22-60 season.

One of the low-post standouts not far behind Smith on multiple draft boards is Paolo Banchero, a one-and-done power forward for the Duke Blue Devils. At 6-10 and 250 pounds, Banchero projects as an immediate impact player because of the skills he showed on offense with the Blue Devils.

Banchero averaged 17.2 points a game on 47.8% shooting from the field, a number dragged down by 33.8% work from beyond the arc. His ability to create for himself is something not easily taught. Some downtrodden franchise near the front of the lottery is about to land a rookie who could be good for 15 points in 30 minutes a night right out of the gate and then improve from there.

Paolo Banchero and the Oklahoma City Thunder would be an awkward marriage

You would expect that every college player about to enter the NBA via the draft grew up rooting for a particular team, and perhaps a handful will hear their name called by that team next week in Brooklyn.

We’ve not heard who Paolo Banchero was rooting for as a kid growing up in Seattle, but he has admitted to disliking one team in particular: the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“I grew up with the Sonics a little bit. I was like 6, I think, when they left, so I never liked the Thunder,” Banchero confessed in a clipped-off bit of video from an interview he gave shortly after committing to Duke.

Banchero is not alone in holding a grudge with the Thunder. The franchise entered the NBA as the Seattle SuperSonics in 1967 and became a nearly annual playoff participant beginning in the 1974-75 season. Lenny Wilkens coached the Sonics to their only NBA title four years later.

The Sonics went 20-62 in the 2007-08 season and missed the playoffs for the third straight year, after which the franchise relocated to Oklahoma City and changed its name to the Thunder. Basketball fans in the Pacific Northwest were understandably upset, and Seattle has been waiting for an expansion franchise since.

Oklahoma City will pick second in the NBA Draft

The former Seattle SuperSonics endured one more losing season after their move to Oklahoma City. After that, however, the Thunder rattled off 11 straight winning seasons, appearing in the NBA Finals once and the conference finals three other times.

The last two seasons have not been nearly as good. OKC slipped to 22-50 in the pandemic-shortened season and then 24-58 this year, including a 4-16 record down the stretch. That dropped the Thunder back into the NBA Draft lottery, and they wound up with the right to pick at No. 2 behind the Orlando Magic.

Assuming the projections are correct that Orlando will draft Jabari Smith out of Auburn and that OKC’s priority remains to beef up the inside game, Duke’s Paolo Banchero is certainly a viable option. The odds are he could put aside residual hard feelings about the franchise leaving Seattle.

If they don’t go with Banchero, the Thunder’s options would include 7-foot Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren, 6-9 Baylor forward Jeremy Sochan, and 6-8 Iowa forward Keegan Murray.

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