Of the three Nebraska basketball transfer players who sat out Fred Hoiberg’s inaugural season, sophomore guard Dalano Banton is one of the most interesting prospects.
The biggest challenge when it comes to appraising Banton’s abilities is deciding exactly where he should play. His 6-foot-9 frame would lead one to assume that Banton could sit inside the paint and help provide rim protection next to sophomore forward Yvan Ouedraogo. Banton’s 3-point shooting ability was also relatively poor during his time with Western Kentucky, converting 21.6% of his 37 attempts. This would also indicate that Banton’s best position is inside the paint. Furthermore, his defensive rebounding rate during his time at Western Kentucky stood at 17.7%, which would’ve been the highest on Nebraska’s team last season.
However, Banton isn’t listed or touted as a forward. Rather, most see the Canadian as a guard and a primary ball handler or play initiator. With an assist percentage of 25.9% at Western Kentucky, a significant amount of Banton’s offense comes from assists. By comparison, that assist percentage would’ve ranked ninth in the Big Ten last season and second on the Huskers, only beaten out by then-sophomore guard Cam Mack. At the same time, Banton’s passing has been inconsistent. During his time with Western Kentucky, he collected 65 assists and 52 turnovers — not the best look for any young guard.
On top of that, his effective field goal percentage of 44.3% would place him ninth on the 2019-20 Huskers, just in-between Ouedraogo and then-junior guard Dachon Burke Jr.
Banton’s perceived ability as a guard does not come from his statistical portfolio, which may implicate him as a forward with some passing talent. Analysis of his game tape reveals a player that plays much more in line with a ball-handling guard than any sort of forward. Ultimately, positions are only made relevant by how tightly they conform to certain preconceptions on how those positions operate. Banton defies both the definition of guard and forward in some unique ways, and it’s hard to fit such a player into a position-based, rigid system. In one game in particular, a 2018 Western Kentucky victory over No. 15 Wisconsin, Banton showed both his best and worst qualities which can help to understand his role with Nebraska.
First, Banton has a quick trigger on his pass and can fit it into tight spaces. This play, a relatively simple cut, was run by the team two or three times a game and generally worked well. Here’s an example of said cut against Wisconsin:
While Banton’s pass here was decisive and quick, it should be noted that he telegraphed where he was passing it about a half a second in advance by staring into the empty space that the cutter was running to. While it worked out well here, that can destroy plays or sets before they start. Sets where there are multiple actions or perhaps multiple outlets could make this tendency less obvious for opposing defenses, but it’s still a hitch in Banton’s game which limits his playmaking ceiling. It’s present again in the second time that Western Kentucky ran that play this game, and it helps lead Wisconsin’s forward to collapse towards the basket, making the finish harder:
One of Banton’s greatest abilities is the slip pass going downhill in pick-and-roll or give-and-go actions. What makes this so impressive in particular is Banton’s size. Being able to slip passes under defenders is much easier for a six-footer rather than someone at Banton’s height, so the consistency with which he makes these passes is impressive. Here’s an example from that same game against Wisconsin:
Being able to exploit that kind of space is only possible because of elite-level court vision and a strong ability around the rim. Banton’s size makes him a threat going downhill, enough so that defenders must go to meet him. Mack, on the other hand, had trouble finishing through contact or pressure around the rim, and this let opposing defenders sit off and cut passing lanes. Banton, while lacking some of the sheer passing arsenal of Mack, is much more dangerous around the rim physically (his percentages still have some time to develop), and thus he can more consistently force these passes and actions open.
Banton’s offense more classically aligns him with the role of a guard, and his defensive shortcomings reinforce this. While at Western Kentucky, Banton was deployed as a paint enforcer or switched onto lankier wings at the perimeter. Both these roles hardly suited him, however the former was certainly a misstep. In the paint, Banton generally can’t leverage his frame against stronger opposition, and as a result he gambles on the steal or peels off his defender and goes in to help defense too early. Here’s one example where Banton going into help on the ball handler completely opens up a low post entry for the man he was marking:
This poor decision-making often leads to easy chances for the opposition, and thus makes Banton a poor defender in the paint. He does have long arms, however, and can use them — earning a 1.7% steal percentage. This isn’t an extremely impressive number, but it would’ve been the highest among Nebraska’s forwards last season.
His defense on the perimeter also has its issues. Against relatively quick wings at the top of the 3-point arc, he can find himself flatfooted and unprepared for the drive. One example of this can be seen here, and it could’ve been a foul on Banton:
With these attributes, Banton more aligns with the stereotype of a guard. Someone who contributes minimally on defense while also being the team’s main outlet of attack. This is where the issue of how to properly utilize Banton is revealed. Despite his guard-like attributes, he also has a decent rebounding percentage and could operate as a forward, though his capabilities would be reduced.
Ideally, Banton would work in a system built around him due to his unique skill set. A system which could properly exploit size mismatches while also making sure his defensive liabilities don’t harm the team as a whole.
The ideal system for Banton may be a two-forward lineup with a solid wing presence who can body up larger forwards, where a different physical forward can make up for Banton’s weaknesses in the low post. This would allow Banton to angle for a rebound instead of focusing on box-outs. Two guards, both with secondary ball-handling abilities and quickness to open up space would also be necessary. In this system, Banton could run early offensive sets and dictate the game to his liking while letting others do the primary defensive work for him. This system is not necessarily one that Hoiberg would like to play, either due to personnel, personal preference or simply because running an entire offense through Banton isn’t particularly feasible.
The viability of a team such as this is murky. One would have to sacrifice a lot in order to fit this kind of system which revolves around a unique talent. And therefore, Nebraska’s best way to utilize Banton may be to the detriment of Banton himself, because to try and take full advantage of his abilities would be to sacrifice stability or the system around him. To borrow an economics term, the opportunity cost is too high and there are probably more viable options elsewhere.
Were Hoiberg to play the system he debuted last year, Banton might see himself ostracized quickly from the lineup. He cannot run the ornate passing patterns of Mack nor can he be a solid roll man like Ouedraogo. Banton does not appear to be the kind of player who can be dropped into a pre-packaged system where his role has not been tailored to him and his archetype.
Systems are fluid and dynamic, and head coach Fred Hoiberg understands the kind of talent he has in Banton. Not talent in the sense of sheer superstar ability, but rather a unique skill set which can prove itself valuable if given the proper context.