Unless you follow Penn State basketball closely, there is a decent chance that Payton Banks is not yet on your radar. Banks, a native of Orange, CA, was part of the 2013 recruiting class that also brought to the program guard Geno Thorpe, forward Julian Moore, and since-transferred guard Graham Woodward. Like Moore, Banks redshirted his freshman season at Penn State.
Banks is a 6-foot-6 swingman who has been talked up as a shooter by head coach Patrick Chambers. The shots did not fall consistently for him as a freshman, but it was clear that the staff believes in him as one based on his usage in the offense. He spent most of his time offensively standing around the three-point line looking to spot up and shoot, and took nearly three times as many threes as he did twos. As a freshman playing behind quite a few guys already established in the rotation for Chambers, Banks was not asked to do a whole lot, usually giving other guys a breather and trying to spark the offense with a couple of shot opportunities.
With Banks, like with a lot of freshmen, there are a lot of unknowns moving forward. The focus of a lot of fans will be on whether or not he can find his shooting stroke in Big Ten games, but as a swingman, the ability for him to drive to the basket and defend multiple positions will be key to seeing his minutes increase. While Banks is a little bit smaller and wasn't asked to do as much as a freshman, consider the strides that Brandon Taylor has made defensively over the last three years when considering what this staff can do with a shoot-first small forward.
When you get labeled a shooter, fans will immediately look to your shooting numbers, and they were not there for Banks as a freshman. One positive number that jumps out is his defensive rebounding rate, which was impressive for a 6-foot-6 freshman playing in the Big Ten.
While he did not consistently hit his shots, he did have one spot on the floor that he clearly favored, and that's the right corner. Obviously it will be important for him to develop as a shooter in other areas of the court, but if he is comfortable in the right corner already, getting him more looks there certainly isn't a bad idea. If other players on the team can command attention down low through drives and post-ups, Banks should be able to get more looks on corner threes.
With Banks, the good is in the potential. In 2014-15 he was a freshman who played a very limited role. Numbers-wise, he did not contribute much over the course of the season. Fortunately, he wasn't expected to. But with D.J. Newbill off to the NBA, all of the remaining players on the roster are going to need to contribute to fill a huge hole in production. So what can Banks bring to the table?
It will begin, of course, with his shooting. Plenty of good collegiate three-point shooters struggled early on in their careers, so there's no reason to think Banks cannot make strides. It's clear that he is a good shooter in practices, so getting that to translate more consistently to game action is going to be his mission as a sophomore.
While Banks mostly stayed around the three-point line in Penn State's offense, he was a pleasant surprise on the defensive boards, rebounding at a rate about equal to forward Donovon Jack. Banks can create mismatch problems with his shooting if he can hold his own defensively against opposing forwards.
As indicated by his shot chart, Banks was not a threat around the rim. An improved handle will keep defenders honest when he drives to the basket, and will lower his turnover rate, so that will be an important thing for him (as well as the rest of the backcourt) moving forward this summer.
After being part of the rotation for most of the Big Ten slate, Banks saw his minutes decrease towards the end of the season. Even in the final Big Ten Tournament game against Purdue, when the team was exhausted from playing its third game in three days, Banks saw less than a minute of game action. Part of this had to do with senior Ross Travis finally coming into his own down the stretch, but it was still a clear indication that the staff saw the same limitations in Banks as a freshman that we observed as fans.
vs. Minnesota - 9 pts, 3-6 FG (3-6 3pt), 3 reb
In 15 minutes of game action, Banks knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Coming off the bench in a close game and with an efficient nine points while adding three defensive boards? That's the kind of performances you want your young bench players to bring. Banks didn't have many games like this, but we did get a couple of glimpses of what he may be able to do as a rotational player next season.
Penn State will be replacing D.J. Newbill and Ross Travis in 2015-16, which opens up multiple spots in the rotation. Banks will not be a starter as a sophomore, but the team is going to need to have depth. If Banks can consistently play 15-20 minutes of solid defense and gets more comfortable around the three-point line against Big Ten defensive rotations, he'll be an important piece as a sophomore.
Final Grade: C-
It was not a productive season for Banks, but he played limited minutes and was not relied upon to do very much as a freshman. Assuming the baseline grade is a C, he gets a C-minus for having a bit of an underwhelming season in that limited playing time. We'll have a much better idea of what Banks can become once we see where he fits in the Penn State rotation without Newbill and Travis.