Paolo Banchero knows what a pure scorer looks like. He sees one each time he looks within the mirror. The 2022 No. 1 overall pick and odds-on favorite to win Rookie of the 12 months, Banchero is averaging 21.7 points per game and has all of the makings of a future scoring champion. He creates off the dribble. He’s strong within the paint. He scores in any respect three levels and can almost actually turn into a plus 3-point shooter. He already gets to the free throw line like a seasoned vet.
But Banchero has never seen anything like Kevin Durant.
In a recent appearance on JJ Redick’s “Old Man and the Three” podcast, Banchero reflected on a late November game in Brooklyn wherein Durant scored 45 points (still his season high), calling KD’s pure and game-long bucket-getting his “Welcome to the NBA moment.”
“I guarded [Durant] for many of that game, and it was really just nothing you possibly can do, ” Banchero explained. “, some guys get to the [free-throw] line a bunch, or, you realize, play with the refs and get calls, and that is how they get 14 points from the road or whatever. But KD was straight business. Like, wasn’t saying nothing to the refs. I feel he hit like 4 or five free throws, but he had 45. So most of those was buckets. I feel he missed five shots that game.
“So just experiencing that, having to protect him, he was the primary player I feel I’ve guarded in my life where it’s like there’s nothing I could do,” Banchero continued. “, often a man could make some shots on me, but I can fluster him a bit of bit. I can get into him and make him miss here and there. But that was similar to, he don’t even see me right away. Like I’m attempting to cut him off, and he’s just on the market like, ‘No, I’m still going to get to this spot. I’m still going to stand up.’ It was crazy.”
So first off, Banchero’s memory is spot on with the numbers. Durant had 45 points on this game. He made 4 free throws (4-for-4) and missed exactly five shots (19-for-24). That is 41 points on straight buckets.
That said, Banchero was a bit hard on himself. He didn’t guard Durant a lot of the game, as he recalls. He did find himself matched up on Durant plenty, and on those occasions where he didn’t get switched off, Durant indeed looked utterly unfazed by Banchero’s presence.
I went back and watched. Durant hit 4 jumpers when Banchero was his clear contester. He beat Banchero off the dribble for a fifth bucket. There have been three other buckets where Banchero began as Durant’s defender, but was switched off by the point the shot was taken, the last of which got here over the outstretched arms of 7-foot-2 Bol Bol, which is a complete other level of impressive. Watch all these clips below.
The spirit of what Banchero remembers is entirely accurate. Durant was unstoppable on this game, and as much as all of us take it as a right after watching him all these years, it stays unbelievable how effortless he scores even with defenders blanketing him. He’s the purest scorer ever in quite a lot of people’s books, and it’s tough to argue with that stance.
As Banchero said, Durant’s scoring is not held up on the crutch of foul-baiting, and though he can and does get to the rim plenty, he does nearly all of his work with jumpers, and highly contested ones at that. His production and efficiency are astounding given the shot weight loss program on which he exists.
Even when Banchero gets screened off Durant, he’s still watching helplessly as Durant cooks every coverage Orlando throws at him. The cumulative impression Banchero is left with is one among utter helplessness. He is not the primary to feel that way against Durant, and he actually won’t be the last.
But in the long run, depending on how you would like to categorize a few of these gray-area buckets, Banchero only defended about 25 percent of Durant’s 19 hoops on tonight. And in scoring 24 of his own points, he got the higher of Durant himself just a few times.
It won’t be long before Banchero is the one delivering “Welcome to the NBA” messages to wide-eyed rookies.