Paolo Banchero is familiar with the features of a pure scorer. Every time he observes in the mirror, he notices one. With a game average of 21.7 points and in 2022, the overwhelming frontrunner to win Rookie of the Year, Banchero has all the makings of a future scoring champion. Off the dribble, he produces. He is effective in painting. He scores on all three levels and is nearly expected to become a plus shooter from beyond the arc. He approaches the free throw line already like an expert.
But Kevin Durant is unlike anything Banchero has ever seen.
Banchero discussed a game in Brooklyn in late November in which Durant scored 45 points (still a season-high), calling KD’s pure and game-long bucket-getting his “Welcome to the NBA moment” in a recent appearance on a source.
Banchero said, “I guarded [Durant] for most of the game, and there was nothing you could do. He made 45 free throws, most of which were buckets, and he only made four or five. In that game, he missed five shots. Some guys frequently find themselves at the [free-throw] line or, you know, interact with the officials and draw calls, which allows them to score 14 points from the line or whatever. KD, though, was conducting himself professionally and didn’t speak to the referees.”
“He was the only athlete I have ever had to guard where I felt helpless,” said Banchero. “Then just having that, having to guard him, I don’t think there was much I could do. He doesn’t even see me right now, which was how I would describe it. It was strange how, while attempting to cut him off, he was saying, “No, I’m still going to get to this position. I’m still going to ascend. I can go into a guy and make him miss here and there, even if he can generally make some shots on me.”
First off, Banchero’s memory of the numbers is accurate. During this game, Durant scored 45 points. He was 4-for-4 at the line on free throws while missing exactly five shots (19-for-24). That’s 41 points scored in a row.
However, Banchero was a little too critical of himself. He recalls that he didn’t guard Durant for most of the game. He frequently found himself lined up against Durant, and when he wasn’t shut off, Durant appeared utterly unconcerned by Banchero’s presence.
I observed from behind. When Banchero was his prominent opponent, Durant made four jump shots. For his fifth goal, he beat Banchero off the dribble. Banchero started as Durant’s defender on three additional occasions, but by the time the shot was made, he had switched off. The final of these baskets, which is on an entirely different level of spectacular, was made over Bol Bol’s extended 7-foot-2 arms.
What Banchero recalls is precisely accurate in spirit. Although we have all grown accustomed to Durant’s unstoppable play after years of seeing him play, it continues to amaze us how easily he scores, even when defenders surround him. It’s difficult to disagree with the opinion that he is the most honest scorer ever to play the game.
As Banchero noted, Durant’s scoring isn’t dependent on the crutch of foul-baiting, and even though he frequently reaches the rim, he tends to rely on jump shots—especially ones that are fiercely contested. Given the shooting diet he follows, his output and efficiency are astonishing.
Banchero is still helplessly watching as Durant cooks every coverage Orlando throws at him, even after Banchero is screened off of Durant. Banchero’s overall perception is one of complete helplessness. He’s not the first to feel that way about Durant, and he’s not the last.
But in the end, Banchero only defended roughly 25% of Durant’s 19 baskets on this particular night, depending on how you want to classify some of these gray-area baskets. And while scoring 24 of his points, he frequently outplayed Durant.
In no time, Banchero will be the one greeting rookies with “Welcome to the NBA” greetings.