Paolo Banchero is familiar with the features of a pure scorer. Every time he looks in the mirror, he notices one. With a game average of 21.7 points and the odds-on favorite to win Rookie of the Year in 2022, Banchero has all the makings of a future scoring champion. Off the dribble, he produces. He is effective in the paint. 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 JJ Redick’s “Old Man and the Three” podcast.
For the majority of that game, I was [Durant’s] guard, and there really wasn’t anything you could do, according to Banchero. “You know, some people play with the referees and get calls, or they get to the [free-throw] line a lot, and that’s how they get 14 points from the line or whatever.” KD, though, was quite professional. Wasn’t saying anything to the referees, sort of. Although he had 45 chances, I believe he made four or five of them. So, the majority of those were buckets. In the game, he probably missed five shots.
He was the only athlete I believe I have ever had to guard where I felt helpless, said Banchero. “So just experiencing that, having to guard him, I don’t think there was much I could do.” “You see, a guy can typically take some swings at me, but I can dazzle him a little. I can influence him and occasionally make him miss. But that was only to say that he isn’t even looking at me right now. He simply stands there like, “No, I’m still going to go to this spot,” as I’m trying to cut him off. Still, I’m going to stand up. It was absurd.”
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 the majority of the game. He frequently found himself lined up against Durant, and on the instances when he wasn’t shut off, Durant did appear to be completely unconcerned by Banchero’s presence.
I observed from behind. When Banchero was his obvious opponent, Durant made four jump shots. For his fifth goal, he beat Banchero off the dribble. Banchero started off 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 the outstretched arms of 7-foot-2 Bol Bol. View each of these videos below.
What Banchero recalls is exactly true 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 are surrounding him. It’s difficult to disagree with the opinion that he is the most honest scorer to ever play the game.
As Banchero noted, Durant’s scoring isn’t dependent on the crutch of foul-baiting, and despite the fact that 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 person to feel that way about Durant, and he’s not the last either.
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 own points, he frequently outplayed Durant.
In no time at all, Banchero will be the one greeting rookies with “Welcome to the NBA” greetings.