By Fawzan Amer
The reigning Rookie of The Year came into Amway last night having averaged an unreal 26.5 points per game against the Houston Rockets under former Head Coach Stephen Silas. Entering last night, the new look Rockets, under recently hired Ime Udoka, made it an emphasis to key in on the Seattle native often times throughout the contest sending multiple bodies on the low block on drives and post touches to deter the damage the former number one overall pick could embark on. Udoka, known as a defensive coach during his stint under Greg Popovich in San Antonio, and tenure as Head Coach of the Boston Celtics, known for establishing a switching system with an aggressive mindset on how to get away with pushing physicality to its limit -- it was no surprise Ime's defensive philosophy led to Paolo Banchero tying his career-low of six field goal attempts in twenty-eight minutes of action.
An extremely effective volume scorer who demands a lot of added attention, especially around the nail where he draws a ridiculous amount of help. While people tend to think of him as more of a scorer I'd actually argue it's his playmaking that adds most value. What immediately stood out in last night's home opener blow-out victory was how willing the twenty-year old was to move the ball not really forcing shots the defenses wasn't surrendering to. Orlando runs Horns Elbow to create a post touch for Franz Wagner but it quickly gets bottled up with Dillon Brooks coming over to blitz. Banchero, who's stationed in the corner cuts backdoor for what would have been an automatic two points however a bobbled pass ends with three Rocket defenders harassing him to cough up a steal. In these moments where other player(s) would likely panic Paolo takes a second to survey the defense eventually finding Franz Wagner on the wing who upon relocation uncorks for a wide open twenty-six foot long range bomb.
He gets the ball inbounded near the right wing just a few possessions later and throws a quick jab before exploding to the rim, midway to the basket Houston bottles up his driving lane with Jabari Smith Jr, Alperen Şengün and Fred Vanvleet leaving their defensive assignments to throw multiple bodies at Paolo to force a reset. Instead of forcing a turn-around jumper Banchero spins back to find Franz Wagner for his second triple of the night thirty five seconds later on the BLOB set.
It's not just the overall willingness but the difficulty in the types of plays he's able to capitalize on truly showcasing extremely advanced vision. Here, on a baseline drive to the rim after a "wiper" ('wipe' the defender, create preferred switch) from Franz to draw the matchup of Jabari Smith onto Banchero. The drive gets shut off once he realizes he's shaded way to the outside to attempt a reverse layup, however his presence as a finisher gets Fred Vanvleet to take his eyes off his defensive assignment and Paolo makes the one time All-Star pay for it with an absurd wrap around pass mid-air that lands perfectly into the shooting pocket of Cole Anthony.
These one handed airborne fast balls are his go to which he displayed multiple times to the home crowd last night. It's his size and length that enable him to make reads over the defense or wrap deliveries around defenders. If you look closely, he's rarely looking at his intended receiver in these situations. The way he uses his eyes to manipulate the defense is something he's copied from other elite playmakers around the league. Off a Rockets miss Paolo pushes the break allowing minimal chances for Houston to reset into a set defensive scheme. Once again he uses his frame and core to attack downhill only to once again be met with multiple bodies on his way to the cup. Watch as he manipulates his eyes to the wing to move Amen Thompson allowing him enough daylight to hit Cole Anthony as a release valve in stride for a go ahead paint touch.
He's great at making high level interior reads that ends in layups as well as anticipating defenders who rotate off their matchups to find shooters for feet-set threes from downtown, possessing a real versatile array of deliveries he can make with consistency to unleash hell upon opposing defensive coordinators. Off a fast-break Houston accidentally has Fred Vanvleet placed on Paolo Banchero causing Jalen Green and Dillon Brooks to "help". Paolo picks up his dribble and carries them near the charity stripe before he finds his open target for a wide open above the break triple to extend Orlando's lead to eleven after allowing a 19-9 Rockets third quarter run.
In the final quarter, when the writing for Houston was on the wall, Ime Udoka reverted back to a man-to-man defense on Paolo Banchero where he accounted for two made field goals including a back-door cut into the dunker spot and this 16' foot pull-up midrange over the outstretched arms of Alperen Şengün.
"He [Paolo Banchero] did the same thing in the pre-season against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He passed the heck out of the basketball. He shared, he found his teammates, made easy passes. I go back to that play that he made on the right block, to Franz [Wagner], he darts it to the corner for Franz knockdown three. And that was very similar tonight. He didn't chase it, wasn't trying to find it and that's the part about this group, its going to be by committee," Jamahl Mosley said postgame.
The sophomore's ability to counter adjust to a heavy blitzing scheme by Rockets Head Coach Ime Udoka throughout the contest where he sent multiple bodies on the low block, drives and post touches to derail the damage only ended up paying dividends to a thirty point blowout. Banchero accounted for 24 points last night -- assisted on four made long range bombs and a cut. The home grown Magic superstar showed flashes of stardom and remained a positive force despite the defensive coverage Houston played throughout a majority of the night. While Banchero will have multiple nights where he remains a force to be reckoned with his ability to demonstrate his willingness to take a step back last night and still finish as a +/- (+13) will cause sleepless nights for opposing Head Coaches as they scheme new methods to shut down the 6'10 Duke product.
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