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Paolo Banchero Makes Convincing Case For All-Star Nod

When the final buzzer sounded at the end of double overtime last night, Paolo Banchero’s team had fewer points than De'Aaron Fox's team. But don’t allow a loss to sweep under the rug what occurred throughout the duration of the extended game. The final numbers, for the sake of posterity: Banchero scored a career-high 43 points. He did it on a pristine and efficient shooting night: 13-for-25 from the floor and 6-for-9 from downtown. Those 6 triples, many of them launched off of absurd moves, from obscene distances, and with defenders draped all over him are tied for his career-high he set his rookie season in Boston.

A 21-year old who saw his running mate Franz Wagner go down with a sprained right ankle alongside his starting shooting guard Gary Harris had every excuse down sixteen to collapse at the deathblow of the nonexistent whistle he received. Instead, he went to the locker-room to deploy himself with one of the world’s largest backpacks carrying a team ravaged by a multitude of injuries to a double overtime dog-fight against one of the better Western Conference teams on the second-night of a back-to-back. I believe it’s fair to say he met the moment: While some lights may be too bright for ascending players no light has been brighter than the one casted by the reigning rookie of the year. “He’s going to be a force in the league for a long, long time,” said Kevin Durant. 

Paolo Banchero’s performance last night added more burden of proof to the two-time champions claims. Last night you didn’t just watch the numbers pile up; you felt it – despite it being 1 AM eastern time, as the game dragged on from regulation to consecutive overtimes you didn’t need caffeine to keep you up as you gaped as Banchero did everything in his power to ensure the only beam that would be lit in Sacramento would be his scoring totals. Feeling the tremors ooze through your body as he scored 18 straight points from 4:00 minutes in the 4th through the first overtime marking it as the 2nd-most consecutive points scored in Orlando Magic history. “I thought some of his pullup-two’s, he's going hard and stopping on a dime and raising up and knocking down a pull-up two,” said Sacramento Head Coach Mike Brown shaking his head - "He had an incredible night."

Midway through the game, the Kings became so tired of Paolo’s dominance that they threw away their game plan of sagging off the perimeter and loading the low block to force one of the worst teams in the league to cash in from downtown. “That's why we started blitzing him, and just trying to get the ball out of his hands,” said Kings Coach Mike Brown.

Down four with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter, Kevin Huerter left his assignment to blitz Banchero as the ball handler into a forced bucket against a running shot clock. Instead, the sophomore forward displayed his high basketball IQ, scanning the court for an open receiver for a feet set corner triple from 23-feet out.

A few possessions later -- the Kings went back to blitzing Paolo Banchero who found similar success against the audible coverage. A pick-and-pop between the man in the middle (Wendell Carter Jr) led to Javale McGee in drop coverage and Trey Lyles and Malik Monk aggressively poking at him to disrupt his ball control as he found Carter Jr. for his second long-range bomb in the quarter. "Think about it, you're blitzing a power forward center coming off the pick-and-roll with another center, you know. It's a little unusual," Mike Brown said with a bit of a smirk at the unprecedented tools Orlando has in their toolbox.

This final play encapsulates how unreal Banchero's vision truly is. Operating at the free-throw line extended he has eyes in the back of his head knowing where his teammates and defenders are positioned at all time. With the shot-clock shaving down to almost under ten seconds in desperate need of a bucket, while being blitzed by Keegan Murray and Fox he uncorks a laser to Trevelin Queen in the corner. Malik Monk is forced to switch off his primary defender and a swing pass to Jalen Suggs leads to a wide open triple. “The young man’s that talented that's why we started blitzing him, and hitting 'em’ and trying to mix it up”.

After the Kings had raced out to a sixteen-point lead behind scorching shooting and phenomenal playmaking from Sabonis along with potential Sixth Man of The Year candidate Malik Monk, Banchero hunted for his own shot, drilling two consecutive clutch buckets in 32 seconds. He nailed a side-step three, followed by his three to the dome celebration and mean-mug to the crowd to force the first overtime of Orlando's season. “If Banchero can shoot like that [season-high 6 triples], ooh, look out because he's a talented, strong, young individual that’s just getting better and better and better. I give him a lot of credit,” said Kings Head Coach Mike Brown, who remained impressed by the performance of the Magic star throughout his postgame interview. 

As the game progressed into overtime and the gatorade signs started flashing beneath players icons on the second leg of a back-to-back, Orlando needed one more moment of magic. Banchero provided it, dismissing a soft double team in the post, calling Chuma Okeke to hit him in stride on a baseline out of bounds cutting layup as he watched his shot kiss the bank to force double overtime. 

The game, which eventually resulted in a 135-138 loss, delivered big shots, big moments and even bigger emotions. What Paolo Banchero did on Wednesday night was the reason fans watch these games: to find something special, to be transported somewhere else for a few minutes by basking in its glow and drafting in its wake. Watching only the second year man out of Duke take not only the Kings’ defense, but our very understanding of the outer limits of crunch-time shotmaking, into his hands as a 21-year old—and doing it again and again, single-handedly, was a special zone to sit through cementing himself a ticket to Indiana for his first All-Star game appearance...right?

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