Takeaways from the Lillard-Giannis duo's (preseason) debut
Plus: Why Nekias is high on this Heat team
Welcome back to A Farewell to Takes, our quick trip around the NBA and WNBA. Tommy and I took a trip to Philadelphia last week to sit down with Tyrese Maxey for Episode 177 of The Old Man and the Three. If you’ve been watching the NBA preseason, today’s episode of The Old Man and the Three Things is for you. Steve and Nekias of The Dunker Spot join me to discuss the first week of preseason basketball, Wemby, Chet Holmgren, and Chris Paul.
In this week’s A Farewell to Takes we’re giving you:
Thanks for reading! —JJ
A duo’s (preseason) debut
We are a little over a week away from the official tip of the NBA regular season and after much anticipation we finally saw the debut of Damian Lillard in a Milwaukee Bucks uniform. Once you absorbed the sight of Lillard wearing the Bucks’ “Good Land Green,” you got to see flashes of what the partnership with Giannis Antetokounmpo could mean for Milwaukee and the rest of the league.
My biggest takeaway was the space that the Bucks will be able to operate with and the pressure these two teams could put on teams. Of course this is preseason so per usual grab your favorite seasoning and take this with a grain of salt, but the flashes are there.
On the Bucks first possession of the game, they had Lillard screen to get Giannis a post up. A cut meant that Giannis was posting up with Damian Lillard one pass away. There were no digs or doubles, and Brook Lopez being on the wing took an element of size away as Giannis operated. If nothing else, it was a message that defenses will have to think about when and where help comes from.
A lot of the buzz around the duo came from what they can provide in pick-and-roll together. The Bucks used Giannis as a screener for Lillard, and the Lakers cooperated by making sure to put two on the ball when Lillard came off. That activity is to try and take away the threat of Lillard’s pull up jumper. It opened up a lot of room for Giannis to roll. On their first pick-and-roll, Giannis drew the attention of not just the weakside defenders but also Taurean Prince cheating off the strong side corner. That’s going to open up shots, drives and cuts for the rest of the Bucks because of how the defense reacts. Khris Middleton has to be a happy camper right now.
The duo ran an empty side pick-and-roll as well; to the Lakers credit, Anthony Davis was ready to rotate and be there on the catch. The Bucks will have to decide on when to cut and when to space when defenses rotate. The flip side is this is a way to get Giannis a post up without him having to back down into it or telegraph the play. The fact that the Bucks can keep you in rotation may be the win here. And that’s before you get into Lillard’s ability to reject or go right to a pull up jumper if the screen is set higher on the floor.
One of the underrated parts of this duo is the ability for Milwaukee to use Lillard as a screener for Giannis. Because of the size of who may be guarding Lillard, that action may not be an automatic switch. Lillard also has the ability to pop; blend that with Giannis’ ability to get downhill and show and recover may not be a fun choice. What stood out to me was Lillard’s ability to screen for Giannis off-ball. The Bucks ran a great elbow set where Lopez caught it on the left elbow, Lillard screened for Giannis cutting. Because of the size, that is not an automatic switch and because of Lillard’s shooting ability teams may be preparing for him to cut and receive the ball. The result was an easy dunk for Giannis as no help was shown.
There were little moments where you could see how the two being able to play off each other is an advantage. Early in the first quarter, out of a timeout, the Lakers denied Lillard the ball on the inbounds with D’Angelo Russell face guarding him the whole possession. That flowed into Jae Crowder getting Giannis the ball on the wing as fast as possible and Giannis attacking before the defense could set up. Lillard’s first basket as a Buck came on a moment where Giannis looked to probe, opted to pass it to Lillard who responded with two japsteps and one made three pointer. At the end of the first half, Lillard looked to ISO with Giannis one pass away. The Lakers doubled, Giannis was able to attack space and the defense had to rotate. Even when not used together, there is a reminder of what each can do individually.
It was not a perfect debut, and the Bucks will have to continue to work on executing to get great looks, but the pressure points they can hit have been shown and they are going to get defenses to react in rotate in a different way than we have seen. —Steve
Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey joined Episode 177 of the show to discuss his journey in Philadelphia; adapting to the play of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and James Harden; how he improved his shooting; his time in Kentucky with John Calipari; and more.
Keep an eye out on the Miami Heat
It's hard not to come away disappointed by Miami's offseason. After watching them struggle to score for most of the season (25th in offensive rating) and their half-court woes coming to a head against the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Finals (93.5 half-court offensive rating, per Cleaning The Glass), it became clear that an offensive upgrade was needed. Bradley Beal finally became available after being linked to the Heat for years; he wound up being traded to the Phoenix Suns. Damian Lillard shockingly pressed the Big Red Button and not only demanded a trade, but demanded one to the Miami Heat in particular. Naturally, he was sent to the team the Heat knocked out of the first round this past postseason.
When two stars become available and you whiff on both — how much of that — it leaves a sour taste in the mouth of the fanbase. Understandably so.
And yet ... I'm oddly high on this Heat team? At the very least, I seem higher on the Heat entering the season than the consensus.
Adding Tyler Herro back into the fold should naturally help the offense. And if you believe in what you've seen this preseason — less the production (52 points in two games), and more the way he's been utilized — he seems primed for the best season of his career. While losing Gabe Vincent and Max Strus could sting, bringing back Josh Richardson and reacclimating Duncan Robinson into the rotation should be fine substitutes.
As of this writing, the Heat don't have a surefire backup point guard behind Kyle Lowry. It's a worthwhile concern, something I mentioned during the Southeast Division preview episode of The Dunker Spot. But the Heat have time to sign or trade for someone if they feel the need to. And if they don't feel that need, it's likely because they feel they can run enough of their offense through Lowry, Herro, Jimmy Butler (I hear he's pretty good), and Bam Adebayo. Kevin Love can be used as a hub. Richardson can run a handful of ball screens for you, though he's best utilized as a second-side option. Heat youngsters Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Nikola Jovic intrigue as options, though we'll have to see how much playing time they garner early on.
Point being, the Heat have options.
It's odd; the Heat's offseason was legitimately disappointing, and an argument can be made that they're still bringing back a better roster than last year's team. It's certainly fair to slot them behind the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics heading into the year; in terms of regular season success, it wouldn't be a shock to see them land behind the Cleveland Cavaliers or New York Knicks. We'll see what happens with James Harden in Philadelphia, but a healthy Joel Embiid should guarantee a solid win total for Philadelphia.
But in terms of playoff equity? The ability to make yet another deep run in the East? The Heat should still be up there; inside that locker room, I know they still like their chances. —Nekias
What Tommy has been reading
I know it's the way they like it, but for the defending champs, it seems like the Denver Nuggets are coming into opening night under the radar. They lost Bruce Brown to Indy and Jeff Green to Houston and were quiet this summer. Though rookie Julian Strawther, who's averaged 20ppg on 76% true shooting in the preseason, looks like he may turn some heads if he's able to crack the rotation. Sam Amick's season preview focuses on Calvin Booth, the front office force behind this roster, and how he approached both building a championship team and continuing it. Booth talks about the comparisons between this current Nuggets team and the Spurs dynasties, and their similarities in roster development. In not replacing Brown, the Nuggets are counting on a huge year two from Christian Braun, which Booth goes deep on in this conversation. Amick's piece is an enlightening look at a budding dynasty operating in plain site, and the man behind it all. —Tommy
Best Thing Tommy Ate Last Week: Wuntun Ravioli at Bonnie’s
This is a previous item on the menu that features the same raviolis
Cam Johnson and I have been on a food tour of Brooklyn recently. So far, we did Lucali, Red Hook Tavern, and The Four Horsemen. Loyal readers of BTALW know how much I love Bonnie’s, but Cam needed the experience so we went last night. A recent major addition to the menu is the wuntun raviolis: shrimp and pork wonton raviolis served with a superior citrus butter sauce and parm. It’s a Cantonese/Italian hybrid that tastes even better than it sounds. You can't really go wrong at Bonnie’s in general, but this should be first on anybody's list going forward. —Tommy
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