Pay attention to De'Aaron Fox
Plus: Volume 4 of Nekias's series: Screen Time
Welcome back to A Farewell to Takes, our quick trip around the NBA and WNBA. Tyrese Haliburton, an OG correspondent of the show, joined me for our latest mailbag episode of The Old Man and Three. And stay tuned for this week’s episode of The Old Man and Three Things. It’ll be live later today on all platforms.
In this week’s A Farewell to Takes we’re giving you:
Thanks for reading! —JJ
Pay attention to what the Fox is saying
It’s very early in the NBA season, but there are only three players currently averaging 30+ points per game while shooting 50% from the field and 35% or better from 3: Luka Dončić, Kevin Durant, and … De’Aaron Fox.
He’s only played in seven games so far this season, but Fox has taken another leap averaging 31.9 PPG (would be tied for the league lead if he qualified), 6.1 assists, 4.6 rebounds while shooting 50.6% from the field (on 23 shot attempts) and a career high 41.7% from 3 (on a career high 8.6 attempts).
The stats have been loud but the play has been even louder: the Kings are 6-1 in the games that Fox has played in. His return to the lineup has boosted them to 8-4 and in 4th in the Western Conference. The biggest thing that stands out to me is the command and control that he has on the court right now. He has always had speed and an ability to get in the paint. We’ve seen the growth over the past couple years as far as knowing when to change speeds. Key for a guard, key for a great scorer. The turbo button is fantastic, but knowing when and how to use it makes it even tougher to deal with. I’m not an expert in other sports but it feels like a pitcher in command, a quarterback toggling through their progressions, a tennis player hitting the corners. Showed the growth last year of reading a defense and countering drop coverage or unders. That’s grown even more to the point where you’re not sure if this hesitation dribble is setting you up for the drive, pull up for stepback.
According to NBA.com, last year Fox shot 76.5% in the restricted area. He’s down to 54.8% this year but he’s traded that growth in for an improved 3 point percentage. Up to 41.5% on Above the Break 3’s (33.4% last year) but this work off the dribble is what makes it tougher. According to the NBA’s tracking data, Fox is shooting 47.2% from 3 on pull-ups (up from 30.1% last year) and 51.7% from 2 on pull-ups (up from 45.9% last year). The finishing may have gone backwards, but don’t mistake the shooting growth as Fox getting away from his bread and butter. Fox is currently 4th in the league in drives per game (17.3) and 1st in the league in points off drives (15.7) Throw in the ball and player movement of the Kings offense and you have a difficult blend to deal with. You also have a scorer the Kings can lean on when teams lock in defensively.
There are a lot of great players and guards in today’s NBA, but let’s not forget about the work De’Aaron Fox has done over the past few years. There will always be a level of noise surrounding that Pacers/Kings trade…keep in mind it gave us this version of Domantas Sabonis, this version of Tyrese Haliburton and this version of De’Aaron Fox. If he keeps playing at this level, you may have to mention Fox in a different conversation this year. —Steve
OG OM3 correspondent Tyrese Haliburton joined the show last week for a mailbag episode to answer your submitted questions.
Screen Time, Vol. 4: Brook Lopez
Offenses have never been more lethal than they are in this era. With primary ball-handlers becoming larger, the collective shooting range expanding and teams leaning further into the importance of spacing, it’s becoming even more difficult to keep the ball out of the basket.
With the game expanding, screening has become even more important. A well-placed off-ball pick can free a movement shooter for a triple or a catch-and-drive. On-ball screens can make shifty ball-handlers even harder to deal with in pick-and-roll and open the door for dump-offs, lobs and fruitful catch-and-shoot opportunities.
Screeners come in all sizes these days, ranging from the burly centers to mismatch-causing smalls. I can’t overstate how important guard-screening has become, especially late in games.
This season, I want to keep tabs on who is — and isn’t — getting the job done as screeners. Every week, I’ll be highlighting a handful of the most powerful or shameful screen-setters in the league.
Let’s get into volume four. All stats are from November 13th onward, unless otherwise noted.
Screener of the Week: Bucks Center Brook Lopez
The Bucks are starting to figure some stuff out. They've won their last four, and currently sit at 9-4 (3rd in the East, 2.0 games back of top-seeded Boston) despite working through adjustments on both ends of the floor. Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo are heating up, which certainly helps matters. A quietly-important to the uptick of both has been the presence of Brook Lopez. His ability to oscillate between inside and outside usage allows the Bucks to toggle with different spacing methods for the stars. On a more basic note, Lopez is doing one heck of a job opening up space with his screening.
The 4-5 ball screens between Giannis and Lopez have been nice, even if the vast majority of those lead to switches for Giannis to toy with. The real fun is when Lopez screens for Lillard — and where he's doing it.
Per Second Spectrum, the Lillard-Lopez pick-and-roll has been the Bucks' most frequent pairing this season (142 picks) and this week (58). This has to be the highest volume of half-court (adjacent) screens that Lopez has set in his career, the obvious benefit being Lillard getting to fly downhill with tons of room to operate. Among 83 players to drive at least 75 times this season, Lillard ranks first in points per possession (PPP) generated (1.35 PPP) in large part due to Lopez springing him open. Even within more traditional middle or wing pick-and-rolls, Lopez seems to have a handle on Lillard's cadence, allowing him to free the All-Star guard for a mix of pull-up and downhill opportunities.
As the Bucks' superstars continue to find their rhythm as of late, wanted to give a quick hat tip to Brook Lopez.
Been doing real yeoman's work as a screener, specifically for Dame.
— Nekias (Nuh-KY-us) Duncan (@NekiasNBA)
Nov 20, 2023
Regardless of who his ball screen partner was this week, Lopez was moving folks. He connected on 70% of his on-ball picks, with defenders being wiped out - Second Spectrum tracks "die-on-screen percentage", which means exactly what it sounds like - on 10% of them. Only Anthony Davis (!!!) connected on a higher rate of screens this week (72.4%, min. 75 on-ball picks), and nobody set more of the bone-crushing variety than Lopez.
More like Bash Mountain.
Your most productive on-ball screener this week, minimum of 50 picks set? Phoenix Suns big man Drew Eubanks (57 picks, 1.36 PPP), who connected on over half of his screens (52.6%) and had fun creating openings for Devin Booker and Kevin Durant. In fact, 42 of his 57 on-ball picks (73.7%) were set for the two superstars.
In the Inverted Division, quick hat tips to Isaiah Joe (22 picks, 1.41 PPP, ghost screens and pure picks and Spain reps, oh my!), Terance Mann (18 picks, 1.4 PPP, welcome to the starting lineup), Josh Hart (30 picks, most set by a guard-sized player at least), and Max Strus, who's quietly been the NBA's most effective screening partner this season (87 picks, 1.28 PPP) among 102 players to set at least 75 this year.
What Steve has been reading
Best Thing Tommy Ate Last Week: Tomato Bisque at Café Lutecia
I went down Tuesday to watch Tyrese and the Pacers play the Sixers in Philly and needed a little pick me up before the game. Café Lutecia had come highly recommended as a lunch spot, and boy, does it not disappoint. It feels like everything on the menu looked pretty good, but the tomato bisque was suggested, and it was nuts. It's hard to describe what makes a pretty basic soup like tomato bisque this great except for just that they have perfected it. If you need to eat lunch in Philly, go here.
Café Lutecia | Instagram | 2301 Lombard St, Philadelphia, PA 19146
Can we stop? @NBA
— JJ Redick (@jj_redick)
Nov 16, 2023
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