Dwight Powell has the (screening) goods
Plus: Steve Jones Jr. on identity, buy-in, and belief
Welcome back to A Farewell to Takes, our quick trip around the NBA and WNBA. I was lucky enough to sit down with Adam Silver for a conversation for the latest episode of The Old Man and the Three. And today, I was joined by Nekias and Steve of The Dunker Spot to discuss the Timberwolves, Sixers, and Magic on The Old Man and the Three Things. You can watch it on YouTube or listen wherever you get your pods.
In this week’s A Farewell to Takes we’re giving you:
Thanks for reading! —JJ
Screen Time, Vol. 3: Dwight Powell
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 three. All stats are from November 6th onward, unless otherwise noted.
Screener of the Week: Mavericks Center Dwight Powell
I gave him a quick mention last week, but he kept rolling (I'm not sorry) so here we are! Dwight Powell continues to Dwight Powell unlike any player has ever Dwight Powell'd.
He just gets it: finding the right angle, knowing when and how hard to hit on a screen, how long to hold, how wide, narrow or short his roll should be. You can look at his identical-to-last-year box score numbers (6.7 points, 4.1 rebounds) and think he's a subpar big, or you can watch him and actually learn something. Screening may still be a niche or microskill in the broader context of basketball conversations, but Powell is — and has been — one of the best in the league at it for a very long time.
Run from it.
Destiny [Dwight Powell] arrives all the same.
He'll be prying Luka open until the end of time.
— Nekias (Nuh-KY-us) Duncan (@NekiasNBA)
Nov 13, 2023
For the numbers: he was one of 22 players to set at least 75 on-ball picks this past week, per Second Spectrum. The Mavericks scored over 1.16 points per possession (PPP) on trips featuring a Powell PnR — an identical number to the Milwaukee Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo on a near-identical number of screens (82 for Powell, 81 for Giannis). Powell connected on roughly 61% of those picks; that's a down week for him and he still managed to outclass guys like Domantas Sabonis (57.1%), Rudy Gobert (56.1%), Bam Adebayo (55.8%) and Jonas Valanciunas (48.9%).
Oh, I should also add that the connection between Powell and Luka Doncic remains strong. On the season, that pairing produces over 1.08 PPP. Some notable duos they're ahead of:
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander/Chet Holmgren — 1.07 PPP
Jayson Tatum/Kristaps Porzingis — 1.06 PPP
Mike Conley/Rudy Gobert — 1.02 PPP
Tyrese Maxey/Joel Embiid — 1.00 PPP
Damian Lillard/Giannis Antetokounmpo — 0.83 PPP (YIKES)
The more things change, the more things stay the same. Powell has the (screening) goods.
Your most productive on-ball screener this week, minimum of 50 picks set? Indiana Pacers big man Myles Turner (111 picks, 1.24 PPP), who also ranked 44th out of that 46-player pool in screen contact rate (35.1%). The mix of slips and pops, particularly with Tyrese Haliburton as the ball-handler, have been really tough to deal with.
In the Inverted Division, quick hat tips to Ausar Thompson (15 picks, 1.87 PPP, fed Cade Cunningham mismatches, but also enjoyed his slips and quick push-offs into dives), Duncan Robinson (19 picks, 1.33 PPP, back-screen & flare merchant), Buddy Hield (22 picks, most set by a guard this week unless you count the Nets as a concept), and Lu Dort, who loves hitting people.
Yes, we got the commish on the show. JJ and Adam Silver sat down at NBA HQ to discuss fixing the All-Star Game, how the media could do better, the issue with load management, banning Donald Sterling from the NBA, and much more.
On the importance of identity, buy-in, and belief
The 2023-24 NBA season is still young, but one of my biggest takeaways so far has been just how competitive the league is right now. We can have all the jokes and memes in the world, but in my opinion, there are not a ton of easy wins out there right now.
There’s an interesting dynamic where we see a lot of the teams who made big moves to re-tool are working to find their way. For a variety of reasons, the Bucks, Suns, and Clippers all currently find themselves outside of the top six in their conferences. Some of that is natural, start-of-the-season behavior. Another part of it is these teams are searching to find a formula in a league full of teams trying to perfect theirs. My mind finds it a bit ironic to counter their struggles with the fact that the Dallas Mavericks (8-2) and Minnesota Timberwolves (7-2) find themselves at or near the top of the Western Conference. Those are two teams who made big moves last year that seemed to not pay off and now appear to be thriving.
What’s the difference? Those teams feel like they have an identity; those teams feel like they have buy-in and belief. It takes time to build that piece of the program, but it’s very important. Night in and night out knowing who you are on both ends of the floor can help you navigate the regular season. Dallas is led by Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving but because of last year’s struggles were able to tweak the roster to fit pieces around them. Minnesota feels much more decisive this season on both ends. The play of Anthony Edwards certainly helps (as does Rudy Gobert returning to form defensively), but from top to bottom they know what they want to accomplish. Multiple ball handlers offensively, size and length defensively, they compete every night. For both teams, there is an understanding of the hierarchy and roles needed for success.
The Miami Heat have won five straight games despite losing Tyler Herro because no matter what you think of them, they know who they are. The Indiana Pacers are going to run, cut, pass all night. The Oklahoma City Thunder may be led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but they are going to drive the basketball over and over and over again. The Houston Rockets have started 6-3 and look like a completely different team based on the revolutionary basketball formula of playing together and competing on defense.
Continuity has its value but at some point the league catches up to you. Finding a winning formula is hard enough; building on a winning formula can be just as much of a challenge. A lot of teams are struggling early in this season because they are trying to figure out who they are, what makes them win. The journey of the regular season is figuring that piece of it out.
It ties into buy-in and belief. One of the most underrated things you need as a coach is buy-in from your players. We can talk scheme, X’s and O’s, talent but once you lose that buy-in things can get tricky. Early season success tends to enhance that buy-in, to enhance and enforce the vision of the team and now you can truly reach their ceiling. We talk about versatility and adjustments; it’s a lot easier to tinker and experiment when a trusted floor has been established.
Adversity is a part of every regular season. Knowing who you are and believing what you can do can make all the difference. —Steve
Tommy’s Favorite Team to Watch Last Week: Miami Heat
It's beyond a broken record at this point. No matter what is going on in the world, the Miami Heat can pull guys seemingly off the street and win basketball games. I saw them in San Antonio last night, coming off of a brutal back-to-back where they landed at 3am for a 6pm tip. Jimmy Butler flew in yesterday morning; Tyler Herro was not there; Caleb Martin was in street clothes, etc. Did not matter. Duncan Robinson went off: 26 points with 4 three’s and a legendary up-and-under. Kevin Love had a great spurt in the 3rd to keep them in it. Josh Richardson, Dru Smith, and Jaime Jaquez were great. The Heat are now 6-4 winners of five in a row. This is the second one of these brutal back to backs they've had this year (Boston/Milwaukee being the first.) They aren't healthy, they probably still will make a trade, but still. Watching a random November game in San Antonio and you can see why this team has been in 2 of the last 3 finals. —Tommy
What Nekias has been reading
I'm admittedly biased as a Miami Heat Beat alumni, but it's hard to overstate how versatile of a group they are. It's the blend of informative and entertaining that most outlets can't master — or simply don't try to, in favor of going all-in on entertainment or information.
But when they get in the weeds, they get in the weeds. I really enjoyed this piece from John (@JohnJablonka_ on Twitter) breaking down Bam Adebayo's dominant performance against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday. Don't look now (please look), but the Heat have won five straight while Adebayo is operating at an All-NBA level. In a different era, he'd be getting legitimate MVP buzz for what he's doing on both ends right now. —Nekias
Best Thing Tommy Ate Last Week: Baja Style Fish Taco at LOLA 55
via San Diego Reader
I had a busy taco weekend the last two days in San Diego and San Antonio. Once you get going on the taco train, it's hard to stop. LOLA 55, a sit-down restaurant in the East Village neighborhood of San Diego, was easily the highlight of the the trip. I tried the birria, carnitas, and fish. All were excellent, but the Baja style fish taco was the absolute standout. This place is fairly unassuming from the outside, but when I saw it was a Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant, I should have known. Run, don't walk, to here if you find yourself in SD.
Here’s a classic @jj_redick rant … on a Google Docs feature
— TheOldMan&TheThree (@OldManAndThree)
Nov 11, 2023
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