Breaking down the Raptors-Knicks trade

Plus: Volume 10 of Nekias's series: Screen Time

Happy new year and welcome back to A Farewell to Takes, our quick trip around the NBA and WNBA. As you settle back into work, you can listen to what Tim Legler and I learned from the first 30-ish games of season on The Old Man and the Three, hear three bold predictions for 2024 from me, Nekias, and Steve on The Old Man and the Three Things, or watch the latest episode of Islands in the League, our monthly series with DraftKings Sportsbook, where I discuss why offenses are becoming increasingly harder to defend. Options!

On to this week’s A Farewell to Takes:

  • Nekias Duncan of The Dunker Spot shares Volume 10 of his series, Screen Time

  • Steve Jones Jr. of The Dunker Spot breaks down the Knicks-Raptors trade

  • Tommy recommends a podcast

  • Tommy on the BTTALW (Best Thing Tommy Ate Last Week)

Thanks for reading! —JJ

Screen Time, Vol. 10: Taj Gibson

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 ten. All stats are from December 25th onward, unless otherwise noted.

Stop me if you've heard this before: Taj Gibson, consummate professional, has found himself in the good graces of Thibs once again.

There's a "death, taxes, and [insert commentary here]" joke to be made, but it's honestly impressive that Gibson was called upon in the year of our lord 2023. The relationship dates back to the Bulls days over a decade ago, but there's a reason Gibson has been trusted in just about every locker room he's been in. He nails the little things; in this case, he remains a proficient screener on and off the ball.

He doesn't move like he used to, but he's still able to flip his hips quickly enough to be an effective re-screener. That particular skill vibes well with the herky-jerky nature of Jalen Brunson. Add in true physicality, and you have someone that aids the offense in creating open looks.

This past week, Gibson generated contact on nearly 66% of his on-ball screens — 4th in the league among a 46-player group to set at least 50, per Second Spectrum. It's simple, sometimes subtle, but it's important. We'll see where Gibson's playing time lands with the Knicks recently acquiring Precious Achiuwa as part of a blockbuster deal, but I think Gibson deserved the shout-out this week.

Stray Thoughts:

  • Your most productive on-ball screener this week, minimum of 50 picks set? Suns big man Udoka Azubuike, who's trying to reclaim his career and cancel all of the "Utah spent their 1st round pick on WHO?" discourse, one head-hunting screen at a time. You can tell Devin Booker (and every other ball-handler on the roster) appreciates his lead blocking.

  • In the Inverted Division, quick shoutouts to Grayson Allen (19 picks, 1.59 PPP, continues laying the lumber while also providing value as a ghost screener), Duncan Robinson (17 picks, 1.06 PPP, he gets outta there in Miami's Double Drag looks), and Lu Dort (30 picks, most set by a guard this week, #OfCourse).


JJ was joined by Tim Legler on the latest episode of The Old Man and the Three to discuss what they learned from the first 30 games of the 2023-24 NBA season. They discuss if “defense really win championships” in the modern NBA, if Joel Embiid needs a ring to validate his greatness, and more.

YouTube | Wondery+ | Apple Podcasts | Spotify | wherever you listen to your podcasts

Debuts of a win-win trade

On Saturday, before 2023 turned into 2024, the Toronto Raptors decided to get a head start on their New Year resolution by trading OG Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa, and Malachi Flynn to the New York Knicks for RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, and a 2024 second round pick. While you can argue the Raptors may have missed the window on a maximum return, once I shuffled through the shock, I felt like both sides would walk happy.

In my head, OG Anunoby would deliver an immediate boost to their defense. A player who can defend 1 through 5, handle “top guy” matchups but also do the little things to elevate their defense. His screen navigation could boost their pick and roll coverage, his activity off ball could help keep opposing offenses out of rhythm, his weakside rotations could help a Knick team that delivers the effort but can sometimes forget the timing. Offensively his experience in Toronto showed that he can play off other players which would be key on a team led by Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle. His consistent three point shooting (37% or better on 5.5+ attempts in 4 out of last 5 years) would aid a team looking to make defenses pay for their help defense.

For Toronto, it was hard to imagine a player checking more boxes of need for them than Immanuel Quickley. The exact type of guard they had needed since Fred VanVleet had left. It’s not just the shooting (thought I know Raptor fans will be excited for it) or him being a pull-up threat in pick and roll. It’s the pace and tempo that Quickley plays with that jumped out to me to boost the Raptors in transition. The ability to run him off screens, off handoffs fit with what the re-shaped vision the Raptors had been going for offensively. His ability to execute pick and roll as a ball handler with Jakob Poeltl, Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam (while also being a screener for the latter two) intrigued me.

The RJ Barrett portion is what really caught my eye. Say what you want (and I am sure folks have said a lot) but if there was going to be a non-Knick team that would be get the best version of RJ Barrett…it would be the Toronto Raptors. Home can do something different for the soul but my head went to the fact that Barrett’s experience and ability to operate in pick and rolls and dribble handoff actions would be a plus for the Raptors. What they may have lost in defense and shooting could be made up for by Barrett’s ability to get to the paint via drive or cuts.

The beautiful part is all players involved got to have their “new year, new me” debuts to kick of 2024, all at home for their new teams. As much as I believed the trade would boost both teams, I did have questions leading into their debut. What would a different offensive context do for OG Anunoby? Would their be room for him to grow offensively? Does playing with Brunson and Randle open up not just catch and shoot 3’s but more drives and cuts? Would he get more touches in the post or off handoffs? What actions will they run for Quickley? What will the lineups look like? Would the Raptors be able to blend their added versatility?

After one game, I feel like all parties involved feel good. OG Anunoby may have fouled out but he was a +19 in 35 minutes, displaying all of the little things he brings to the table. The first play of the game showcased some of the potential for Anunoby in New York. He sliced into the post before coming off a screen from Isiaah Hartenstein, that turned into pick and roll and a pocket pass that opened up a 3 for Julius Randle. Later in the first quarter, while Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle ran pick and roll on the right side of the floor, Anunoby was spaced in the left corner, knocking down a 3 thanks to Hartenstein screening for him. Throw in the activity he showed on and off the ball vs. Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns and you could feel his presence. There are still opportunities for him to attack closeouts offensively, but some of the cuts he made were a big factor.

In Toronto, you felt the difference of Quickley and Barrett immediately. The tempo felt much better having multiple guys who can get the ball up in transition allowing the Raptors to flow into actions and move the ball side to side. Early in the first quarter, you saw the value of Barrett. He ran pick and roll with Poeltl on the right side of the court, the defense helped on the roll, the pocket pass to Poeltl opened up a 3 pointer for Quickley. Poeltl looked re-invigorated as a screener, Quickley not only has the ability to score in P&R but can use space to engage defense and hit Poeltl rolling. The Raptors ended up scoring 41 points in the first quarter on 14 of 22 shooting from the field with 10 assists. Positive signs.

There was a possession in the third quarter that stood out to me when it comes to RJ Barrett. He came of a stagger for Siakam and Poeltl, went right into pick and roll, skipped it to the corner after two dribbles (no hesitation) and when the ball movement got right back to him he let it fly and made a three (no hesitation). Quick decision making had been something my mind went to during his entire Knick tenure and in that one possession it felt like a light bulb went off.

Never forget the importance of context when it comes to basketball and while things may feel similar for the main characters of this trade, recognize there are slight differences. While Anunoby may remain “option 3” it may feel different than in Toronto. His defense may be more needed and valued, there may be more room for him to play off Brunson/Randle and he could feel more involved in the offense with a different kind of touches. Barrett may have to contend with additional ball handlers but he could feel more at east allowing him to make quicker decisions and his blend of driving and playmaking could have a larger pop. Quickley may take all of the good things he did in New York and expand on it in a different role, but he’ll have more space to grow into the best version of himself on a team without Brunson.

At the end of the day, sometimes knocking your head against a ceiling can allow you to break through it somewhere else. —Steve

What Tommy has been listening to

It’s hard to overstate how impressive the Thunder's close to 2023 was. Besides smacking the Nets on NYE, they beat the defending champs twice in two weeks, including an eye-opening 26-point beatdown in Denver. They handled both the Timberwolves and the Knicks with relative ease, and as they enter a fascinating matchup with Boston this week, I think it’s safe to say the expectations for this teams 2023 specific run have changed. They finished December with a 10-3 record, 4th in Net Rating, and I can go on forever. They are really good and seemingly only going to get better. I've talked about Thunder Film Room in the letter before; it's a great follow for Thunder specific content with video breakouts in real time. But if you're in the mood for more OKC hoops high level analysis, I really enjoyed the Down to Dunk podcast the last few weeks. Andrew Schlecht, Alex Speers, Luke Stephens, and Taylor Dickerson were really good in this past Friday's ep breaking down both this current Thunder streak and what we should look to expect in 2024. High quality show. —Tommy

Best Thing Tommy Ate Last Week: Rigatoni at The Jones Assembly

Speaking of OKC … before I went to Kansas City for New Year’s, I stopped in OKC to see some of the Thunder crew and hang in the city. Jason, Mikal, Cam, and I went to Jones Assembly on Saturday night for an early dinner, a spot Jason has long hyped, but I was excited to try. The wings and biscuits were very solid, and I loved the rigatoni I had as an entree, which was a great sized portion. It had a perfected blended vodka sauce and was served with whipped ricotta. The hype was legit; I will definitely be back and look forward to trying some other stuff on the menu. —Tommy

The Jones Assembly | Instagram | 901 W Sheridan Ave Oklahoma City, OK 73106

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