Welcome to another issue of A Farewell to Takes, our quick look around the NBA. With NBA Christmas quickly approaching, we decided to switch it up this week. We'll be back to our regular programming on January 2nd. Also, we're excited to share our interview with Paolo Banchero today. Give it a watch on YouTube or listen on Wondery (or wherever you listen to your podcasts).
In this week’s A Farewell to Takes we are giving you:
- What to watch out for this NBA Christmas
- Tommy on the Raptors
- The Best Thing Tommy Ate This Week
Thanks for being a part of our community, listening to our podcasts, and reading the newsletter. Happy holidays. —JJ
Previewing the NBA Christmas games
On the latest episode of The Old Man and the Three Things, we preview the three NBA Christmas games we're most excited about. Since we can't transcribe the entire podcast in the issue, we're pointing out just one thing to watch out for those three games.
Knicks vs. Sixers
- The Knicks defense, but especially: "Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride. That's been the difference in this win streak. Their defense has been phenomenal. They're hounds on the defensive end. They're into your shit. They guard well. They don't get broken down at the point of attack. Bringing those two guys, giving them real minutes ... Quentin Grimes is playing like 34 minutes in this win streak, Miles McBride playing 18 minutes, it's awesome."
Warriors vs. Grizzlies
- "I think the storyline of this game is still very fascinating because it is the Grizzlies. You saw that video that NBA.com of their pregame dance. They're just a fun team to watch. Golden State is a team that eliminated them last year in the playoffs. They're going to be extra amped, even without Steph, to be play in this game. It's a big fucking deal that the Memphis Grizzlies are playing on Christmas Day. And I'm so also excited to see what happens over the next several week with Steph out and how the Golden State Warriors responds."
Celtics vs. Bucks
- "The one thing on Boston that I want to point out. They were so good offensively and surprisingly not-great defensively. Their defense has been trending now for weeks int he right direction. They're all the way up to to eight overall in the NBA defense. This weekend aside, I'm not pushing the panic button on the Celtics. They're fucking really good. And so is Milwaukee. Milwaukee is really good."
Listen to the full episode only on Amazon Music. (If you are an Amazon Prime member, you have Amazon Music.)
Today we published our interview with Orlando Magic rookie and no. 1 pick of the NBA Draft Paolo Banchero. Topics include the pressure of playing for Duke during Coach K's final year, what motivates Paolo to continue to play with an edge despite all the praise, his draft night experience, what he's learned from his first year in the league, his 'Welcome to The NBA' moment featuring Kevin Durant, where Seattle basketball ranks among other cities, an amazing Jamal Crawford 1-on-1 story, and much more.
What's going on with the Raptors?
We've talked a ton about the parity of both conferences this year. There are very few really bad teams, and even some of the groups we thought would be firmly tank for Victor mode, like Orlando and Utah, have shown a surprising amount of spark. As we approach the season's halfway point, there are a few teams who are going to have to make an organizational judgment call. Do you continue to sputter away in striking distance of the play-in game, or do you go all in on blowing it up to try to strengthen your position in a potentially historically good draft?
The most interesting test case of this right now is the Toronto Raptors. Unlike the Wizards and Bulls, two deeply struggling groups that have hit walls with seemingly little light at the end of the tunnel, the Raptors probably should not be here. They have a great coach in Nick Nurse, an All-NBA talent in Pascal Siakam who has missed time this year but been excellent when healthy, one of the league's top defensive players (who has been highlighted in this letter in OG Anunoby), a young forward with insane upside in Scottie Barnes, a vet leader in Fred Van Vleet etc. And yet, the Raptors sit at 13-18, losers of 6 in a row, with not a ton of reason for optimism.
The obvious team culprit here so far is their team defense. While obviously a far cry from their 2019 championship defense, their team defensive rating sits at 112.1, currently tied for 21st in the league. O.G. has been a fantastic disruptor, but their team defensive rotations have been consistently sloppy and they've had trouble defending the paint. Their blowout loss to the Warriors on Sunday was a good example of this, letting a Steph-less Golden State team blow their doors off in the first half scoring 68 points, hitting 11 3s, and shooting 55% from the field, essentially ending the game early. Toronto's shooting hasn't been much better so far this year, they currently are 28th in the league in FG%, 28th in 3 pointers made, and 29th in 3P%. A healthy Siakam could open up the floor a bit, but the clock is starting to tick on the season.
Where the Raptors feel interesting, is Masai Ujiri has never been shy or scared about making big trades if he feels like something isn't working. This has been the Raptors' only non-Tampa 6-game losing streak since 2012. As Blake Murphy pointed out, after every five-game losing streak, there has been a significant move. Though Barnes has been a bit up-and-down coming off of his Rookie of the Year victory and perhaps dealing with the effects of an ankle injury, he is probably the only guy on this roster that's off limits. If they decided to blow it up, Anunoby, Gary Trent Jr., Van Vleet and Otto Porter Jr. all would likely have significant value in an otherwise barren trade landscape. And Siakam, a two-time All-NBA talent — averaging 25 points, 6.8 assists, and 8.6 rebounds with a 56.5% TS% this year — is not the kind of player who comes on the market often. I like Portland as a fit for him the most, with a package centered around Shaedon Sharpe, but there would be no shortage of suitors if Masai opened it up.
This could all be a moot point if these Toronto defensive rotations tighten up and some threes start to fall, but as we approach the new year, it is starting to feel like we might see a brand-new Raptors team by the All-Star break. —Tommy
Best Thing Tommy Ate This Week: Seared Tuna Flatbread at Saltie Girl
There's no shortage of elite seafood options in Boston. JJ swears by Row 34; B&G Oyster is is fantastic; even the Legal Seafood at the airport is consistently good. For my money though, Saltie Girl (on Dartmouth Street in Back Bay) is the best in the city. Everything on the menu is good: the crudo, the Torched Salmon Belly, the Gloucester Lobster Roll. But if you're looking for the thing to try, do not miss the Seared Tuna Flatbread. Served with sundried tomatoes, red onion, and a little yuzu aioli, the flatbread is basically a combo of insanely fresh tuna with the crispiness of a great pizza. It's also filling as a full meal, unlike many of the other menu options which are more shareable starter plates.
We will be in Boston many times more throughout this season, and I know where I will be every time.