Looking ahead to FIBA World Cup

Plus: the absurdity of the Las Vegas Aces

Welcome to another issue of A Farewell to Takes, our quick trip around the NBA. Not a ton of NBA news, so today’s episode of The Old Man and the Three Things is about the best three rookie seasons of the last 25 years. Last week’s episode of The Old Man and Three features guest Grant Williams, who talks through his experience in Boston and memorable moments in the postseason. And the draft returns with our friend Shea Serrano.

In this week’s A Farewell to Takes we’re giving you:

  • Nekias Duncan of The Dunker Spot on A’ja Wilson

  • Tommy looking ahead to the FIBA World Cup

  • Steve Jones Jr. of The Dunker Spot on the Aces

  • The Best Thing Tommy Ate Last Week

Thanks for listening and reading! —JJ

Respect the metronome

I’ve been a musician since I was three years old; the age in which I (read: my granddad) traded out my ink pens and my grandma’s pots and pans for an actual drum set. Timing has always been ingrained in me. It’s a blessing and a curse; I can steady myself and others to help prevent chaos, but I can easily catch when things are out of order. Sometimes it’s blatant, other times it’s subtle; all the time, it’s freaking annoying.

Not everyone can internalize music to that degree. It’s something I had to reckon with as I got older. It’s also why I’ve come to respect metronomes so much. It’s easy to lose track – or frankly, interest – of a metronome. The quiet, or not-so-quiet, ticking. No flash, no frills. It has a singular job: establish the tempo so everything else can fall in line.

And once everything is in line, the true fun can begin. The drummer can let loose; the bass player can thump off-color and work their way back in; the lead guitar can lose its everlasting mind. The vocalist(s) can flow effortlessly. All that funk and flash can create something magical. It’s less music, and more of an experience. It’s breathtaking. But underneath it all is that metronome – either literal or internal, if you have it like that. Keeping count. Maintaining the tempo. Making sure the order isn’t lost.

I want to credit Action Network’s Matt Moore very briefly. He may not be the literal first person to use “metronome” in a sports context, but he’s the first person I saw use it that way. It was brilliant, and also served as a quick kick-in-the-butt moment for me: how did I, the musician, never make that connection?

Anyway. Since seeing him use it that way, I’ve done it a few times myself. Most notably for Reggie Miller and the San Antonio Spurs as a concept. When I think of the term now, my mind immediately shifts to Aces superstar A’ja Wilson.

She’s phenomenal — at worst, the second best player in basketball, with a strong argument for the top spot. She’s been a dominant force since she stepped foot into the W. She averaged 21 & 8 as a rookie; five years later, she’s flirting with 21 & 10 on career-high efficiency.

For all the success the Aces have had over the past year and a half — longer than that, of course, but we’ll narrow it down for now — Wilson has literally been at the middle of it all. Her scoring gravity forces double teams; her screening pries her guards and wings open, on and off the ball. Her shot-blocking prowess creates more room for aggression on the perimeter. The blend of size and mobility unlocks scheme versatility.

Others have shined brighter for moments, even extended stretches. Jackie Young is converting nearly 61% of her 2’s, and roughly 49% of her 3’s this year. Chelsea Gray somehow tops herself every game with a pass (or seven) that makes you question what’s possible on a basketball court. Kelsey Plum lit the world (and net) on fire last year, and is back to doing so this season after a slow start.

But what’s remained the most consistent is Wilson. Jump hooks. Face-up jumpers. Face-up drives. Fouls drawn. Boards grabbed. Post-ups stonewalled. Shots swatted. More boards grabbed. After a night of Young jumpers, Gray no-looks, and Plum drives, you look over at the box score and see 20 points, 10 boards, a pair of blocks, and another dub in the win column.

It’s just what Wilson does. And in light of an MVP race that can go in multiple directions, it’s important to remember what she does. And in light of the historically dominant team she’s on, with multiple teammates having All-WNBA caliber seasons, it’s really important to understand who sets everything in motion.

Respect the metronome. —Nekias

Grant Williams joined the show last week to talk about Michael Rubin's "white party," his decision to join Dallas, playing with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the difference coaching styles of Ime Udoka, Brad Stevens, and Joe Mazzulla, trash talking Jimmy Butler, the funny IMMA MAKE EM BOTH moment, and much more. Plus: a draft with Shea Serrano.

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

Looking ahead to Manila

It's the dog days of NBA summer. Yes, we're waiting on a few trades, and Jaylen Brown and the Celtics still weirdly have not figured out a contract they probably should have figured out a month ago, but overall, it's slow times around here.

We are about a month out from the FIBA World Cup in Manila, which is shaping up to be more interesting and potentially more competitive than usual years. Team USA has gone young with their roster. Some combination of Anthony Edwards, Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Tyrese Haliburton, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Ingram are going to be spearheading the group. We have never seen any of these guys in a setting like this; many of them are the new faces of the league, so how they handle international high level basketball will be pretty interesting to watch.

Team USA's biggest threat, and probably biggest threat for the foreseeable future, is our neighbors to the north. The Canadians have probably the best backcourt in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jamal Murray and high level NBA depth with guys like Dillon Brooks, RJ Barrett, and Dwight Powell. This is a team that could make a case as a favorite going into August.

And then of course, there is Greece and Slovenia. If there is a year that Giannis or Luka could put their prospective teams on their back and will them to a trophy, it could be this year.

The Germans and French with the Wagner brothers and Nic Batum/Gobert combo (unfortunately no Wemby) will also be interesting to watch. —Tommy

On the absurdity of the Las Vegas Aces

The Las Vegas Aces are absurd.

This, of course is not breaking news. They are the defending champs featuring the reigning MVP (A’ja Wilson), the player who finished third in MVP voting last season (Kelsey Plum), the 2022 WNBA Most Improved Player (Jackie Young, who also got better) and the 2022 WNBA Finals MVP who averaged 20 points a game in the postseason while shooting 61.1% from the field and 54.4% from 3 (Chelsea Gray). And they [checks notes] added Candace Parker.

That being a footnote is absurd.

The scary part that gets lost in the “superteam” talk is not only did they add Candace Parker, everyone in their core improved and they feel even more complete as a team. Kiah Stokes has embraced her role and continues to provide consistent play. Alysha Clark has been so important for them on both ends of the floor and really adds to their lineup versatility. The Aces are 21-2 on the year (1st in the W), have won their last 5 games by an average of 20.4 points and their pls-357 point differential is the best over 23 games in league history. Going back to the “superteam” talk, the Aces have faced the Liberty once this season. The Aces won by 17 points in a game where it appeared the Liberty were looking to see where they were and the Aces were looking to deliver a message.

I’m writing about the Aces because this weekend I chose to sit back and just enjoy how good this team is. Remember when I said everyone got better? According to WNBA Stats, Kelsey Plum is shooting 72.8% in the restricted area (59.6% last year). Jackie Young has gone from shooting 47.6% from the field and 43.1% from three last year to 56% from the field and 48.6% from three. A’Ja Wilson dominates on both ends of the floor, has improved her offensive package and went from shooting 50.1% in an MVP season to shooting 55.2% from the field with 7.2 free throw attempts. Chelsea Gray is averaging a career high 6.8 assists a game (just absurd passing every night — if you told me she led the league in no look passes I would believe it) while also shooting 50 percent from the field and 43.9% from 3.

This improvement from everyone is where you really see the pressure the Aces put on teams. An A’ja Wilson post up with Jackie Young one pass away and Kiah Stokes screening on the weakside. Kelsey Plum with the ball at the top of the key with a shooter in the left corner and the left wing wide open so she can checks notes drive left. You defend a Plum/Wilson P&R, then you defend a Young/Wilson P&R and then you have to deal with cutting as well. A stagger or cross screen for A’Ja Wilson that immediately puts you on high alert. Where do you help from? What is the cost for said help?

The scary part about the Aces is not just how good they are, but how much better they can get. —Steve

Best Thing Tommy Ate Last Week: ShackBurger at Newark Liberty International Airport’s Shake Shack

To be clear, this was just a normal Shake Shack burger that tasted about the same as you will get anywhere else. But the shocking thing about this experience is how nice Newark Airport is now. It has been a hellscape for year with arguably the worst airport experience food wise in the country (maybe in the western hemisphere). And now, it's beautiful. Tons of food options, natural light, shopping, etc. I'm not sure what the hell happened, but it was an extremely pleasant surprise. —Tommy

Shake Shack | Instagram | Terminal A of Newark Liberty International Airport

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