Nekias Duncan shares his Christmas Screen Team

While you're opening presents, they'll be creating openings for their teammates

Happy holidays and welcome back to A Farewell to Takes, our quick trip around the NBA and WNBA! Naturally, we had to make today’s issue of the newsletter all about NBA Christmas.

In this week’s A Farewell to Takes:

And to kick off this special edition of the newsletter, I asked some members of the team to share the game they’re most excited to watch today. (I’m calling Warriors-Nuggets, but my pick is Celtics-Lakers. More on this on today’s episode of The Old Man and the Three Things with Tim Legler.)

  • Tim Legler: Mavs-Suns, Celtics-Lakers

  • Nekias: Celtics-Lakers (was Sixers-Heat before Joel Embiid was announced out)

  • Steve: Bucks-Knicks

Appreciate you all! Thanks for reading! —JJ

Screen Time, Vol. 9: Christmas Screen Team

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 nine. All stats are from December 18th onward, unless otherwise noted.

First and foremost, I'd like to wish a happy holidays to everyone reading! Thank you for the support throughout the year, especially on a weekly series as niche as this one.

We have a pretty fun Christmas slate to look forward to — get well soon Mr. Embiid! — so it seems fitting to highlight players from the participating teams. In the most Nekias post of all-time, I'd like to offer some screeners to pay attention to as you partake in the hoops. While you're opening presents, they'll be creating openings for their teammates.

(I'm not sorry.)

Without further ado, here's a ballot-like team to keep tabs on.

GUARD: Kyle Lowry, Heat

  • Lowry has set more on-ball picks (116) than any point guard participating on Monday, per Second Spectrum. Only Tim Hardaway Jr (181) has set more among guards overall, but even he doesn't get his hands dirty quite like Lowry does. Expect a heavy dose of cross screens in this one, particularly early in the game to get Bam Adebayo some early (deep) touches.

GUARD: Grayson Allen, Suns

  • Allen is quietly having his best NBA season, boasting career highs in virtually everything: points (12.2), rebounds (4.6) assists (2.7), efficiency beyond the arc (45.1%) and more. That's secondary for Monday, though. Watch that man turn into a fullback whenever the Suns go to Flex action for either Kevin Durant or Devin Booker. He doesn't mind the contact at all, and often does a great job of forcing the defense to bend. On the year, the Suns are generating nearly 1.4 points per possession (PPP) on trips featuring an off-ball screen set by Allen.

FORWARD: LeBron James, Lakers

  • LeBron seems out of place for a list like this, but that's exactly the point. He can still do all of the control-the-flow things while doubling as an effective screener on and off the ball. He's connecting on over 60% of his on and off-ball picks; not only do those screens hurt when he commits, they put defenders in a bind. When your choices are "fall behind the play" and "switch and be stuck defending LeBron if he doesn't roll", it's fair to say you won't have a good time. Against a team like Boston, I'm curious to see what kind of mismatches play out.

FORWARD: Derrick Jones Jr., Mavericks

  • Similar to Allen in Phoenix, Jones Jr. is having a breakout year in Dallas. Most will latch onto the three-point shooting (36.7% on 4.3 attempts), and rightfully so. I'd like to point out that Jones Jr. has found even more utility as a screener. There are still frame limitations — the dude is thin, so there's only so much defenders have to navigate — but he has both committed to holding his picks a beat longer than he used to, and has displayed a better understanding of what angles will help Luka Doncic, among others. The Mavericks have generated over 1.2 PPP on trips featuring the Luka-DJJ partnership; the Suns could have their hands full considering where their defense has been as of late.

CENTER: Brook Lopez, Bucks

  • Lopez was highlighted in an earlier edition of Screen Time so I won't hang here too long. We can just land with this: among the 45 players on this year's Christmas rosters to set at least 100 on-ball picks, Lopez ranks 1st in screen contact rate (67.9) and 2nd in die-on-screen rate (6.7). The man is huge, and has been incredibly helpful to Damian Lillard (and everyone else) by springing them free.


JJ was joined by Tim Legler for a special edition of The Old Man and the Three Things. They give a quick preview of the NBA Christmas games before rearranging the schedule to make what they think would be the perfect slate of games if they could pick the teams and time slots themselves. (Recorded on December 19th.)

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Are the Bucks the Grinch?

Happy holidays for all who celebrate and with it comes a five pack of NBA games on Christmas Day for the 16th year in a row (yes, I am old enough to remember the days when you got two games and you liked it). It should be an action packed day of hoops, the last four NBA champions will be in action (Lakers, Bucks, Warriors, Nuggets). Each matchup will feature at least one former MVP (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokić, Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Joel Embiid, and Kevin Durant). It will also be the first time this season we get to see the Lakers face the Celtics, the Heat face the Sixers and the Suns face the Mavericks.

(fun fact: LeBron James has a chance to make history and become the player with the most victories on Christmas Day. He’s currently tied with Dwayne Wade at 10, a win over the Celtics will put him over the top. Also, did you know the Miami Heat are 11-2 on Christmas Day and Head Coach Erik Spoelstra is 8-0 in Christmas Day games. Does the streak continue?)

I wanted to focus on a matchup that will a) kick off the day and b) we’ve already seen before. That’s the Bucks vs. the Knicks.

This will be the fourth time this season that the Bucks and Knicks will face off and so far it’s gone the Bucks way. Three straight wins for the Bucks against the Knicks including a 19 point win on Saturday in the Garden (130-111). The Knicks have to hope the Bucks don’t leave another lump of coal in the Knicks stocking.

My eyes go to the Knicks defense because the Bucks have gotten whatever they want against the Knicks so far this season. In their first matchup, the Bucks shot 42% from the field but 51.3% from 3 (20 of 39) and added 20 made free throws. In their second matchup, the Bucks shot 60.4% from the field and 60.5% from 3 (23 of 38). In their most recent matchup, the Bucks shot 52.7% from the field and 50% from 3 (16 of 32).

The big key for the Knicks defense will be their rotations. This is a group that gives effort on the defense end and relies on their weakside defenders to help in pick and roll. The issue becomes sustaining the efforts, nailing their closeouts and defending on a string. Damian Lillard in pick and roll tends to get the Knicks defenders to come higher on the floor and the Bucks have done a good job of finding rollers, forcing more help and kicking the ball out for quality shots or drive and kick. The loss of Mitchell Robinson does not help matters (especially if Hartenstein finds himself in foul trouble as he did on Saturday). The best possessions for the Knicks have come when they are active on and off ball, physical and protecting the paint from drives.

What also does not help matters is on top of the three point shooting and shotmaking, the Knicks have yet to have a good answer for Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokoumpo. In their three matchups, Giannis is averaging 28.3 PPG, 7.7 REBS, 7.7 ASTS on 65.3% shooting from the field. Lillard is averaging 25.7 PPG, 6 AST, shooting 47.7% from the field and 57.1% from 3. On top of the pressure he’s put on the Knicks defense, he’s found a way to drive and finish consistently. If those two are able to continue to add drives to the pressure their actions put on the Knicks defense, mixed in with Khris Middleton’s shotmaking, it’s a tough blend to defend.

For the Knicks, they have to find a way to turn the success of Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle against the Bucks into shots for everyone. So far this season, Brunson has scored 45 against the Bucks (1st matchup), Randle has scored 41 against the Bucks (2nd matchup) and they both had success in the third matchup (Brunson with 36, Randle with 26). Brunson’s improved pull up shooting from 3 has provided a boost but it has not shifted the Bucks defense. Brook Lopez will patrol the paint in a drop and protect the rim when helping, if Brunson drives in pick and roll the Bucks will not hesitate to switch Lopez on to him late. Bobby Portis will mix in either switches or being at the level to put two on the ball with either Lopez or Giannis patrolling the paint to help on the roll. Randle tends to get single coverage. The key for the Knicks is being able to open up shots for others.

  • Game 1: 10/39 from 3 (25.6%), 38 made field goals, 18 assists

  • Game 2: 7/23 from 3 (30.4%), 43 made field goals, 27 assists

  • Game 3: 9/29 from 3 (31%), 41 made field goals, 17 assists

I point to these numbers because when the Knicks have 20 or less assists they are 1-8 this season. The kicker is of the opponents in those 9 games (Pelicans, Cavaliers x2, Bucks x2, Celtics, Wolves, Suns, Clippers). The key for the Knicks is taking what they have found offensively and delivering it vs. tougher competition leading into the playoffs. 1-7 when they make 10 or less threes. Want to see how the Knicks show growth in these areas and if the Bucks can continue their flow with their big 3 and improved defensive activity. —Steve

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