Can the In-Season Tournament stick the landing in Vegas?

Plus: Volume 6 of Nekias's series: Screen Time

Welcome back to A Farewell to Takes, our quick trip around the NBA and WNBA. Brooklyn Nets guard Cam Thomas joined me in the studio for a fun episode of The Old Man and the Three last week. Plus, Steve and Nekias of The Dunker Spot joined me for today’s episode of The Old Man and the Three Things to talk about the Bucks, the West, and the In-Season Tournament.

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

  • Steve Jones Jr. of The Dunker Spot on the In-Season Tournament and if it can stick the landing

  • Nekias Duncan of The Dunker Spot shares Volume 6 of his series, Screen Time

  • Tommy shares what he’s been watching

  • Tommy on the best thing he ate last week

Thanks, as always, for reading! —JJ

The IST's last question

It is officially In-Season Tournament Week in the NBA as we exit the Group Stage and head into the Knockout Round. The Quarterfinals are set to tip on Monday before the action heads to Las Vegas for the Semi-Finals (Thursday) and Championship Game (Saturday). The IST has done its job for the league, adding a level of buzz to the regular season, delivering competition, and increasing interest. The metrics show the NBA App and league social media accounts have had their best November ever; viewership on NBA League Pass and national TV were up for the In-Season Tournament. My eyes witnessed several people who were against the In-Season Tournament delivering passionate takes about point differential and if you need to score late in games (I laughed). More and more players have mentioned their desire to get to Vegas. Now … it just needs to stick the landing.

The beauty of the In-Season Tournament was that it added a different element to games that were already going to take place. It amplified the competitive nature of early season matchups without taking away from the regular season (which, by the way, continues for the teams that have already been eliminated). For it to truly stick, these elimination games have to deliver.

In sports (and in life really) moments will always stick with you. It’s not always about what happened, it’s usually about how it made you feel. My mind goes back to 2020. In the bubble, CJ McCollum knocking down clutch baskets vs. the Grizzlies and yelling that he could not be guarded. My mind goes to those same Grizzlies who the following year entered the play-in as the 9 seed, beat the Spurs, beat the Warriors in overtime on the road and left the 8 seed. My mind goes to 2022. The Wolves beat the Clippers to clinch the 7 seed and that Patrick Beverley celebration video is still in rotation. Those are the things you retain versus Charlotte getting blown out in back-to-back years (sorry, Hornets fans). In 2023, the Miami Heat losing their first play-in game to the Hawks, rallying back in their second, and making an NBA Finals run. That’s proof that the concept can work.

Will the In-Season Tournament and NBA Cup be able to hit the same notes? If I’m the league, the last 8 teams remaining have to feel like a win. You have the “big market” Knicks, the fun and dynamic Pacers and Kings, the potential of the Pelicans, the star power of the Lakers, Suns, Bucks, and Celtics. The matchups should deliver. The Indiana Pacers and their fun and dynamic offense (1st in offensive rating at 123.8) face the current best team in the East in Boston (2nd in defensive rating at 107.6). The Knicks have won 7 of their last 10 games, the Bucks have won 8 of their last 10 games. The Pelicans and Kings have shaken off some early season struggles and appear to be rounding into form; one of them will get to go to Vegas. You get an additional matchup of Kevin Durant versus LeBron James, and a guarantee one of them will go to Vegas.

Those Quarterfinals should set the tone and to be honest I cannot think of a better dynamic for the league than the three of the four home games being hosted by Indiana, Sacramento, and Milwaukee. There may be questions on if the NBA Cup matters, but in this age of validation, I imagine those fanbases will give it the feel it needs. It just comes down to sticking the landing in Vegas. Can the competitive nature of these games keep up? Will the atmosphere match the build up? Will someone deliver a signature moment? It’s a home run, but the three days in Vegas could turn it into a grand slam. —Steve

Cam Thomas joined JJ on The Old Man and the Three to talk about irrational confidence, James Harden’s influence on his play style, the difficulties of “staying ready” when you’re in and out of the rotation, and much more.

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

Screen Time, Vol. 6: Jarrett Allen

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 six. All stats are from November 27th onward, unless otherwise noted.

Screener of the Week: Cavs center Jarrett Allen

It's been a weird season in Cleveland, to say the least. A lot of that has been health-related; the big four of Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen have only played 148 minutes together this year. Among four-man groupings, that ranks [checks notes] tied for 102nd in the league. There's more to dig into with the Cavs, but that seems like an easy starting point for explaining why it's hard to get a beat on this team nearly a quarter into the season.

The biggest question heading into the year surrounded the frontcourt. While talented, neither Mobley or Allen stretch defenses in a traditional sense. They'd have to prove able to work in tight quarters — or at least do their part to carve out space in other ways to help the offense keep rolling. Within that lens, this past week was a fun one to watch from Allen.

He was a willing screening partner for Mitchell and Garland, but also sprinkled in some on-ball screens for Mobley. Beyond that, watching Allen process things as quickly as he did was refreshing. It wasn't a surprise to see him nail the screening portion; he has a good sense for hitting versus slipping, and finding the appropriate angle to help his ball-handler get free. When presented with short-roll opportunities, Allen either chewed up space for scoring chances, or quickly diagnosed the right pass and made it.

On the week, the Cavs generated nearly 1.16 points per possession (PPP) on trips featuring an on-ball screen from Allen -- that ranked 6th among 41 players to set at least 50. He connected on roughly 58% of his screens, a middling mark, but wiped out screen navigators when he did make contact. Allen led the league in die-on-screen contact rate (8.89%) this week, and was one of six players — Bismack Biyombo, Alperen Sengun, Onyeka Okongwu (wrote about him last week), Andre Drummond, and Daniel Gafford — to have a rate about 5.0.

The Cavs have to bottle this version of Allen.

Stray Thoughts:

  • Your most productive on-ball screener this week, minimum of 50 picks set? Nikola Jokić (68 picks, 1.25 PPP) because he isn't at the top of the league in enough things, apparently. Jokić is both a genuinely good screener and a walking mismatch as a partner because of the skill set he possesses. There will simply be an advantage when Jokic is involved because there isn't a scheme answer for virtually anything he does.

  • In the Inverted Division, quick hat tips to Max Strus (15 picks, 1.2 PPP; he's gonna be disqualified from this section soon), Kyle Lowry (16 picks, 1.07 PPP, Jimmy Butler owes this man dinner), Terance Mann (28 picks, most set by a guard(-sized player) this week, if he counts), and Kyrie Irving, who set nine on-ball picks for Luka Dončić against the Rockets last week — the highest total since they've been teammates. We'll keep an eye on it.


What Tommy has been watching

No surprise that Thinking Basketball has made another appearance in the letter. It's consistently as smart and forward thinking as anything hoops related on the internet. Their segment this week on Super Teams was super interesting and worth a watch. It's something we've covered a bit on OM3, and this most recent video does a great job of breaking down the dynamics of why these teams don't always work. The new look Los Angeles Clippers, which are one of the focuses of the video, are an example of how the dynamics of joining forces this large together, can be fraught at times. —Tommy

Best Thing Tommy Ate Last Week: Beef Cheeks Massaman Curry at Bangkok Supper Club

via New York Times

Mikal and I went to this new Thai fusion spot, Bangkok Supper Club, on Saturday night after the Magic game. It’s the the sister restaurant of Fish Cheeks, another great Thai spot in the Soho area, and has only been open for a few months. Everything on the menu was great; the steak, lobster curry, and grilled octopus were all standouts. But the beef cheeks massaman curry (with 12 hour cooked beef cheeks, roasted shallots, crushed cashews, and Jasmine rice) was truly sublime. —Tommy

Bangkok Supper Club | Instagram | 641 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014

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