On appreciating the most recent NBA scoring run

Plus: Volume 13 of Nekias's series: Screen Time

Welcome back to A Farewell to Takes, our quick trip around the NBA and WNBA. Rockets center Alperen Şengün joined me in the studio for last week’s episode of The Old Man and the Three. Trey Murphy III, one of our new correspondents, also joins the show for a check-in. Hope you enjoy both conversations.

With the NBA All-Star starters announced, Nekias and Steve joined me on the latest episode of The Old Man and the Three Things to pick our official (but unofficial) All-Star reserves.

On this week’s A Farewell to Takes:

  • Steve Jones Jr. of The Dunker Spot on appreciating the most recent scoring run

  • Nekias Duncan of The Dunker Spot shares Volume 13 of his series, Screen Time

  • Tommy recommends a follow

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

Thanks for reading! —JJ

Appreciating the scoring spree

It was a week ago when the NBA’s most recent scoring run popped off. A Monday evening of hoops quickly turned into realizing that Joel Embiid had scored 54 points against the Spurs with 4:07 left in the the third quarter. At that moment of the game, Embiid had made 20 field goals while the entire Spurs team had made 26. Ten minutes later, I flipped to the Minnesota Timberwolves facing the Charlotte Hornets and came to the realization that Karl-Anthony Towns had scored 41 points in 19 minutes on 14 of 16 shooting at the time while hitting 8 of 8 from 3.

That’s not how any of that is supposed to work. But that’s the fun part.

Embiid finished with 70, KAT finished with 62 and four days later Devin Booker had 62 points against the Indiana Pacers and [checks notes] Luka Dončić tied the mark for the 4th highest scoring game in NBA history with 73 points.

To put that in perspective, according to the NBA, only five times in the league’s history have two players scored 60+ points on the same day. Two of those happened last week. Prior to Embiid and KAT doing it on January 22 we had not seen two players score 60+ on the same day since April 9th 1978 when David Thompson had 73, and George Gervin had 63.

I was negative 9 years old.

Some of the social media response to this scoring spree was interesting as the trusty, reliable, “no one plays defense” take was sprinkled in alongside “remember when 60 points was something to remember?” To that, I provide a kind reminder that the most 60+ point games in a season came in 1962-63, when it happened nine times.

If you’ve seen any of my content, you know that I have a basketball illness. I’m looking for playcalls, coverages, schemes, well timed cuts, screening angles, defensive rotations, and I promise you there is nothing that will get me to turn my brain off like these kind of scoring performances. I love defense, but it’s time to acknowledge not just the evolution of the game, but the type of pressure that offenses and individual talents are putting on teams.

Lost in the back and forth is that two of Joel Embiid’s first made baskets were a pull up and a step back over 7’4 Victor Wembanyama. Embiid mixed in post seals and as soon as the Spurs looked to show double teams, adjusted right back to pull ups in transition before the defense could get set. We can point to defense but let’s not discredit the idea of a human being of that size, facing up, seeing a double team and driving baseline to finish. Karl-Anthony Towns first made field goal came with 11:45 in the first quarter, a pick and roll with Rudy Gobert screening, KAT handling and going right into a pull up 3. Devin Booker had a quick spin off a post up and a pullup in transition and those quick decisions allow you to get a shot off before a defense can load up. In the first quarter alone, Luka saw the Hawks in a deep drop and took the space and scored, hit a stepback, and forced Atlanta into bringing their big to the level and looking to switch.

Basketball is subjective, so I can understand if the scoring isn’t for everyone. Hopefully the blend of talent, skill and shot making can be appreciated. I find it ironic that some folks are clamoring for a return of defense, but didn’t want to watch an ounce of the Grit n Grind Grizzlies. —Steve

Screen Time, Vol. 13: Draymond Green

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 13. All stats are from January 22nd onward, unless otherwise noted.

Screener of the Week: Warriors big Draymond Green

It's been a rough season for the under-.500 Golden State Warriors. It's been an even rougher stretch for them recently, reeling from the untimely, unfortunate, and flat-out unfair passing of beloved assistant coach Dejan Milojević (may he rest in peace). As hard as it is to transition back to basketball after something like that, the Warriors were able to show some fun flashes of competence amidst a 1-2 stretch.

Notably productive during that three-game stretch was Draymond Green, who had to deal with his own self-inflicted adversity this year. He did a little bit of everything, averaging 8.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 2.7 steals, and 1.3 blocks. For the purposes of this section, it's worth highlighting how monstrous of a screening week Green had.

He's long been a controversial screener. I don't have much interest in getting into the legality of his work; he understands the rules while also getting away with some screens has no business getting away with. Overall, though, he's long been one of the most electric screening partners in the league, especially when paired with Stephen Curry.

His unrelenting physicality carves out space. Beyond that, though, I always marvel at the specific lanes he's able to create when he stands up a defender with a pick. It pops when forcing switches; he'll either stop in his tracks and keep a defender with him, or "escort" his defender down to the paint while creating more space for a drive.

Green connected on 75% of his on-ball screens this past week, the 4th highest clip among 41 players to set at least 50 per Second Spectrum. And in typical Green fashion, his 8.3% die-on-screen rate — exactly what it sounds like: the percentage of picks that screen navigators are completely wiped out by — led the league. His own effectiveness as a lead blocker, combined with Curry being his most frequent on-ball partner, led to this funny number: the Warriors generated a whopping 1.33 points per possession (PPP) on any trip featuring a screen set by Green.

Green does a lot — and I mean a lot — but he unquestionably makes the Warriors function at a high level when he's locked in.

Stray Thoughts:

  • Your most productive on-ball screener this week*, minimum of 50 picks set? Knicks bounce house Jericho Sims (53 picks, 1.41 PPP). It may be the most "screening is a thankless job" example in my time doing this series. Across 53 picks, Sims touched the ball twice -- an offensive rebound and putback attempt, and a pick-and-roll with OG Anunoby where he received the ball at the free throw line, then quickly flowed into a handoff with Julius Randle. I did appreciate Sims' work in the Nets game, and he had some fun screen flips against ICE coverage in the Knicks' blow-out win over the Nuggets. He's coming along just fine.

    In the Inverted Division, quick shoutouts to Stephen Curry (25 picks, 1.4 PPP; he'll be scaring defenses until he's 85), Terance Mann (25 picks, 1.00 PPP, 76% contact rate; I'm enjoying the short roll stuff), Josh Green (39 picks, most set by a guard* this week, 1.47 PPP) and Sam Merrill (22 picks, 1.05 PPP; I love how Cleveland is marrying his ghost screens with flares for him to come off.)


Alperen Şengün joined the latest episode for his second appearance on The Old Man and the Three. Hear him talk about being called Baby Jokić, getting to know Dillon Brooks, why he’s fond of Ime Udoka’s coaching style, and much more.

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Who Tommy has been following

BBall Index (@the_bball_index on Twitter) is always finding new ways to define defensive success across the league. In an increasingly positionless defensive landscape, they've identified 7 ways of defining defensive roles that are pretty helpful: Helper, Chaser, Wing Stopper, Anchor Big, Low Activity, Mobile Big and Point of Attack. BBall Index uses a LEBRON scale which evaluates player contributions using the box score and advanced on/off calculations to evaluate player impact per 100 possessions. Their ranking yesterday, of the top Point of Attack defenders in Defensive-LEBRON, whose focus is defending in isolation, defending ball screens and defending dribble hand-offs, was quite useful in terms of putting into context who the league's best wing defenders are. To nobody's surprise, Alex Caruso and Derrick White are numbers 1 and 2 on the list, but the rest of it, Dyson Daniels, Herb Jones, Cam Reddish, Jalen Suggs, Matisse Thybulle, Ausar Thompson, and Kris Dunn, was interesting to see listed out in real time form. Suggs of course has had a tremendous defensive impact for the Magic, and it's no surprise to see guys like Jones and Thybulle on this list. But Daniels clocking in at 3 was pretty cool and give you a sense of why the Pelicans value him so much. All of BBall Index stuff is great, and seeing this vital information broken down this concisely is a super useful tool. —Tommy

Best Thing Tommy Ate Last Week: Spaghettini Arrabiatta at Scalini Fedeli

via NJ.com

Duncan was in town this weekend for the Heat/Knicks game, so we went to Scalini Fedeli, a super old school Italian spot in Tribeca, on Friday. I don't think you can really go wrong with any of the pasta, but the arrabiatta, consisting of mushrooms, anchovy, and black olives in a spicy tomato and basil sauce, was probably the standout for me. It had the perfect amount of kick and ratio of sauce to pasta. I would like to go back and try some of the other dishes here, but this was about as good of a pasta as I've had in a bit. —Tommy

Scalini Fedeli | Instagram | 165 Duane Street, New York, NY 10013

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