What it means to be a star in your role

Plus: Thoughts on the WNBA Coach of the Year

Welcome back to A Farewell to Takes, our quick trip around the NBA and WNBA. Last week, Khris Middleton and Ryan Ruocco joined us in studio for Episode 173 of The Old Man and the Three and a bonus episode, respectively. This week’s episode of The Old Man and the Three Things is about three under the radar acquisitions. It’s going up this afternoon, so keep an eye out.

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

  • Steve Jones Jr. of The Dunker Spot on the WNBA MVP race

  • Tommy recommends a YouTube channel to watch

  • Nekias Duncan of The Dunker Spot shares what he’s been reading, listening to, and watching

  • The return of the Best Thing Tommy Ate

Thanks for reading! —JJ

What it means to be a star in your role

In light of some of the discussion surrounding Team USA’s recent performance at the FIBA World Cup, and a part of the Khris Middleton’s appearance on The Old Man and the Three, my mind has gone back to one thing:

“Be a star in your role.”

These words are what now feels like an age-old adage in the basketball world, and there is truth to it. Understanding what you can do to help your team win has its benefits. In today’s NBA versatility is key, but we’ve seen various archetypes carve out a lane for themselves. Shooting, playmaker, “three-and-D” wings, bigs who can roll and protect the rim. They are all over the place, and their importance in team building has grown.

The trickiest part becomes when people define players as just that role. It’s a thin line between “this player is a great defender” and “what else does this player do besides defend?” You have to balance growing your game in a role where you may not have a lot of opportunity to showcase it. And let’s say hypothetically a player gets stamped with the ability to hit threes and play defense, if there is slippage in either of those areas everything seems off.

It can be easy to forget the sacrifice that comes with being a role player. There is a certain level of confidence, self-belief, and skill needed to continue climbing the basketball ranks. There is also a reality that what originally brought you to the table may not be what keeps you there. We can tend to value the people who may lack in certain areas but are able to contribute in others. The same courtesy may not be extended to those who know all of what they can bring to the table but have the self awareness to understand what is best for the team’s needs. You have to have the self confidence to compete every single night, the belief in all of your skills, and the understanding that you may have to defer in certain scenarios.

Look no further than the difference in the perception of Dillon Brooks during the playoffs, after the playoffs, and after the World Cup. Despite the fact that in large part, he remained the same player. Fit, opportunity, and context are so important. Evaluate the player, understand the flaws, but recognize the potential impact. —Steve

Khris Middleton joined JJ in the studio for his very podcast interview. They discuss last year’s playoff disappointment, Playoff Jimmy going OFF on the Bucks, his stressful NBA draft story, the Batman and Robin narrative, and more.

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

What Tommy has been watching

We've mentioned it a bunch, but Ben Taylor's Thinking Basketball YouTube channel is a must-watch for anybody reading this newsletter. Basically everything he puts out is good, but last week's episode about Steve Nash's offensive dominance and how he has almost become underrated in current NBA discourse was particularly fascinating.

Taylor gets into Nash's ability to pull up/push and how that changed everything about how the league approached offensive basketball. From 2005-2010, nobody threw more layup passes than Nash, a major reason why his teams consistently ranked at the top of every type of efficiency statistic. Taylor's video breaks down everything that made Nash so effective and how the game has changed since then because of him. Super interesting. —Tommy

Giving flowers to the coaches 💐 

WNBA Coach of the Year voting came in over the weekend, and I can't say I'm surprised by the winner. Stephanie White of the Connecticut Sun got the honors in a landslide, receiving 36 of a possible 60 votes.

White's case was an easy one. She lead the Sun to a 27-13 record despite:

  • Trading away a former MVP in Jonquel Jones over the offseason

  • Trading their long-time All-Star point guard in Jasmine Thomas over the offseason

  • Losing All-Star center Bri Jones 13 games (10-3 record) into the season

More granularly, and I'd argue more importantly, she injected more movement and tempo into Connecticut's half-court offense. The defense remained stellar — ranking 2nd in defensive rating this season after finishing second last year — despite losing arguably their best post defender and defensive rebound in Jones, having to toggle between their aggressive trapping scheme and more conservative styles, all while dabbling with frontcourt cross-matching. Give DeWanna Bonner a gold star for banging with centers for half the year.

There are, nor should there be, any qualms with White winning. The fact that New York Liberty coach Sandy Brondello (3rd at six votes) and Las Vegas Aces coach Becky Hammon (4th at three votes) combined for nine points ... honestly, it rubs me the wrong way.

Brondello took an entirely new roster and turned it into an elite defensive unit -- finishing third in defensive rating (99.4) after finishing seventh (102.0) last season. They also put together one of the best passing seasons in league history; in fact, the Liberty's 75.0 assist rate is the best mark in league history. Achieving both of those marks while trying to establish a base on both ends, sorting through lineup combinations, and specifically trying to get Jonquel Jones up to speed as she recovered from a foot injury is outstanding work.

Hammon spearheaded not just the best team in the league, but one of the best regular season teams of all-time. The Aces led the league in offensive (113.0) and defensive rating (97.7) this year, with the former being the best mark in league history. Their net rating (+15.3) was the best non-Houston Comets number in league history. Winning a title and somehow getting more buy-in defensively — and improving that unit by nearly five points per 100 possessions (102.0, 6th) — is absurd, especially when considering their prized free agent acquisition in Candace Parker only played 18 games for them.

It feels like so much was made about the Battle of Superteams between the Aces and the Liberty heading into the season, that the actual coaching jobs of their respective coaches went under the radar. I think that line of thinking — that these teams were supposed to be good, or that they're so talented that anyone could coach them to success — does such a disservice to the work they put in. It's understandable to expect greatness, but we must be careful not to sleep on it when it's achieved.

Frankly, it's really freaking hard to hit those notes. —Nekias

Ryan Ruocco joined JJ for a bonus episode to talk all things WNBA Playoffs. Topics include: whether the Las Vegas Aces are truly "inevitable", the phenomenal play of A'ja Wilson and why Candace Parker's injury is very underrated, and more.

Our other two bonus episodes include JJ’s sit-down interview with Sabrina at Nike Soho and a WNBA playoff preview with JJ, Steve, and Nekias.

Best Thing Tommy Ate Recently: Fresh Lumpia at Manam

When I traveled to Manila with Team USA for the FIBA World Cup, I wasn't totally sure what to expect food wise. I hadn't really tried Filipino food before, and though I had heard good things, I was a bit apprehensive. That changed with my first meal there. While the food overall in Manila is very good, the lumpia (probably most comparable to a spring roll) was the standout. Both the regular lumpia, which is fried, and the fresh, which is more like a summer roll, were both exceptional. Manam, which is a sit down restaurant in the middle of Global City where we stayed, was probably the best of the best. My goal now is to try to find the best lumpia in the US. If you guys have any thoughts, please send away. —Tommy

Manam | Instagram | multiple locations in the Philippines

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