10 thoughts on the wild Western Conference
Plus: Saluting Steven Adams
Welcome back to A Farewell to Takes, our quick trip around the NBA and WNBA. With the regular NBA season kicking off tomorrow, Episode 179 of The Old Man and the Three will be a season preview with none other than Zach Lowe. That episode drops tomorrow. On The Old Man and the Three Things front, we’re excited to welcome Tim Legler to his first appearance on the show today. Expect him (or Nekias and Steve) to be on the episodes moving forward.
In this week’s A Farewell to Takes we’re giving you:
Thanks for reading! —JJ
A salute to Steven Adams — and (re)introduction to Screen Time
The Memphis Grizzlies were dealt a pretty big blow over the weekend, announcing that center Steven Adams would miss the 2023-24 season due to a right PCL injury. We haven't seen Adams in action since January 2022; it objectively stinks that the streak will extend this long.
Adams is a darn good player and, by most accounts, a darn good dude. Here's hoping that the recovery process is clean for him.
The Grizzlies will miss a ton of things that Adams brings to the table. He's a ferocious offensive rebounder, a saving grace for an otherwise underwhelming half-court offense. He has utility as a high post hub, either picking out cutters or flowing into handoffs with guards. Defensively, his size and general understanding of angles made him a quality interior defender. His presence — and willingness to take on other brutish 5s — unlocked Jaren Jackson Jr. as a DPOY-level off-ball roamer.
What the Grizzlies may miss more than anything is his screening. Adams isn't just the best screener on the roster — he's arguably the best screener in the NBA.
Per Second Spectrum, Adams was one of 73 players to set at least 750 on-ball picks last season. He led the league in screen contact percentage (self-explanatory) among that group, boasting a 73.9% success rate. Second Spectrum also tracks die-on-screen percentage, which separates slight contact from you-aren't-in-the-play-anymore type screens. He led the league in that, too (6.6%), with Warriors big Draymond Green as the only other player to eclipse the 6% mark (6.5%).
Adams didn't connect on off-ball screens at the same rate -- his 58.2% mark ranked 73rd among 130 players to set at least 300 off-ball picks -- but he laid the lumber when he did, ranking 5th in die-on-screen percentage behind Kelly Olynyk, Green, Jakob Poeltl, and Myles Turner.
Between helping Ja Morant get downhill in high pick-and-roll situations, and prying Desmond Bane open off the ball, it's no surprise that the Morant-Bane-Adams trio had an offensive rating above 120 in their minutes together last season.
Gonna miss watching Steven Adams pry dudes open. Very very very strong case that he's the NBA's best screener.
Wonder what Memphis' PnR attack in particular will look like without him -- wouldn't be surprised if they see an uptick in switching.
— Nekias (Nuh-KY-us) Duncan (@NekiasNBA)
Oct 23, 2023
It's worth keeping a closer eye on the half-court offense without Adams. On one hand, replacing him with a spacier option like Santi Aldama could make it a little easier for the guards to breathe. On the other, prying players open may be more difficult, in addition to the offensive rebounding juice you're losing without Adams. It wouldn't shock me to see teams opt to switch more against the Grizzlies this year, which could bring Jaren's growth as a self-creator under a brighter spotlight.
Also, if you enjoy screening content, you'll want to tap into the newsletter every week. I'll be bringing back my Screen Time series, highlighting the best and worst screeners in the league with stats and video like you see above. Let's have some fun! —Nekias
Rich Paul joined Episode 178 of the show to discuss meeting LeBron James, power in the NBA, why he’s high on the Cavs, the impact of social media on superstars’ legacies, and more.
The wild, wild West
The NBA season is upon us, and with Opening Night featuring a Lakers/Nuggets and Suns/Warriors double header I figured it would be no better time than to point to the Western Conference. This is the time of year for hope and optimism but behind that will be a reality for some teams and fanbases. For some reason going through the Pacific Division struck a cord with me: Warriors, Lakers, Suns, Kings, Clippers … someone is going to the play-in.
It took me back to the Western Conference of 10 seasons ago, 2013-14 where a 50 win season was just good enough for you to get the [checks notes] 7 seed. That’s right, the Memphis Grizzlies won 60% of their games and had to beat the Dallas Mavericks in the last game of the season to get to 50 and the 7 seed. The Suns finished 9th that season with 48 wins which … would have been the third most in 2022-23. It was tough, but I digress.
The win totals may be different, but the landscape is wide open and competitive. We cross our fingers for a healthy season (sorry Steven Adams), but that makes it even wilder to predict. If you just put down a list of teams: Nuggets, Suns, Warriors, Lakers, Grizzlies, Kings, Pelicans, Wolves, Mavericks, Clippers, Thunder, you get to 11. One of those teams is going to be sitting at home and watching everything with us at the end of the regular season. And that disregards the teams that seemingly have been tossed in a pile to make things easier. The Blazers may have lost Damian Lillard but did add Deandre Ayton, Malcolm Brogdon, and Robert Williams III. Lauri Markkanen and the Jazz remain pesky and you’d have to flash back to 2013-14 for the last time they’ve had a losing record at home. The Rockets brought in Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks to help on both ends and seem to be experimenting with both team defense and ball movement. And, oh yeah, the Spurs added Victor Wembanyama and Gregg Popovich believes his team believes in playing defense for the first time in a minute. There are no easy outs.
So who emerges?
The defending champion Nuggets return Nikola Jokić, a healthier Jamal Murray, that starting lineup, and proof that their formula can work both in the regular season and the playoffs. How do they navigate not just mixing in younger talent to the rotation (hello Christian Braun and Julian Strawther) but all of the teams who made moves to get back on top?
How much fun will the Suns have offensively with the interchangeability of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal? How quickly until we realize they have multiple options for the fifth player in that lineup?
The Warriors have added Chris Paul, will run more pick and roll, and have more solid second unit play. And wait until you see the type of clean passes Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are about to get.
Did the Lakers find their formula for success? Another year of LeBron, plus Anthony Davis has looked motivated on both ends during the preseason. It’s not just continuity, but the Lakers have a mix of playmakers with size and length that opens up lineup versatility that should benefit them both during the regular season and the playoffs.
The Memphis Grizzlies will not have Ja Morant to start the season, they will not have Steven Adams for the season, but the Grizzlies have traditionally gone up +5 overall wise when the world doubts them. There are t-shirts, just trust me. What is the benefit of being forced to have more movement offensively, search for smaller lineups, lock their defense in (a reminder, Marcus Smart x Jaren Jackson Jr.). The Kings return with more experience and more belief, coming off a season where they only had the highest offensive rating in NBA history.
The Pelicans get the return of Zion Williamson and it feels like a good time to casually remind folks that they were the #1 seed (18-8) in December.
Does another boost from Anthony Edwards and more drives from Karl-Anthony Towns make the Wolves look different?
Oklahoma City has Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, will add Chet Holmgren and are going to drive the ball over and over and over and over again.
Does a full year of Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving in Dallas raise their ceiling?
The Clippers still have Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and a host of switchable lineups that can cause chaos, do they re-establish themselves in the West?
We have more questions than answers right now; the beauty is that the game will tell the story. Cannot wait to see how this plays out. —Steve
What Steve has been reading
A glimpse into not just the legendary season that A'ja Wilson had but a peek into the person, the impact, and the journey that has led her to the history books already. —Steve
Best Thing Tommy Ate Last Week: Caprese Sandwich at PAVÉ
This is going to sound weird to all of the New York readers of this letter, but the best bread in New York City might be in Midtown Manhattan right by Bryant Park. PAVÉ is an unassuming bakery on 46th that has sandwiches, salads, coffee, etc. All the normal stuff. You walk by a million of these and don't think twice. That is not the case here.
I'm not sure who the chef or the baker or whoever is (editor’s note: it’s run by these guys), but this is some of the best bread I've had in my life. Every sandwich is amazing because the bread is so amazing. I got the caprese, which is as basic as you can get, and it's all-time because of the bread. PAVÉ doesn't seem to be too crowded (yet), so I would check it out while you still can if you happen to find yourself in the normal food desert that is Midtown. —Tommy
And now … a fantasy update from Tommy
We are starting to see some separation in what has been a highly competitive 7 week stretch of the league. Pablo Torre and Taylor Rooks’ teams, which are first and second respectively in the league, look like they will stay in those spots, beating Jason Gallagher and Cam Johnson this week, two other top 5 units. Alex Caruso's team is sneaky at the moment, sitting in 4th place currently but with another likely win, climbing up the standings with a 5-2 record. Mikal Bridges’s team had Dak Prescott starting when the Cowboys weren't playing which tells you what you need to know about how that season has been going. Mina Kimes beat Chris Long this week, but at 2-4 is one of the surprising disappointments of the league so far. PFT Commenter is now 1-6, and there is no hope in sight. —Tommy
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