On the league-wide ramifications of the Raptors' struggles
Plus: What Nets fans should watch out for
Welcome to another issue of A Farewell to Takes, our quick trip around the NBA. The Brooklyn Nets continued their winning ways last night against Miami, thanks to some late heroics from Royce O’Neale. The Nets are now 18-2 in their last 20 games and sit just a game and a half back of first place in the Eastern Conference. There is some cause for concern as Kevin Durant has been diagnosed with an MCL sprain today.
In the West, the Memphis Grizzlies are on a 6-game winning streak. Also on a 5-game win streak, the Lakers have turned their season around, due to the play of LeBron James and Russell Westbrook. The Lakers currently sit in 11th place in the West, but they are just three back in the loss column of the 5th place Sacramento Kings. The 2nd half of the season will provide a lot of drama as there are a ton of teams bunched together in the standings in both conferences.
If you missed last week’s episode of OM3, you can watch it here or listen here. Fred VanVleet sat down with us, and we had a great conversation about the current state of the NBA, the Raptors’ struggles, and Fred’s own battle thru a shooting slump. While he still hasn’t shot the ball well, FVV has averaged 23.3 points, 8.7 assists, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.7 steals in the 3 games since recording the interview. He’s a hooper.
In this week’s A Farewell to Takes we are giving you:
Why the Raptors are so interesting
Tommy on the Nets defense
The Best Thing Tommy Ate This Week
Our Wine of the Week
Thanks for reading! —JJ
The potential implications of the Raptors’ struggles
No stat of the week in this issue, but I think it’s worth pointing out that as of today, the Toronto Raptors currently have the 6th worst record in the NBA. They are simultaneously just 2 games back in the loss column of 10th place and the play-in tournament. This team has clearly struggled to find any consistency despite having a really talented core group and some promising young bigs. Masai Ujiri, the Raptors president of basketball operations, has historically not been very aggressive at the trade deadline; this season may be different if the Raptors continue to struggle, and they decide to become sellers. The Raptors have a number of players that are valuable around the league and if traded could help change a team’s championship fortunes. I’m going to say Scottie Barnes is probably close to untouchable but Siakam, FVV, Anunoby, and Trent Jr. could all fit on most any team in the league and have an immediate impact. If the Raptors continue to struggle and decide to blow it up, there could be major ramifications around the league. —JJ
Fred VanVleet returned to the show last week for a great conversation about the state of the Raptors, the biggest changes he has noticed both on and off the court since entering the league, defending Luka, and much more.
On the Nets defense
It's no secret the Brooklyn Nets have been a revelation since Kyrie Irving returned to the lineup. A team — that at Halloween was in full dumpster fire mode — is 20-4 since Irving's return, 1st in offensive rating, and 2nd in net rating. Though Kevin Durant will likely miss a few weeks with a sprained MCL he suffered last night, Brooklyn clearly has figured out to plant themselves in the Finals conversation.
For a team with two Hall of Fame talents in Durant and Irving, the clear revelation in this recent hot stretch has been the Nets defense. They've been 5th in defensive rating over this run, a noticeable jump from last season's slog where they finished 19th in defensive rating, and at times looked worse than that. One key to this jump has been their rim protection. Durant has always been an underrated, game changing defensive force, but combined with Nic Claxton, the two have created a back-end defensive force that's been tough to penetrate. Via Basketball Index, opponents shoot 11 and 10% lower than expected against that combination. Claxton currently is tied for the league lead in blocks at 2.6 per game, with Durant in 9th at 1.5. Always an elite defensive player, this combination has allowed Ben Simmons to play more of a free safety role, switching on the perimeter. The Nets' biggest defensive weakness last year was against big, crafty wings, and with the additions of TJ Warren, Yuta Watanabe and Simmons, they've added more size which has helped their smaller guards.
There have been recent signs of cracks, made more worrisome by the loss of Durant. The last 5 games, though 4-1, the Nets have not been in the top 10 in defensive efficiency. The Nets have never been a good rebounding team, 29th in the league currently, though 16th defensively. This feels like an area where they may regress further going small. The Nets don't have a natural defensive replacement for Durant (obviously nobody can replace him offensively), so they will likely rely on a combination of Day'ron Sharpe and going small with Simmons, Royce O'Neal and Warren. The glass half-full interpretation is that this Durant absence will force some of their younger players to learn new roles and compete against a tough upcoming schedule, which includes Boston, Golden State and Philadelphia.
Either way, it is the defensive end of the court where the Nets will sink or swim and the thing to watch with them over the next month. —Tommy
Best Thing Tommy Ate This Week: Lobster and Crab Crepe at OEB Breakfast
There are no shortage of great breakfast options in Toronto. Lady Marmalade, Forno Cultura, and Maha's are all great. As the OM3 crew was there for the Fred VanVleet pod, I found myself on the west side of the city wanting to try a new place. OEB was recommended by the nice folks at the hotel as a great local spot and I sure wasn't disappointed. The crepe, while super hearty and rich for a breakfast, had the perfect soft, fluffy crepe with a generous portion of both crab and lobster. There was homemade brown butter hollandaise on the side that added texture but didn't distract from the fish. I will have to come back as there was a huevos rancheros in a burrito and a gnocchi breakfast carbonara that both looked incredible, but for now, I can't give the crepe a stronger recommendation. —Tommy
Wine of the Week: Bernhard Ott Spiegel 2019
Here’s a fun one this week — a Grüner Veltliner from Austria. Grüner Veltliner is the most important Austrian grape varietal. These wines are just fantastic. There’s typically notes of green fruit and flint (a nice combination). I had this 2019 Bernhard Spiegel at dinner on Saturday night at Ugly Baby, a Thai restaurant in Brooklyn. The food at Ugly Baby is on the spicy side of things, and this wine paired beautifully with the different curries. This white wine is dry, but there is a hint of sweetness that cut through some of the spiciness at Ugly Baby. (My eyes still watered, and my nose still sniffled). It’s also a GREAT value. If you wanna try something new, I would highly recommend this! —JJ