Taking a look at the fun mess of the West

Plus: Volume 8 of Nekias's series: Screen Time

Welcome back to A Farewell to Takes, our quick trip around the NBA and WNBA. Eric Gordon came by the studio for Episode 193 of The Old Man and the Three last week. Nekias and Steve joined me on today’s episode of The Old Man and the Three Things to discuss the Clippers, how fouls and foul calls in today’s NBA compare to previous decades, and the play of Brandon Miller.

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

  • Steve Jones Jr. of The Dunker Spot on fun mess that is the Western Conference

  • Nekias Duncan of The Dunker Spot shares Volume 8 of his series, Screen Time

  • Tommy shares what he’s been reading

  • Nekias also shares what he’s been reading

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

Thanks for reading! —JJ

The West is a (fun) mess

To start the season on this very newsletter I spoke about how wide open the Western Conference is this year. There was hope, but there would also be disappointment. We have passed the quarter mark of the NBA’s regular season and I have returned to say: the Western Conference is tough.

The number 3 seed (Dallas) has the same amount of wins as the number 7 seed (New Orleans). Minnesota has risen to the top of the Western Conference and hold a 3 game lead over Oklahoma City. That same 3 game difference is what separates Oklahoma City at 2 from the Phoenix Suns at 10. Divide that 3 in half and you get the difference between Oklahoma City at 2 and New Orleans at 7. I know this is giving Scott Steiner Math, but stick with me because it sent me down a rabbit hole.

With the exception of the Phoenix Suns (who have gotten a grand total of 24 minutes of action out of Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal, and Devin Booker and have a +24.7 net rating in that time with a 132.7 offensive rating) all of playoff + play-in teams in the Western Conference have won 6 of their last 10 games or more. The Suns are also the only top 10 team in the West without a winning record at home (Minnesota, Denver, Clippers, Lakers and Houston all have 10+ home wins). With the exception of the Los Angeles Lakers (who you know have LeBron James and Anthony Davis playing at this level and won the In-Season Tournament) have at least one winning streak of four games or more. All of the top 11 teams in the Western Conference have a positive point differential (came close last year but Minnesota was even, 2013-14 the top 10 teams in the West had a positive point differential). Six of the top teams in defensive rating come from the Western Conference (Minnesota is 1, Houston is 2, OKC is 6, Clippers are 7, Lakers are 8 and New Orleans is 10).

The kicker for me was that almost every team in the top 11 in the Western Conference has a starting lineup that has won 60% or more of their games (ok Houston is at 59.1% and Golden State’s has played 3 games but you get the point):

  • MIN 84.6% (11-2) Conley/Edwards/McDaniels/Towns/Gobert

  • OKC 68.4% (13-6) Shai/Giddey/Dort/Williams/Holmgren

  • DAL 60.0% (6-4) Luka/Kyrie/Jones/Williams/Lively

  • DEN 70.0% (7-3) Murray/KCP/Porter Jr/Gordon/Jokic

  • SAC 69.2% (9-4) Fox/Huerter/Murray/Barnes/Sabonis

  • LAC 78.6% (11-3) Harden/George/Leonard/Mann/Zubac

  • NOP 80.0% (8-2) CJ/Jones/Ingram/Zion/Valanciunas

  • LAL 80.0% (8-2) Russell/Reddish/LeBron/Prince/Davis

  • HOU 59.1% (13-9) VanVleet/Green/Brooks/Smith/Sengun

  • PHX 83.3 (5-1) Booker/Gordon/Allen/Durant/Nurkic

  • GSW 66.7 (2-1) Curry/Podziemski/Thompson/Kuminga/Looney

The West is tight, competitive, wide open, and full of hope with a slight chance of disappointment around the corner. My advice to you? Try to avoid the weekly rollercoaster of seeding. A three game winning streak and elevate and a three game losing streak could feel like the end of days. Treat it like that one person treats your company holiday party (you know the one). The cliche is always that “seeding doesn’t matter” come playoff time, but I truly feel like matchups are going to dictate what happens come playoff time. We have seen the highs and lows from the majority of these teams, most will continue to grow, all will continue to be tough. It's a bit of a mess right now, but the game will tell the story. —Steve

Eric Gordon joined JJ on The Old Man and the Three to talk about the 2018 Western Conference Finals, how Devin Booker is evolving into Prime James Harden, and more.

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

Screen Time, Vol. 8: Neemias Queta

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 eight. All stats are from December 11th onward, unless otherwise noted.

Screener of the Week: Celtics big man Neemias Queta

This might be the first Screen Time request I've earnestly gotten, which is pretty cool for a niche series in a newsletter. Shout out to you, Ricardo Brito Reis!

It wasn't the highest volume week for Neemias Queta; frontcourt absences opened the door for him, and he still logged roughly 35 minutes across two games. He made the most of his time, though, doing the dirty work and generally buzzing all over the floor like he's showcased in his limited time with the Sacramento Kings.

Queta was an active screener, whether he was a designed part of the action or not. He was more "slip" than "hit" on the ball — his 40% screen contact rate ranked 69th (go ahead, you have my permission) of 91 players to set at least 25 on-ball picks this week, per Second Spectrum. But when he did make contact, he laid the lumber. Among that same 91-player group, only eight players logged a higher die-on-screen rate — meaning players got wiped out by the pick — than Queta (8.0%) did. Off the ball, Queta was intentional about prying players open as the "Ram" screener — Player B (Queta in this case) sets a screen for Player C before Player C sets an on-ball screen for Player A -- and also did some extra credit by setting flares and pin-in screens on the back-side of actions. I really enjoyed his film.

What matters most is that the Celtics got good stuff out of Queta's activity. The Celtics generated 1.22 points per possession (PPP) on any trip featuring a Queta ball screen, and 1.28 PPP on trips featuring an off-ball screen from him. Both were among the highest marks of the week. Those numbers may fluctuate based on the shot-making, but as long as he keeps head-hunting, there will be room for him in Boston's rotation.

Stray Thoughts:

  • Your most productive on-ball screener this week, minimum of 50 picks set? Clippers big man Daniel Theis (67 picks, 1.28 PPP) who, as my illustrious co-host Steve Jones Jr. has said, is having a ton of fun playing basketball for this group. It's been fun watching set super high step-up screens for James Harden, or cap the back-end of possessions with seals or screens against his own man to carve out a bigger driving lane for ball-handlers. Keeping the memory of Marcin Gortat alive.

  • In the Inverted Division, quick hat tips to Ausar Thompson (30 picks, 1.39 PPP, he may not count but I'm just glad Monty Williams has the man screening), Dante Exum (15 picks, 1.39 PPP, please read here for more), Payton Pritchard (16 picks, 1.19 PPP, please leave Cole Anthony alone lol), Bogdan Bogdanovic (32 picks, most set by a guard* this week, serious contender for 6MOY in my humble opinion), and Isaiah Joe again (21 picks, 1.55 PPP) for continuing to be awesome.


What Tommy has been reading

Dan Devine is always a smart read, but I was waiting for the right piece on the Western Conference leading Wolves and how they've gotten here. Dan’s story did not disappoint. It focuses on the Wolves size and defensive execution, just how historically good they've been on that size of the floor, and the unheralded impact of Naz Reid and Mike Conley and their impact on the Wolves future moving forward. Super interesting piece. —Tommy

What Nekias has been reading

The WNBA held their draft lottery last Sunday to see who'd be granted the right to draft supernova guard Caitlin Clark, provided she actually enters the draft. The Fever entered the process with the top odds due to having the lowest win percentage over the past two seasons, and sure enough came away with the lottery win. More impressively, my guy Taka had a "How does Clark fit the Fever" piece ready to go a few minutes after the results were announced.

I, too, am excited to see what the Clark-Aliyah Boston partnership will look like, how much faster the Fever could play with her at the helm, and how much or quickly they'll lean into the deep pull-up shooting she provides. —Nekias

Best Thing Tommy Ate Last Week: Brisket Tacos at Garcia’s

JJ, Jason, and I traveled to San Antonio this week to see Lakers/Spurs and maybe (👀) tape an episode. Garcias’s had long been on my list to try, so I dragged friend-of-the-show and mayor of SA Shea Serrano to come check it out. I knew it was going to be good because there was a line out the door at 1:30 on a Thursday, and boy was I not disappointed. The bean and cheese nachos, shredded chicken tacos, and steak were all good, but the brisket taco is the star of the show. It's a very simple recipe: tortilla, guac and brisket that I'm not sure how long it's been cooking for but is perfect. We need the Spurs to get better so I can come back here more. —Tommy

Garcia’s | Instagram | 842 Fredericksburg Road, San Antonio, TX 78201

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