Good defensive effort is beyond loud counting stats
Plus: A tip for the 2K fans
Welcome back to A Farewell to Takes, our quick trip around the NBA and WNBA. Last week, Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner of Point Forward joined us in studio for Episode 174 of The Old Man and the Three. It’s simultaneously one of the most fun and most introspective conversation we’ve had on the podcast so far. Plus, this week’s episode of The Old Man and the Three Things, where I issue an apology to the Memphis fanbase and predict three “breakout” players of the year with Tommy, is now live on Amazon Music.
In this week’s A Farewell to Takes we’re giving you:
Thanks, as always, for reading! —JJ
Good defensive effort is beyond loud counting stats
The WNBA recently announced their All-Defensive teams for the 2023 regular season, and some great defenders were recognized for their efforts. My “non vote” was recognized as I informally had the same players on my First Team.
What was notable was this was the first year the All-Defensive teams were positionless. That became notable because of the fact that the All-Defensive Second Team featured four “frontcourt” players and one “backcourt” player. On one hand, it avoided a scenario where A’ja Wilson, Alyssa Thomas, or Breanna Stewart would be bumped to the All-Defensive Second Team due to positional requirements. On the other hand, it took Natasha Cloud, who made the All-Defensive First Team in 2022, off both entirely. She, understandably, was not pleased.
That led me to think about how defense by guards and the importance of what they do can slide under the radar without loud counting stats. We as a culture tend to love positional, 1v1 battles where one defender holds a star player to a certain percentage from the field. Steals and activity can help, but there is so much more to the job. There are no real stats for how well you navigate screens in pick and roll, the effort it takes to keep the ball in front, and not get beat on the drive. Studying and understanding a player’s skill set so well that you make them do something they aren’t comfortable doing and find a way to contest once they counter. Working to communicate when you are off ball and immediately having to either show help on the weakside or fight through screens and dribble handoffs. Showing early help, knowing that in the blink of an eye you may have to immediately recover to the perimeter. The timing and footwork of closeouts. Communicating switches when you are off the ball, working to get in position if you have to switch on ball.
There’s a lot that goes into it, and we can praise deflections all we want, but some things simply cannot be tallied in the same way. As the understanding of defense involves, it seems easier to praise bigs for their effort. It’s not a knock; what they do can just be louder and easier to point to. You can see the blocks, you can point to the amount of contested shots in the paint, the impact of rim protection, the effort in pick and roll, the versatility if they can switch and defend multiple positions.
The trick about defense is, even if we dole out individual accolades, it takes all five to get it done. Scheme and skill set is important, but without one, the other does not look as good. Everyone has a responsibility to each other; there is a reason the best defensive teams consistently produce multiple efforts. As we continue down the path of positionless basketball, we can't forget why everyone is important. —Steve
Nekias’s 2K Tip of the Week: Fill the corner!
We're a little over two weeks into the NBA 2K24 cycle. It's been an adjustment period for many: defense appears to be buffed up from last year in a multitude of areas, which has led to a shift (or complaints) in ball-handling and shooting in particular. I'm having fun with the game overall, but it hasn't taken long for me to get annoyed with randoms -- and sometimes, my dear pals -- when playing in an online setting.
There's been plenty of debate about how realistic-versus-arcady the game is supposed to be; I'm not here to talk about that right now. What I'd like to discuss are simple basketball things that have probably taken hours off my actual life due to how often (or egregiously) they're botched. In what doubles as a quick guide and a rant session, I'm going to start sprinkling in tips for 2K players out there to make your life -- and the lives of your teammates -- much easier, whether you're playing in the Rec, Pro-Am arena, or some other 5-on-5 game mode.
We'll start with the importance of spacing, since that's the name of the (virtual) game at this stage.
There may not be anything that bothers me more than a shooter that stops at the left or right "hash" — the high wing area — instead of running down to the corner. It's not an issue to take shots from there if your rating and badges (hello, Limitless Range) are appropriate; it is an issue when you park there while others are trying to spread the floor. It becomes a chore trying to run around that player to get to the corner to keep the floor spread. More importantly, it makes it easier for the defense to provide help elsewhere when two players are practically standing on top of each other in the same area.
Whether it's in transition or in a half-court setting, filling the corner completely makes life easier for everyone. It gives your defender more ground to cover; it helps your teammates space the floor, thus making it easier for your other teammates to score. If you must stand at the hash, for hot zone purposes or comfort, at least set an off-ball screen to help free your teammate that wants to fill that corner. Spotting up there only makes life harder for your team, easier for the defense, and ultimately hurts your chances of even getting a clean look from that spot while everyone tries to work around you. —Nekias
What Steve has been reading
It's easy to recognize when teams go "all in" on a move, it's easy to see when it doesn't work, but how do we understand the path to success once that move takes a hit? This article by Joe Wolfond made me think about how important the move after the move is and how the Cavs, Wolves, and Hawks can still get to the vision even if it's a longer route than expected. —Steve
Best Thing Tommy Ate Last Week: White Slice at Fini
Loyal BTIALW readers will know my affinity for Fini Pizza. In a crowded New York City pizza landscape, it immediately stood out as one of, if not, the best slice in the city. Well, for anybody going to a game at Barclays Center this fall, they just opened a new shop right next to the arena. It's a perfect pre or post game meal. All of the slices are good, but the white slice is on another level. Speaking as somebody who would almost never order a white slice under normal circumstances, this is less “goopy ricotta” and more like the perfect grilled cheese with a hint of lemon and hot honey. My biggest issue is I can't walk in the shop and not have one. —Tommy
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