Suns and Warriors Fan Q&A: View from Another Team's Fan, Starring Golden State of Mind's Evanz

It's always a good time when the Warriors and Suns meet.

After our internal roundtable last month discussing all issues Suns, a few people suggested we bring in bloggers from other teams' SBN blogs to get their take on our team. Since we're here to serve at BSotS (and because that was a great idea), I reached out to a few of our fellow bloggers within the Pacific Division and Evanz of Golden State of Mind was kind enough to take the time to answer questions I posed to him regarding the Suns, the Warriors and the future of the Western Conference playoff race.

You're probably thinking that, since I live in the Bay Area and Evan is a Warriors fan, we each jumped in our Priuses and met at the vegan restaurant to have this conversation over a tofu dish and wheat grass juice. If Evan lived close to me, it might have gone something like that but he actually lives in Atlanta, where he's a professor at Georgia Tech (check out the big brain on Evan!).

So, we have a Suns fan in the Bay Area and a Warriors fan in Atlanta. Got it? OK then, give a warm Bright Side welcome to Evan and please let us know what you think in the comments.

Ray: What is the general mood of Warriors fans regarding the changes to the team over the past year: new ownership, addition of Jerry West, this year's draft and new coach Mark Jackson? Are the Warriors ready to challenge for a playoff spot next season?

Evan: I think Warriors fans are generally grateful and hopeful about the ownership and front office changes that have taken place over the past year. I mean, Jerry West, can't argue with that, right? With Mark Jackson, it's a bit less clear. My personal opinion is that Dwane Casey, with his emphasis/expertise on defense and actual coaching experience with both good (Dallas) and bad (Minnesota) teams, would have been a better choice. I guess we'll see what he does with Toronto. I think it's telling that the Warriors' hiring of defensive assistant Michael Malone away from New Orleans was greeted with universal praise, and maybe even a sense of relief. Mark Jackson certainly has a lot to prove, but he'd probably say he had a lot to prove as a player, too. Jackson is known for being an athletically-limited point guard who was able to get the most out of his game. I think all Warriors fans are hoping his mentorship of Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis can squeeze the most juice out of our backcourt. And if nothing else, some of Mark Jackson's sorely needed toughness as a player is bound to rub off on those two guys.

Are we ready to challenge for a playoff spot? Never say never (the "We Believe" team did incredible and unexpected things just a few years ago), but I have to admit I'm not a believer right now. I don't think the talent is there. We won 36 games last season and were 10 games outside of the 8th spot. I think with the same core group, and perhaps, even assuming a couple games of improvement due to the new coaching staff/defensive emphasis (hope, hope), this team will max out at around 40-42 wins. That might be enough to compete for the 8th spot, but not much higher than that. This team isn't ready to contend, and as a lifelong fan, that's really what the goal post should be as far as I'm concerned.

Ray: I was high on the prospect of the Suns drafting Klay Thompson even though I had a pretty good idea the Warriors would take him ahead of us. What do you think of Thompson's future on the Warriors?   

Evan: The recent history of #11 picks is fairly dismal. JJ Redick is arguably the best #11 pick in the last decade. The truth is expectations for a late-lottery pick should be fairly low. Thompson looks to be a great spot-up shooter, but perhaps, will only be the third best spot-up shooter on the Warriors behind Stephen Curry (15th in spot-up shooting last season according to Synegy) and Reggie Williams (#7 according to Synergy). Not only was Klay not known for his defense, it was generally seen as a glaring weakness. He also is not very athletic, and will likely have trouble getting to the rim. He has length, but not much strength, quickness, or leaping ability. Sort of like Kyle Korver, maybe? I can see Korver as Klay's floor and maybe Kevin Martin as Klay's ceiling. The one aspect of Klay's game that I keep hearing about that gives me some room for hope is his basketball IQ. Like Stephen Curry, Klay comes with a pedigree, and has been around the game forever. If he proves me wrong by performing beyond my expectations, I suspect it will be due to those intangibles. Oh, and Jerry West loves the kid, so there's that.

The guy I really wanted, and am surprised Phoenix passed on, too, was Kawhi Leonard. I can't believe he fell as far as he did. You guys drafted Markieff Morris, who I see as a poor man's Carlos Boozer. Take that for what it's worth, I guess.

Ray: The general consensus among NBA experts is that the Suns are in decline and in a damn near impossible situation right now. Do you agree with this assessment? If so, should the Suns should trade Steve Nash?

Evan: I think I'm going to surprise you with my answer to this one, but in some ways, I think you guys are in a better long-term position than Golden State. Our path to acquiring a super-star (a necessary ingredient for a contender) is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Joe Lacob has given no hints of making major changes to the core group, which most likely means more years of mediocrity. You may already know that our first round pick next season is top-7 protected, but otherwise will be traded (to Utah?) as part of the Marcus Williams trade debacle a few years back. The problem is we're probably not bad enough to keep that pick, which means we'd lose any chance of getting someone in a really deep 2012 class. We also don't have the cap room or free agent "lure" to go out and get a guy like Dwight Howard or Chris Paul, or even Nene Hilario, in all likelihood.

On the other hand, you guys have the ageless wonder in Steve Nash, and a bunch of dudes. But you can't build a team around Nash at this point in his career. So what do you do? I say trade him for a first round pick and employ a serious tanking strategy. Have you looked at the talent in next year's draft? Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond have superstar written all over them. Then you have Sullinger and Barnes who would arguably be #1 picks in any other year. That's not to mention Beal and Rivers, and the list goes on (Perry Jones, Michael Gilchrist..). If there were ever a year to tank, this is it! Take the medicine now.

That's actually what I want the Warriors to do, but it's harder, because it would involve trading or dumping Monta Ellis, and only a minority of Warriors fans (and apparently front office folks) are willing to do that. Instead, they want to "make it work" with this group, but without a superstar, it seems to me like a futile effort. We'll never be bad enough to get a top draft pick. Mark Cuban called this the "treadmill of mediocrity". I think the Warriors have been on that treadmill for years, and Phoenix would be wise to stay off of it. Look at Cleveland, for example. A year after losing LeBron, they got two lottery picks, and my guess is they will be in the running for Davis or Drummond in the draft. With one of those guys, Irving, and Tristan Thompson (who I also loved), Cleveland may be back in the playoffs in a couple of seasons. That's the blueprint to follow. When you know your run is up, re-build as fast as possible. My opinion is that *not* doing that is what leads to franchise hopelessness.

 

Ray: Are there any Suns players that particularly impress or intrigue you beyond the obvious choice of Steve Nash? Which Sun would you be happy to see the Warriors trade for?

Evan: I would trade Ellis for Gortat and Pietrus. (It works in Trade Machine!) I'd be interested to hear how Phoenix fans feel about that one in the comments.

{Editor's note: we are working diligently to re-assemble Ray's skull after this trade proposal made his head explode.}

Ray: A lot of Suns fans love and miss Lou Amundson to levels that I think are a bit excessive. What do you think of him after his first season as a Warrior?

Evan: I had high hopes for Lou, but after a season of watching him, I realized that he probably looked a lot better playing with Nash (as everyone does). Lou is a hard worker with stone hands. He doesn't really fit in with the personnel that we have. He doesn't bring enough on the defensive end to play with Lee, and doesn't bring enough offense to play with Udoh or Biedrins. I was actually hoping he would opt out of his contract, but he took the option, and will likely be the second big off the bench as he was last season. Nice guy, though.

Ray: Other teams at the lower rungs of the Western Conference playoff ladder or who narrowly missed the playoffs include New Orleans, Memphis, Houston and Utah. Which of those teams do you see on the rise, and which on the decline? If the Warriors are to make a push for a playoff spot, who do you see as the biggest challengers to be overcome?

Evan: Memphis is clearly on the rise. You didn't mention them, but OKC is obviously ready to make a serious challenge for the title. New Orleans is a mess. Houston is arguably in a similar position to Golden State, a bunch of average or good players, but no superstar. Morey is one of the smartest GM's, though, so I always give them the benefit of the doubt. But they won't turn it around in one season. Utah is going to get worse before it gets better, but they have really good young talent now, and will be one of those teams that have a shot at getting one of those superstars in the draft next season. The Warriors need to hope that New Orleans trades Chris Paul.

Ray: One thing that I'm pretty sure Warriors and Suns fans agree on is a dislike of the Lakers. After their implosion in the playoffs last year and Phil Jackson's retirement, where do you think they stand among the Western Conference power structure now?

Evan: Good question. I think it's safe to say their best days are behind them, but they can be dangerous for a few more seasons, if they keep that group together. They have talent that plenty of other teams would love to have right now, so it might make more sense to parlay those assets into future picks or, perhaps, they can swing a big trade like Bynum for Chris Paul. Can you imagine Paul, Kobe, and Pau? Even I couldn't help but want to see that team play.

Ray: Right before the draft, a Phoenix radio DJ tweeted a rumored trade that would have sent Ekpe Udoh and a 1st round pick to Phoenix in exchange for Robin Lopez. Do you think this deal would have been close to fair? What if it had been Udoh for Lopez straight up? Where does Udoh stand with the Warriors? Are fans disappointed that he hasn't produced more as a former lottery pick?

Evan: Here's the thing. Udoh can play defense! He's the one guy on our team who doesn't just bring effort, he can actually be a game-changer on the defensive end of the floor, and he showed that over and over again during the course of the season. The stats back that up, whether it's RAPM (an uber form of +/-) or Synergy. Besides Curry, Udoh is the one guy on the team that I wouldn't give up easily. For Robin Lopez? Heck no, not playing next to David Lee. The general consensus in Warriors nation seemed to be that Greg Monroe would have been the better pick, and that's probably still true. But by the end of the season, even the biggest of Udoh detractors started to acknowledge his value on the defensive end.

 

I encourage you to check out Evan's work over at Golden State of Mind, where he does some great advanced statistical analysis (warning: there will be math), and please feel free to post additional questions in the comments.

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