Golden State Warriors’ playoff success leaving Sacramento Kings to wonder “what if?”

Stephen Curry vs. the Sacramento Kings in 2012 Preseason. (Photo: Steven Chea)

The Golden State Warriors may have lost yesterday, falling behind by a game in their second-round playoff series against one of the NBA’s most storied franchises.  But, there is still a buzz coursing through the veins of bay area basketball fans as their heroes do some pretty incredible on-the-job training.

While Sacramento Kings fans are fighting like crazy just to keep their team, their brethren out west are enjoying a truly magical season. One team is on the rise while the other is stuck in neutral.

Like the Kings, the Warriors have struggled the last several seasons. They have spent most of the past decade floating around the lottery, hoping to find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

It’s difficult to really grade these two franchises on picks alone, but due to their proximity to each other on draft night, that is exactly what happens. If we go back and trace the moment where these two teams chose a specific path that reflects where they are today, I believe we can pinpoint that moment in time.

In 2009, the Kings selected Tyreke Evans with the fourth overall pick and spent the better part of two-and-a-half seasons trying to make him a point guard. He won the rookie of the year trophy with his 20-5-5 season and at that time, it seemed like the sky was the limit.

But in season No. 2, Evans missed 25 games with plantar fasciitis in his left foot and probably should have sat out more than that. His numbers dipped, but most people wrote it off as an aberration. They attributed the slide to the foot injury and playing for a young team.

However, Evans’ raw numbers have continued to spiral downward since then. And with millions of dollars on the line in free agency this summer, he scored a career-low 15.2 points per game in 31 minutes and again missed a chunk of time due to injury.

Advanced statistics show that he is close to being the player he was in year one.  But with so much at stake, this past season was one where Evans needed to break out. It was also a season that Evans was supposed to lead his team towards a playoff berth.

Three picks after Evans in the 2009 draft, the Warriors took a paper-thin Stephen Curry out of Davidson. Evans took the hardware, but Curry was really good, especially in the second half of his first year. In his sophomore campaign, the Warriors starting guard showed substantial improvement in every facet of his game and looked primed to take a major leap forward. Instead, persistent ankle injuries limited Curry to just 26 games in his third year.

While Evans hit a plateau in year four, Curry took huge strides, barely missing this year’s All-Star Game and leading his team to the playoffs for only the third time in two decades.  If the regular season didn’t cement Curry’s place as an NBA star, his run in the 2013 playoffs have. Through nine games, the Warriors point guard is averaging  25.3 points and 8.8 assists per contest.

He has shown signs that not only is he a true point guard, but his shooting ability has made him into one of the league’s premier perimeter threats. More than that, he has the ability to put his team on his back and lead them to victory.

As players, Curry and Evans are polar opposites. Evans is a bull in a china shop lacking a true shooter’s touch. He is a strong defender and a natural ball handler, but struggles to consistently involve his teammates in the action.

Curry could still stand to add 25 pounds to his 185-pound frame, but he is lightning quick and possibly the best shooter in the NBA. He isn’t the defender that Evans is, but he finds a way to open up the game for every one of his teammates on the offensive end.

While there is a moment where each of these two teams chose a path, this isn’t truly an indictment on the guards involved. Evans is a strong NBA player with a bright future, but instability has plagued the Kings franchise for the last three years. It’s tough to separate Evans from the mess that his owners have created.

Curry did enough in his first three seasons to garner a fresh four-year, $44-million contract from the Warriors.  But would he have been in the same position if  drafted by Sacramento?  Probably not.

Evans is a restricted free agent for a franchise that has yet to figure out what state it will play in next season. What would he look like next to David Lee, Andrew Bogut, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes? What if draft day 2009 went a completely different way?

There is no way to know what either of these players would look like if their roles were reversed. Tyreke Evans flanked by legitimate shooters and owners that cared? Steph Curry playing the pick and roll with DeMarcus Cousins and surviving two relocation attempts?

What we do know is that Curry has become everything the Warriors hoped and more, while Evans has gone from rookie of the year to a man without a contract.


James Ham

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