We’re back with another week of Oppo-Nets. Three games this week, so I talked with people familiar with those three teams: David Nash, host of the Suns podcast 7SOL, Brendan Vogt, a writer for Denver Stiffs, and Jannelle Moore, who covers the Warriors for BBall Index.

11/6 – at Suns

It hasn’t been the best start record-wise for the Suns, but it looks like Deandre Ayton is off to a good start to his career. What are your thoughts on Ayton so far?

How long have you got? Haha. I’ll start out by saying I thought Luka Doncic and Deandre Ayton were the two clear best prospects in the draft and the only two worthy of the number 1 pick. And nothing either have done to date (or anyone else) has changed my mind on that. I will say that Ayton has surprised me for different reasons on both ends of the floor. Offensively he has looked comfortable from literally the first minute of NBA play, which is incredible.

Where he has truly surprised me is his response to the Suns needing to lean on him so much for their offense. Especially with Booker out, Phoenix has been running A LOT of action through Ayton on the high post and he is delivering. It has showcased possibly his biggest surprise so far and that’s his passing. He is averaging 3.4 assists a game (to just 1.8 TO’s) and has thrown some amazing dimes for a big man. He came out of college a great kick out passer from the post but I doubted it would translate in other situations. I was very much wrong on that based on what we have seen.

As for everything else on O, I think I’ve been proven pretty right so far. I am a HUGE fan of Coach Kokoskov and was very confident they’d use him in an extremely efficient manner. They have – 16 PPG on 65.1% True Shooting.

Now for the defense, which I am not going to harp on too long. Rookie C’s are almost always bad on defense, let’s get that out of the way. But for Nets fans, here’s what you need to know if you are scouting to win the game. He’s solid in the post, you aren’t going to get easy buckets there. He’s also better than you may have read in the PnR.

We haven’t seen NBA guards all that willing to attack him in the PnR or even when he switches out on the perimeter. His mix of size and quickness make him extremely hard to beat in those situations. Where you can really exploit him, for now, is by making him make multiple reads, this is where he struggles. If you put him in simple sets with the action coming right at him, he will stand up. But If you take the action away from him, you can exploit his lack of defensive IQ and weakside rim protection. Teams have already noticed this and he’s currently only averaging 0.9 of a block a game.

I write about the Nets, but I’m also a lifelong Rockets fan. How have Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson looked so far?

Any diehard Rockets fan would know what you can usually expect out of these two and for the most part, the Suns are yet to see it. Anderson is REALLY struggling. We all know he has regressed to a point where his only true value on the court is as a floor spacer. He is currently shooting 25% from three on 3.1 attempts a game. What’s worse is he is frustrating a lot of Suns fans by continuing to look off threes and dribble into the paint, where he has ZERO game anymore. All of this has resulted in a quick demotion to the second unit in favor of TJ Warren.

As for Ariza, I’ve been pretty happy with his performances so far but I think it’s safe to say that’s a little higher than the general consensus I’m seeing from other Suns people. The thing with Ariza is, he’s only going to look as good as the talent around him. Just like the rest of the team, he’s looked pretty horrible in the bad losses.

However, it’s no surprise his two best games were in Phoenix’s wins against DAL & MEM and perhaps his next best was in a semi-close game with TOR where he fought hard with Kawhi. Like Anderson, his overall shooting percentages need to come up to his career average. That will come. But for now, I can’t really fault the job he’s doing and I know general opinion on him will change if the likes of Booker, Ayton, and Bridges can all consistently push him further into the background. That’s where he’s at his best.

Who wins — Suns or Nets?

This is a great test for the Suns. The Nets are 4-6 and just did a number on the Sixers. Going into the season, this is exactly the kind of game I expected the Suns to win. In fact, all I expected out of the Suns this season is to beat the teams they are supposed to and I would put the Nets (because it’s at home especially) in that basket. The Dallas and Memphis wins also fit that criteria and as disappointing as all the losses in between have been, I don’t think many expected any extra Suns wins. There is also one other constant in our wins so far – Devin Booker. If I’m part of the Nets staff scouting for this game, you might want to put as much as possible into stopping him. Suns by 5.

11/9 – at Nuggets

Great start for the Nuggets. Aside from Nikola Jokic, who has been the biggest part of this hot start?

As great as Nikola Jokic’s start to the season has been, this feels like the year of Gary Harris. In a Kawhi-like fashion, Harris has added new elements to his game and shattered his previously applied ceiling in each season. Through 9 games, he’s shown an improved scoring ability off the bounce and an unshakeable confidence when driving to the rim. Despite shooting just 27 percent from deep — a number that should increase over the course of 82 games — Harris is averaging a career-high 18.9 points on 57 percent from the field. He’s been a stud on both ends of the court and has lifted Denver up late in games. He’s their second best player and it isn’t close.

There’s been a lot of young players coming off the bench this year for the Nuggets. Which non-starter do you think has the most upside?

Denver’s bench has transformed from a liability to an insurance plan. Last season, leads slipped through the cracks of their fingers like sand. So far in 2018-19, they’ve not only retained leads, but they’ve wrestled them back from the opposing team when the starters just don’t have it. Monte Morris has filled the backup point guard role and his traditional skill set has done wonders for the second unit.

Mason Plumlee has been a rock on both ends of the court, slowly reversing the narrative around his arrival in Denver. Just about everyone’s played well off the bench, but I think the player with the most upside is Juancho Hernangomez. The Spaniard spaces the floor with his lethal three-point shooting, and his knack for timely relocation makes him the perfect player for a team with Jokic. Mono knocked Jauncho out of the rotation last season, but he’s back now, and he’s doing everything he can to restore his long-term value.

Who wins — Nuggets or Nets?

Last season’s Nuggets had a bad habit of overlooking inferior opponents and playing down to their level. So far in this campaign, there looks to be an improved focus in that regard. The Nets have the capability of giving just about any team a hard time, and while they likely won’t finish with an impressive record, they certainly won’t be an easy W for the rest of the league this year. Had this game come on the road, it may have been tempting to pick Brooklyn in a trap game. But it’s in Denver, and I expect the Nuggets to take care of business in this one. They’re one of the league’s very best teams at home.

11/10 – at Warriors

On first glance, there’s a good amount of names on the Warriors bench that I’m less familiar with than I’d like to be. What new edition has had the biggest impact so far?

Alfonzo McKinnie is the new addition to the Warriors’ bench that has had the biggest impact thus far. He is the 3 and D guy that the Warriors wanted and, frankly, needed coming off the bench.  He’s a solid rebounder and isn’t afraid to take the open shots. Not only that, he has what were supposed to be Pat McCaw’s minutes, and he took some of Andre Iguodala’s minutes in the fourth quarter in the Timberwolves game. I wouldn’t be surprised if he will take more of a share of minutes as the season progress.

DeMarcus Cousins will eventually come back, but since this is the last time Brooklyn and Golden State meet and I won’t have a chance to ask about him closer to him actually coming back — what do you think he’ll ultimately bring to this team?

When DeMarcus returns, he will be a solid scoring option in the post-something that the Warriors haven’t had in years. He will also facilitate a great share of open looks for Steph, KD, and Klay with his passing out of the post.

The Nets kept it close the first time these teams met. Is there any concern that Brooklyn can keep it close or even sneak out a win this time, or does the game being at Oracle make it much easier for the Warriors?

No, I wouldn’t say its a concern that the Nets can keep it close, but that doesn’t mean that the Warriors are going to take them lightly. It’s no secret that the Warriors are battling complacency and malaise as well as whoever’s out on the floor.  Sometimes their complacency cost them games. I don’t believe it will happen against the Nets at Oracle though.

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