Checklist of Critical Tasks for Steve Kerr as Golden State Warriors' New Coach
When the Golden State Warriors gamble, they do so with every intention of collecting a jackpot payday at the end of their bets.
That's not unlike the rest of us. If it was, Las Vegas wouldn't be the global destination that it's become.
What separates the Warriors from us common folk, though, is their standard of acceptable winnings. Mark Jackson delivered the franchise its best two-year stretch in more than two decades (98 wins, nine playoff victories), but he'll back broadcasting games for ESPN next season, no doubt reminding the basketball world about the perils of uncontested shots—hand down, man down.
The Dubs have doubled down on the broadcast booth in unearthing a championship coach, this time in the form of TNT analyst (and former player-turned-executive) Steve Kerr. It remains to be seen if he knows coaching, but the guy knows titles, having helped capture five of them under two of the sharpest minds in the profession: Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich.
Clearly, the Warriors believe Kerr can deliver similar success to this organization. The team staked a cool $25 million in his ability to do just that.
Whether he has the resources to do so is moot. This franchise wants results, putting intense pressure on a coach who hasn't even been formally announced yet. The clock hasn't started on his tenure, but somehow it's already ticking.
With win-now pieces in place—in the eyes of the front office, at least—the expectation is for Kerr to produce something of substance immediately. With that in mind, let's run through the most critical items on the first-time coach's checklist.
Develop Relationships with His Players
The roster that Kerr inherits is like a family, only it's a family that just witnessed the forcible removal of its patriarch.
Jackson's methods have been questioned and may have played a role in his dismissal, but his motivational skills produced top-notch results. His players gave him everything they had, a benefit rarely afforded to any coach in this business.
Kerr could be a great coach—but he's not Jackson. That's a fact these players are still learning to accept, which an anonymous one told Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher is the reason there have been no public reactions from then on the hire.
"That is out of loyalty to Coach Jackson," the player said. "It has nothing to do with Steve. Just meeting him when he worked our games, he seems like a nice guy. It has to do more with how Coach was done. Guys loved Coach Jackson. They'd run through a wall for him."
That devotion to Jackson produced some incredible results. Despite losing a starting big in each of the last two postseasons due to injury (David Lee in 2013, Andrew Bogut this year), the Warriors scored an eye-opening series win over the higher-seeded Denver Nuggets and pushed championship contenders like the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers.
There are fences to mend in this organization. While that will undoubtedly be a timely process, it's one worth Kerr's immediate attention.
"I just want to see him build that relationship with the players," All-Star guard Stephen Curry said, via Marcus Thompson II of the Bay Area News Group. "To be able to get the most out of us. To challenge us. Pushing us to a higher level."
That, more than anything, was Jackson's strength. It will have to be Kerr's as well for him to achieve the type of success that this franchise desires.
Release the Isolation Grip on This Offense
The NBA's analytical movement wasn't kind to Jackson's offense, particularly his insistence on running a pair of antiquated, inefficient sets: isolations and post-ups.
If Jackson saw what he deemed a favorable matchup, he'd attack it over and over again. Ball movement stopped, and players simply watched as one of their ill-equipped teammates looked to utilize a weapon that wasn't part of their arsenal.
More than 17 percent of Klay Thompson's offensive plays were one of these two play types, via Synergy Sports (subscription required). Nearly 30 percent of Harrison Barnes' offense generated out of these two looks. The problem is that they are not isolation players. Neither ranked among the league's top 80 scorers in either post plays or isolations.
Public perception still pegs the Warriors as an offensive power, despite the numbers saying their strength lies at the opposite end. Golden State wrapped the regular season with the NBA's third-most efficient defense (99.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) but had just its 12th-rated offensive attack (105.3 points per 100 possessions).
The Dubs' historical indifference to the defensive end is probably the main driving force behind this warped perception, but it also exists for a different reason. This team should be one of the league's best offensive powers due to its vast array of willing passers, capable shooters and explosive drivers.
Creativity and flow were both stripped from the Warriors' weapons cache, and it's Kerr's job to bring them back. Luckily, it sounds like he has a plan to deliver the explosiveness that Jackson willingly sacrificed.
"Expect much more of a Spurs-style offense, I'd say: Lots of ball movement, weak-side action, emphasis on passing to open players, moving the defense, then passing it again," Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News wrote. "And not so much on the isolation game."
After watching this offense handcuff itself, that has to be music to Warriors fans ears.
Get a Feel for Andre Iguodala's Skills
If this franchise had an "Aha!" moment marking its arrival to the NBA's upper tier, it was last summer's heist of Andre Iguodala.
The versatile swingman found himself near the top of the 2013 offseason's free-agent food chain. A walking Swiss Army knife with talents extended to both ends of the floor, he was the biggest buzz-worthy name behind Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.
Players with his collection of skills simply hadn't been available to this franchise for decades. Yet, he wanted to be a Warrior, so much so that he left more lucrative offers on the table to accept Golden State's four-year, $48 million deal.
The signing was worth celebrating, yet that became harder to do with every glance at the stat sheet. The 10-year veteran posted his lowest scoring average since his rookie season (9.3), attempted fewer shots than he had over that same stretch (7.3) and finished with the lowest assist average since his sophomore campaign (4.2).
A strained hamstring cost him nearly a month of the season, and tendinitis in his right knee took away more games down the stretch. There were some physical explanations behind his box scores, yet a certain amount of his "struggles"—he still led the NBA with a plus-nine point-differential average, via SportingCharts.com—seemed to be due to misuse.
He's a career 33.1 percent shooter from distance, yet more than 25 percent of his offensive plays were spot-up shots, via Synergy Sports. Despite having the tools to be the secondary ball-handler and support scorer that Curry needs, Iguodala was too often removed from the offensive game plan.
His offensive roadblocks were finally removed late in the postseason, and he flashed the type of production the Dubs could have had all along: 17.3 points, 5.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds over his final four playoff outings.
Kerr, like Jackson, will need Iguodala to be a team leader at the defensive end. But unlike his predecessor, Kerr can't forget that the player's talents extend to the opposite side of the floor as well.
Find Harrison Barnes' Comfort Zone
The Warriors' 2013-14 campaign was full of success stories: Curry's rise to the superstar ranks, Thompson's career scoring (18.4 points per game) and shooting (44.4 field-goal percentage) years and Draymond Green's coming-of-age as a two-way contributor.
Amid those achievements, though, was one massive failure: the regression of sophomore forward Harrison Barnes.
The once highly touted prospect—he drew Tracy McGrady comparisons coming out of North Carolina—took a step back from what was a relatively unimpressive rookie effort the year before. He lost four points off his field-goal percentage (39.9, down from 43.9) and put up an unsightly 9.8 player efficiency rating (league average is 15.0).
Jackson asked Barnes to be the guy on his second team, a role the 21-year-old struggled to fill throughout the season. He couldn't create his own shot and didn't log nearly enough time alongside players who could find him good looks. Nearly 40 percent of his playing time (873 of his 2,204 minutes) came while Curry was sitting on the bench.
Barnes put up a season-high 30 points in the team's throwaway finale, a number that can (and should) be easily dismissed. What one can take away from that contest, as Adam Lauridsen of the San Jose Mercury News noted, is the way Barnes filled his box score:
Instead of posting-up and waiting for an entry pass, then over-dribbling in an effort to create something, Barnes got most of his touches either moving towards the basket or sitting in the corner behind the arc, ready to shoot. The difference in his aggressiveness when fed in his favorite spots was noticeable — and not just in his 11-21 shooting percentage. Barnes looked like the assertive player that emerged in last season’s playoffs, not the passive shell that has been gliding through much of this year.
In other words, there's still hope for the Warriors to salvage something out of the 2012 draft's seventh selection. Kerr needs to find ways to complement Barnes' natural gifts, something Jackson never did figure out.
With little-to-no financial wiggle room for the next two seasons (at least) and two of the team's next four first-round draft picks owed to the Utah Jazz, external assistance will be hard to come by. Internal improvements are critical, and Barnes needs to be developed—either as a potential building block or an impact trade chip.
Build Blended Rotations
Hockey substitutions should be left on the ice.
If anything was more frustrating than Jackson's isolation-based offense, it was the coach's insistence on keeping his starters separate from his reserves. Players like Curry, Iguodala and Lee couldn't help their second-team comrades with anything more than words of encouragement from the sideline.
Green and Iguodala, the team's two most versatile defenders, logged just 608 minutes together. Green saw more action alongside part-time contributor Marreese Speights (651). Nearly 30 percent of Curry's 2,846 minutes came with the other four starters on the floor (818), a confounding number considering three different starters (Iguodala, Lee and Bogut) missed at least 13 games.
The "Dubstitutes" needed someone on the floor with an offensive punch. Golden State finished the season 24th in bench scoring (28.0 points per game), via HoopsStats.com.
"When the Warriors go with hockey substitutions," ESPN.com's Ethan Sherwood Strauss tweeted, "they score like a hockey team."
The answer isn't asking for more from the starters—Curry (36.5 minutes) and Thompson (35.4) are already seeing more regular-season action than they should—but rather finding which combinations of starters and reserves can keep the scoreboard moving. That means more experiments with small-ball 4s (Green or Barnes) and more meshing of top offensive or defensive units.
Kerr needs to learn how to buy his top guns rest piece by piece. Maybe that's pulling Thompson or Iguodala off the floor earlier so the subs can hit the hardwood with a proven scorer. Or surrounding Curry with more scorers to keep defenses honest. Or letting Barnes and Green see more action with more offensive threats around them.
The Warriors don't have an elite talent outside of Curry, but their top-seven rotation (Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Lee, Bogut, Barnes and Green) is as skilled as any in the league. Kerr has to maximize that depth by using every possible combination of those seven and plugging in the other reserves around them.
Jackson refused to experiment with what he had until injuries forced his hand. Kerr should already be in the laboratory, cooking up some lethal blended concoctions.