The Golden State Warriors won the bidding war to secure new head coach Steve Kerr and in the process opened the door to endless speculation as to what the first-time coach would do with a talented offense that grossly underachieved last season.
Despite boasting the likes of offensive dynamos like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and David Lee, Mark Jackson was just barely able to squeeze the Warriors into the top 10 in scoring this year, down three spots from their seventh spot last season.
Jackson was a master at getting his players to believe in his philosophy and culture, and his transformation of the Warriors from a perennial bottom feeder into a legitimate contender cannot go unnoticed, nor will it be forgotten by the Warrior faithful.
Jackson’s flaws as a strategist, however, ensured that the true ceiling of the Warriors could never be reached. For as great a player as he was, his offensive genius never truly translated to coaching, and as a result the Warriors struggled in close games, going 13-15 in games decided by five points or less and overtime.
The Warriors’ front office believes that Kerr can tie up Jackson's loose ends and in doing so restore the mystique that once surrounded the once-great offense.
Kerr has his work cut out for him, as there are several areas that require his immediate attention. An emphasis on ball security is a must, as is running a more free-flowing offense than what was previously in place. With all the key pieces at his disposal, however, plugging everything in should be expected.
Cutting back on turnovers
Turnovers were a common theme for the Warriors this season and ultimately proved to be a harbinger for their failings in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs to the Clippers.
While Curry was often a magician with the ball, a trick we saw all too much was his making the ball disappear, the grand reveal as to its location being in the other team's hands—and ultimately in their basket.
Jackson saw early on in the season that the Curry turnover epidemic was turning into a major issue, telling Monte Pool of CSNBayArea.com, “He understands that he has to be better. He understands that if we are going to achieve our vision, he's got to take care of the basketball."
Something just never clicked, though, and the Warriors went on to average 14.9 turnovers per game, good for the fourth most in the league during the regular season. When the playoffs rolled around, things got even worse. The Warriors’ 17.3 turnovers ranked as the most by any team by a significant margin.
Kerr must stress the importance of protecting the ball, much like Jackson did, and he must make a concerted effort to ensure that the sloppiness of last season is absent from his new team. Eliminating unnecessary turnovers is the first step to becoming a more efficient offense.
Moving away from an isolation-heavy offense
There is a time and place for everything. That is one of the golden rules we learn as children. When it comes to isolation plays in the NBA, it rings true once again.
Exploiting mismatches is an important part of any good offense; it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that players with significant size or skill advantages have a propensity for finding the bottom of the net. The Warriors were no exception to this, as they constantly looked to score an easy bucket when the opportunity presented itself.
The problem, however, was that they relied on isolation plays far too much, and the offense fell out of sync as a result. Bleacher Report’s Fred Katz looked into their struggles and found that the Warriors were posting up on over 20 percent of their offensive possessions.
While David Lee is an exceptional passing big man on the block, the fact remains that once the ball gets there, it generally means the ball movement has been halted. The Warriors’ biggest strength is taking and making open three-point shots. That becomes a lot harder when the defense has a chance to set up.
While attacking an obvious mismatch is good in doses, keeping the ball moving opens up a plethora of options. Kerr must instill an offense that focuses on the strength of his team, not the weaknesses of his opposition. Ball movement leads to open shots, and nobody is better at making them than the Warriors.
Getting more from Andre Iguodala
The virtues of Andre Iguodala's game are obvious. He’s an exceptional defender, as evidenced by his appointment to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team. He’s also a capable shooter, making more than 35 percent of his three-point opportunities. His transition offense is breathtaking, as is his ability to routinely find holes in the defense and get to the basket for rim-rattling dunks.
Despite all of that, Mark Jackson still found a way to make him the most underutilized weapon in the game.
Iguodala possesses all the tools a player could ever have, yet only managed to eke out 9.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists. Iguodala didn’t just magically forget how to play basketball. His averages going down were not a result of his lacking ability. It was simply bad coaching.
Curry is a sensational offensive weapon, and taking the ball out of his hands is by no means what we’re suggesting. It is OK, however, to give him a break here and there. Initiating the offense is a grueling task, one that left the point guard drained at the end of games far too often.
Finding a way to conserve his energy for the stretch run while simultaneously keeping the product on the court performing at a high level will be Kerr’s biggest challenge. Fortunately for him, the solution has been there all along: Iguodala.
Taking Curry off the ball and putting it in Iguodala’s hands for brief stretches would not only keep Curry fresh; it would give the Warriors the deadliest spot-up weapon in the game. Iguodala is more than capable of running the offense, and his penetrating abilities would help generate open shots.
Iguodala is far too talented to simply be an afterthought on offense. Whether it’s as a shooter, a cutter or as the initiator, the ball must find Iguodala more next season. He can give the offense the spark to put it over the top and make Kerr’s tenure a successful one.