With the right combination of humility, vision and leadership, though, Kerr has the chance to carve his own path—and make fans forget about the one that came before him.
The pressure to surpass Jackson's level of success has been building since long before Kerr accepted the position. By dispatching Jackson after he led them on consecutive playoff trips, the Warriors had publicly sent the message that good wasn't good enough.
"The first line of the job description should read: 'Able to win more than 51 games and reach the second round of the playoffs while pushing for a title,'" USA Today's Sam Amick wrote shortly after Jackson's dismissal.
There were more layers than wins and losses behind the move, but that message still rings true. The Warriors have positioned themselves to make a championship push, and they expect that to happen sooner than later.
On the court, Golden State has bought into Kerr's ability to strategically build a powerhouse. But the new Warriors coach also has some off-court hurdles to climb, building the emotional bonds with players who outspokenly supported Jackson.
If Kerr can strike the balance of strategist and psychologist, he could unlock the full potential of one of the NBA's most talented rosters. The process will not be quick, but a path to prominence exists if he can steer his way past these pivotal checkpoints.
Expanding the Offensive Playbook
While public perception still paints the Warriors as an offensive juggernaut, they were nothing more than mediocre at that end this past season. They averaged 105.3 points per 100 possessions, via NBA.com, 12th-most in the league.
There were more than just memories of Don Nelson's old run-and-gun squad leading the public to believe this was a point-producing power. There was also a roster overloaded with offensive talent that should have kept the scoreboard spinning.
The pieces are in place to break down a defense from any angle.
Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have off-the-bus range and the ability to create off the dribble. Andre Iguodala does a little bit of everything, and Harrison Barnes is never more than a cut away from putting someone on a poster.
David Lee is a more than willing passer and an 18.2 points-per-game scorer. Andrew Bogut is among the most talented passing big men in the league.
The Warriors had everything needed to field a dominant offense, but an antiquated approach handcuffed the attack.
Jackson leaned heavily on isolations, running them on 10.7 percent of the team's total offensive plays, via Synergy Sports (subscription required). Not only did that kill all ball movement, it also highlighted how short this roster was on isolation scorers. The team shot just 38.1 percent from the field on those sets, its lowest mark of any play type.
Kerr has already made it clear he doesn't plan on beating the isolation drum the way Jackson did. In fact, Kerr might toss the instrument altogether. He already told reporters he plans on running an up-tempo offense that takes full advantage of the talent on hand:
I think the team can get better offensively. There's a lot of skill out there, with (Andrew) Bogut and (David) Lee being such excellent passers. I think you'll see a lot of ball movement, with the bigs being utilized as passers from the elbows and the block. We'll have some elements of the triangle offense, but we're not going to look like the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s. In today's NBA, you have to run, play fast, score early. The rules dictate that. I want to encourage even more running than the Warriors did last year. But I want to have it flow into an offense that utilizes our skill level and take some of the pressure off Curry.
There are weapons that the team either didn't use or used incorrectly this past season.
Iguodala, a career 33.1 percent three-point shooter, was taken off the ball and left in the corner as a floor spacer. His 13.3 usage percentage was the lowest it had been since his rookie season, via Basketball-Reference.com, and his scoring took a similar nosedive to 9.3 points a night.
Kerr has no intention of seeing a repeat performance from Iguodala next season:
Steve Kerr to KNBR on Andre Iguodala: "I don't like to see him standing in the corner. That's where he gets lost a little bit."— Diamond Leung (@diamond83) May 21, 2014
Kerr also has a plan to get Bogut much more involved in the offense. The former No. 1 overall pick averaged 7.3 points a night in 2013-14, but he's put up more than 11 per game six times in his nine-year career.
Kerr already met with Bogut, the big man told SportSentral radio, and showed him the type of offensive chances he'll be getting next year.
"He actually brought an iPad along to lunch and showed me actually clips of Luc Longley playing that similar type role, triangle-facilitator type of role and wanted me to be a bit more aggressive offensively and run through me a little more," Bogut said, via Diamond Leung of Bay Area News Group.
The coach is also working on getting Barnes back on track. The 22-year-old struggled mightily in his sophomore season, shooting just 39.9 percent from the field. A move to the bench left him taking the floor with far less offensive threats around him, and Jackson didn't do him any favors by putting him in isolation sets he doesn't have the skill right now to play:
Jerry West mentioned the Warriors Isolation heavy offense as one of the big issues for Iggy/Barnes struggles last season.— warriorsworld (@warriorsworld) June 13, 2014
He won't be asked to run those plays under his new coach.
"I'll have a chance to do a lot more movement in our offense and just being ready to be efficient off the dribble and cutting," Barnes said, via Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune.
The offense could be better than ever, but the strides made there cannot come at the expense of the opposite side.
Maintaining Defensive Identity
The Warriors didn't just have a good defense under Jackson, they had an elite one.
They were one of only three teams—and the only Western Conference club—to allow fewer than 100 points per 100 possessions. They finished third in defensive efficiency with a 99.9 rating, via NBA.com.
"I think Mark Jackson did an excellent job, particularly in emphasizing defense and rebounding and toughness," Kerr said at his introductory press conference. "You think about where this club was three years ago. The entire identity has changed."
In 2011-12, Golden State ranked tied for 26th in defensive efficiency. It was also the league's worst team on the glass, with a paltry 46.1 rebounding percentage, via NBA.com. The Warriors finished ninth in rebounding percentage this past season (51.1).
Effort plays a big role in defense and rebounding, and Jackson's biggest strength was getting his players to give maximum energy.
"Guys loved Coach Jackson," one player told Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher. "They'd run through a wall for him."
It's going to take some time for Kerr to develop that type of relationship with his guys (more on that in a minute).
That does not have to mean, however, that the Warriors will suffer any regression at the defensive end. There's more involved in performing well at that side than simply playing hard.
The Warriors also need to develop a strong defensive scheme, which former assistants Michael Malone and Darren Erman did for Jackson. The hope is that the recently hired Ron Adams, who spent last season with the Boston Celtics, will do the same for Kerr.
Adams certainly has the pedigree for the job:
Ron Adams was a defensive specialist under Thibs. Do Warriors fans need to hear anything else?— Trapped in Golden St (@TrappdnGoldenSt) June 23, 2014
Of course, as is the case with any level of coaching success, a lot of this falls directly on the players.
Kerr, with Adams' help, can put guys in the right position. He can even elicit maximum effort out of them.
If the players aren't talented, though, it won't make a difference.
Luckily, that's not a problem Kerr will encounter. The Warriors, in large part, are a much better defensive club now because they have bolstered their roster with strong defenders.
Iguodala is the cream of the crop. The 6'6" swingman packs a lethal combination of athleticism, intelligence and intensity. He's a suffocating defender on the ball and a constant threat in passing lanes:
My biggest issue with Iguodala making 1st Team All Defense is it didn't happen sooner— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) June 2, 2014
Thompson isn't far behind as an on-ball defender. His length and quickness allow him to guard either backcourt position, freeing Curry to take the easier assignment.
Draymond Green is a tremendously versatile defensive weapon. He'll play anywhere he's needed, banging on the block or keeping pace with a backcourt threat:
Draymond Green is such a good defender in every aspect of the game. Post defense, perimeter, rotating, helping, quick feet. He's great.— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) April 30, 2014
Bogut is the insurance plan should anything break down on the perimeter. He's a premier shot-blocker (2.5 per 36 minutes, via Basketball-Reference.com), and he changes more shots than he sends back. His 45.0 field-goal percentage against at the rim was the sixth-lowest in the league (minimum seven attempts per game), per NBA.com's SportVU player tracking data.
If the Warriors do slip defensively under Kerr, it shouldn't be by much. There's too much individual defensive talent on the roster to imagine this group struggling at that side.
Especially if Kerr develops strong bonds with his players, the last step needed to make the guys forget their former leader.
Earning Trust of His Players
This needs to be Kerr's primary concern at the start of his coaching career, but it's also likely to be the most time-consuming task he'll encounter.
A lot will go into this. It's not simply about winning games. This group expects to win, so Kerr will need to do more. He needs to prove that he can get more out of his players than Jackson did. He has to show that he's the coach who will help them take the next step.
"I just want to see him build that relationship with the players," Curry said, via Bay Area News Group's Marcus Thompson II. "To be able to get the most out of us. To challenge us. Pushing us to a higher level."
Jackson issued those challenges through public signs of support. He never wavered in his belief in them, so they had little reason to doubt themselves.
Motivation worked wonders in terms of changing the culture. Kerr won't get far if his players pass on what he has to sell.
He'll need results to validate his words, but that process could get started when he unveils his offense at training camp. If this attack makes the strides that it should and the defense comes close to matching last season's performance, the Warriors could have all the tools to win now.
That's what the franchise needs to see. It's what the players need to experience to realize the front office made the right move.
Kerr is getting ready to start out on his own path. The only way to fully shed Jackson's shadow is to climb higher than his predecessor could.