Heading into the 2013-14 campaign, expectations were high for the Golden State Warriors—Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson each one year older, Andre Iguodala fresh in the fold—to make the leap to elite offensive machine after finishing 10th the previous season.
Soon thereafter, Golden State parted ways with head coach Mark Jackson, replacing him with first-time skipper Steve Kerr.
That the Warriors were getting in Kerr a top-tier basketball mind went without saying. Whether he could maximize the latent potential of Golden State’s offense—this was the pressing question.
After weeks of relative silence, some helpful clues are beginning to emerge.
Not surprisingly, Kerr plans on employing certain elements of the triangle offense, the system made famous by Kerr’s former coach, Phil Jackson. From the San Jose Mercury News’ Diamond Leung:
"We have great passing bigs with Andrew [Bogut] and David (Lee), and I want to put them in passing situations," Kerr said. "I want the ball to move. That's the biggest thing. We've got to get more ball movement, more passes per possession."
How serious is Kerr about getting Bogut more involved? Serious enough to fly halfway around the world to reassure him:
Steve Kerr said he went to Australia for the purpose of meeting Andrew Bogut and telling him he'd be a bigger part of the offense.— Diamond Leung (@diamond83) July 12, 2014
Kerr’s concern isn’t for naught: Bogut registered his lowest usage rate ever last season (12.4, per Basketball-Reference.com), attempting just 5.6 shots per game, which was also a career low.
You can almost hear the refrain from here. “When you have Curry, Thompson and Lee on your team, you’re bound to see your touches take a tumble.”
That’s all well and good, of course. Curry and Thompson constitute arguably the best shooting backcourt—percentage- and efficiency-wise—in history.
Still, Kerr understands the value of what a versatile big man can bring to the table. Everyone knows about Bogut’s defensive presence; Golden State wouldn’t have finished third in the league in defensive efficiency if it weren’t for the Aussie’s rim-protecting prowess.
But Bogut is also an able and willing passer—a must for any true triangle-inspired system.
Getting Bogut more touches doesn’t mean giving him more shots. Rather, Kerr envisions an offense not entirely beholden to picks, pops and rolls, one where Bogut’s height and vision can open up more options for Curry, Thompson and all the rest.
Kerr, who made his professional coaching debut Saturday in the Las Vegas Summer League, also singled out defensive specialist Iguodala as one player who could use some incentives to not revert to old habits, tried and true as they might’ve been:
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
At 30 years old, Iguodala might not boast the beastly athleticism of his earlier, rim-rocking days with the Philadelphia 76ers. But that doesn’t mean Iggy’s speed and quickness can’t be further honed.
After all, how often do you remember Scottie Pippen camping out in the corner on Michael Jordan’s Bulls? Not too often.
And while Lee might not be quite the “stretch 4” Kerr wishes he had (per the Mercury News’ Tim Kawakami), his built-in adeptness and moving off the ball—mostly at or around the rim—stand to benefit even more under Kerr’s comparatively free-flowing system.
Reading his quotes, it’s impossible not to wonder whether Kerr’s ultimate designs are on a small-ball approach. However, back in May, SB Nation’s Jason Patt suggested Golden State’s makeup could be more in line with what Kerr attempted to accomplish as a general manager:
But while going small is a nice option for Golden State, Kerr may prefer the more traditional two-big setup. When Kerr was running the Phoenix Suns, he traded away Shawn Marion (a key player for the Seven Seconds or Less Suns) for Shaquille O'Neal in an attempt to become a more effective team in half-court situations on both ends of the floor. Going more traditional certainly wouldn't be a bad option for the Warriors, as the five-man starting lineup featuring Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Lee and Bogut was one of the best in the NBA.
For as much familiarity as the Warriors' starting five has with one another, Kerr should find implementing a new system—or elements of a new system—relatively smooth sailing.
At the same time, Kerr understands you can’t just take a decades-old system and expect it to apply to today’s talent and rules. After a recent press conference, Kerr spoke with Kawakami and other reporters to underscore what he sees as the real strategic mantra—movement:
I think you’ll see a lot of ball movement; I think you’ll see the bigs utilized as passers on the elbows and on the block. I think you’ll see some Triangle concepts. We’re not going to look like the Chicago Bulls in the ’90s… I think in today’s NBA you have to run; you have to play fast and score early. The rules dictate that. And so I’m not going to take away our running, in fact I want to encourage more running.
What emerges, then, is a picture of a coach that sees the forest for the trees—a basketball chef flexible enough to toy and tinker with the ingredients, yet servile enough to tradition to appreciate just how delicate a recipe the triangle can be.
There’s a reason Kerr chose the Warriors over Jackson and the New York Knicks, one that went beyond location and money. In Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Lee and Bogut, Golden State touts one of the league’s most punishing and productive starting units—a well-oiled machine in need of a tweak or two instead of an outright overhaul.
For Kerr, the 2014-15 season is bound to bear its fair share of harsh lessons and learning curves. Maximizing his full coaching potential could take years.
Getting the most out of Golden State's talent? Kerr might just be closer than we think.