Recently, Basketball Jonez did an excellent job of ranking the Warrior's assets, except that he left off one: Steve Kerr.
As much praise as Kerr has gotten for the miracle season, I don't think he has gotten enough. For example, I don't think we really appreciate what must have happened at the moment Andre Iguodala bought in to coming off the bench. Kerr must have sold him on a whole vision of how the team would work. At that time, he hadn't coached a game yet other than practice. Yet Kerr's description must have been very convincing. Not the least persuasive factor must have been Kerr himself. His brand of no nonsense fun must have convinced Iguodala that he could do the job. And the picture of how the team would play must have seemed obvious and right.
Kerr didn't take credit for the idea of moving Draymond up and Lee down, but it didn't take him many games to figure out that it was a good idea. Would anyone else have had the balls to do it? For Kerr, it was easy since everyone could see that its purpose was one thing: winning. Although Kerr must have had a slightly different plan at first he wasn't wedded to it. The Warriors were ballin, not just playing basketball. With Draymond starting, everything clicked into place like a gun being assembled. It suddenly seemed as if everybody's talents were being fully utilized and that all these talents fit together perfectly to make this flamethrower.
But how did almost every player raise his level over the summer of 2014? Take Harrison Barnes. What a woeful 13-14 season he had. I frankly thought his career was hanging on by a thread. But with a little less defensive attention he started flipping threes from the corner and running the floor like a demon. A very discouraged young man became an important piece of the puzzle, and a budding very good player. I give Kerr a lot of credit for saving his career.
And who thought Draymond Green was going to come on so big? When Kerr called him the heartbeat he described so perfectly what Draymond's role is that it became much easier for him to play it. It let him be himself. Likewise when he called Iguodala his security blanket. Iguodala knew his first job was to restore order to a shaken team. No doubt somewhere in his mind he thought so before, but Kerr named his place in the whole. It was a job description. Instead of trying to fit the players into some preconceived plan, Kerr made the team out of the talents he had.
Then there is the challenge to Curry to be a better defender. I think this was a very important and clever move. If Curry had remained, in his own mind, a bad defender, he would always be the kid who had to be protected by his big brothers. In a way challenging him to be a defender was challenging him to fight his own battles, and Curry has grown up, I think, because of it. Under Jackson he was very good, but treated somewhat as a child. Now he is transcendent.
Before last year Mo Speights was just another player on a bad second unit. Now he is a very useful contributor. The brilliance of acquiring Livingston. Was that Kerr's idea? Barbosa certainly was. How about Ezeli's progress? He looks like he's going to be a real force. Kerr seems to have that Popovich ability to find talent where others see nothing. Like the Spurs he finds talent in players no one thought had it. And darned if they don't fit into a second unit that also fits together tightly.
Under Kerr the previously woeful second unit was, at times, ballin too. I assume that anyone who played the game knows what I mean about ballin. When the game becomes a revelation of the friendship, understanding, and trust between and among you and your teammates. Then the game is like playing a piece of music rather than, say, grinding something. Each basket becomes a mathematical theorem demonstrating that the other team is just out of it's class. Is it too cute? That's what Barkley seems to be saying. But I remember a game against the Thunder, I think, in January where such a realization dawned on Kevin Durant's face. He was so rattled that he couldn't make free throws.
I also give Kerr credit for the low injury count. Of course injury can happen any time to any player, but they happen much more often when a player is trying to do too much. Weird desperation twisting layups make for awkward landings as do desperate attempts to fight for a loose ball.That was the way it was with Westbrook, Conley, Korver, and Kyrie Irving. Tired desperate players get hurt. The Warriors put away games early under Kerr in contrast to Jackson's tightrope walks. Rarely did they have to make desperate shots over a lunging triple-team at the buzzer.
Or how about the seamless interaction between Kerr and the front office. What could be a bigger contrast than that with Jackson's relationship to management?
One funny little note on the season is the "hero ball" promotion on the sidelines. Hero ball was a style originally in contrast to the style the Warriors play which is team ball. Hero ball is not ballin, but the NBA thinks it is what sells its product. Hero ball is played by giving your ball to your hero -- Michael Jordan or LeBron James -- and standing back. Apparently the league didn't want this style of basketball criticized. So when the playoffs started the commentators blurred the distinction only to force themselves to utter arrant stupidities. By the end of the playoffs they dropped the whole idea.
Steve Kerr seems to be both a straight shooter and fun. He also obviously absorbs information like a sponge and incorporates it into a coherent idea. He's a cool customer with a steel will and a plan. He doesn't try to work his team up into a fever pitch as Jackson did. He wants his players to never forget that they are playing basketball for a living, so they can enjoy doing their best. Unlike, say Tom Thibodeau who seems to believe in a salt mine approach, or Mark Jackson who jacks up emotion , making every game a heart stopper. Kerr's team is like a rapier that often administers the coup de grace early, leaving blood-strewn minutes of garbage time in its wake.
And one other thing: I don't think any other coach has ever had to constantly give credit to the previous coach for his success. Throughout the season this little theme kept popping up. This could have gotten on Kerr's nerves, but he chose to handle it in a way that caused the least distraction to the team. Cool as a cucumber. Even when TNT decided to let Jackson call the finals, Kerr finessed the situation, apparently without the slightest effort. He kept his eye on the prize, the championship, and so did the rest of the team. Nothing else was on the radar.
It was obvious that the miracle year, occasionally, during the playoffs, caused the Warriors to question whether they could fly this high. The ship had to be righted and, down 2-1 twice in the playoffs, at times it looked like it might not be. Kerr's storied adjustments are now the stuff of Warrior legend. But it was obvious that in spite of the championship season Kerr saw plenty of work to do both for himself and the team.
It is my opinion that the Warriors are going to come out even better this year. What if Ezeli does a Draymond-Lee switch with Bogut? Harrison Barnes is again working out with Jerry West. He's going to be better at getting free. You can bet Curry and Thompson are sharpening new unbelievable moves. And Kerr will be even better at what he does too. The cuts are going to be quicker, the picks cleaner, the players less easily rattled, and the rapier even sharper.
So that's it in a nutshell. Under Jackson they were playing basketball, but under Kerr they are ballin.