After winning the Championship last year, and the NBA extending the season schedule to start earlier this year, this was technically the shortest offseason of all time for the Golden State Warriors. And yet with all the star players moving around — and both conferences significantly reshaped — in many ways it has felt like the longest and most eventful offseason of all time.
Thankfully, our interminable wait is officially over. The Warriors are back in action, and so we are finally treated to our first real news regarding basketball. And it is this: Steve Kerr is taking the team back to the simplest of fundamentals. Simple passes.
But as Kerr tells it, this is exactly the sort of activity that the greatest of coaches force the greatest of players to undertake. But because he’s Steve Kerr, this telling involves Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and two of the greatest coaches of all time:
As transcribed by the always excellent Anthony Slater:
“I'm a Tex Winter disciple,” Kerr said of the legendary Bulls and Lakers assistant coach. “In Chicago, I'll never forget, one of my first practices with Michael (Jordan) and Scottie (Pippen), Tex had us line up at half court and had us throwing two-hand chest passes back and forth to each other. One-hand pass, left-hand pass, bounce pass. I thought ‘What is this? Third grade. You have two of the best players on Earth passing back and forth to each other.' But it was a good reminder that fundamentals matter, no matter how old you are.”
Now, a lot of old men have yelled at the clouds in recent years bemoaning the loss of solid fundamental skills in the NBA, myself included. As elite players are identified early and come up through the AAU development system, they are generally able to rely on their superior skill to win games. And for a number of reasons, these players are featured as isolation scorers in one way or another as they go through their formative years of basketball. You don’t necessarily need good fundamental footwork when you are insanely talented. It doesn’t hurt, and coaches try to instill what they can - but young athletes quickly realize they can sometimes get away with bending the rules.
But sometimes stuff like this doesn’t always work.
Kerr brings a certain weight of experience that is undeniable and is using that gravitas to push back against the casual pass. He tells this story about being in practice as a role player among greats — and I think that it is both the coach and players in that room that have formed Kerr into the league-altering coach that he is.
Much like Kerr, these Warriors players have the ability to be coached - and are even hungry for the lessons.
Anyone who plays or watches basketball can tell you that shooting in rhythm is an important factor. In the video above, Draymond Green says that if you pass to someone around their ankles, it takes them out of rhythm. And Klay agrees.
“It helps when it hits you in the pocket...you know, some would say coach might be nitpicking, but he expects perfection and we want to be champs again. You gotta be perfect - you gotta be near perfect to be Champions. It’s a hard, long road.”
These simple drills are part of Kerr’s strategy to make the team better by valuing those casual turnovers that frustrate everyone so much. As Thompson illustrates, there is no line between “nitpicky” and “perfection” (well, ok - near perfection). Again, as per Anthony Slater of the Athletic this isn’t an unnecessary endeavor when taken in light of the down shooting season last season:
All four of the team's All-Stars had down years from the 3-point line.
Curry shot a career-low 41.1 percent from deep. Green dipped all the way down to 30.8. Durant finished at 37.5, worse than his previous five seasons in OKC. Thompson closed at 41.4, the lowest clip since his second year.
These are the sorts of details that good coaches instill into a team. And the best teams, the ones destined for Championships are generally the ones that heed this advice. If it was good enough for Michael Jordan and Steve Kerr, it’s good enough for Steph Curry and Draymond Green. Some of the games in this upcoming season are going to come down to the wire. We tend to focus on the last few possessions, but it could be these minor adjustments that get buckets when you are aren’t looking that could really sway the game.
In part two, we’ll take a look at some of the other ways Kerr is coaching this team towards victory.
First game of the preseason is on Saturday!