I’ll admit when the Golden State Warriors lost out Stan Van Gundy so early in their coaching search, I was a bit worried what would happen next.
It had been reported, at that point, that Steve Kerr was already too deep into negotiations with the New York Knicks, so he was not a legitimate option. Then we started to hear the rumblings of uninspiring former coaches like Lionel Hollins and Mike Dunleavy beginning to be considered. Ugh…
There is too much weight put on NBA head coaching experience when evaluating potential suitors for the sideline. We all must realize the only coaching candidates with actual NBA head coaching experience are those that have been fired from their previous jobs. And hiring someone’s cast off just because he has previously roamed the sideline and yelled at referees excites no fan base.
The Warriors needed a risky coach hire to allow for the potential elevation of this franchise, as oppose to moving laterally. The idea was to find the next Brad Stevens or Jeff Hornacek. These two individuals did not have any NBA head coaching experience. However, front offices recognized their incredible basketball minds paired with extremely strong characters and a willingness to put in the work to get better. Steve Kerr fits the exact profile today’s NBA team wants in a head coach. As fans, we should feel very lucky that he choose the Bay Area over New York not only based on his potential, but also because it would have been a bit scary to see the Warriors backup plan. Thankfully everything worked out perfectly as planned.
One of the most common questions asked about Steve Kerr is: What offensive system will he run? It’s a pretty exciting question considering his ties to the offensive genius duo that is Phil Jackson and Greg Popovich. But we have to remember that Kerr has been influenced by many other big names, such as Don Nelson and Lute Olson. With so many people to use as guidance, Kerr’s philosophies and offensive system will, most likely, encompass bits and pieces from everyone.
Kerr can use Olson’s skills of player and program development to implement a cohesive offensive system that can be successfully run no matter who plays for the team. When Olson first took over at Arizona, they were 4-24 the previous season. He took the program from nothing and built it into one of the most prestigious basketball universities in the country. After 25 seasons, he left with a winning percentage of 76%. I don’t care how many players come through the system; that level of sustained success does not happen without developing a fantastic program with a focus on player development. Kerr would be wise to use Olson’s knowledge when constructing his system.
What could he use from Don Nelson? Next year’s Warriors are going to run a lot more. Kerr stated that he wanted this team to have the ability to push the ball and look for early offensive opportunities. Who better to draw from than the great Don Nelson? Now, I don’t want everyone to be scared. Next year’s team will still place incredible value on the defensive end, unlike Nelson’s squads. However, using Nelson’s philosophies to develop early offense sets would be incredibly valuable. It’s so much easier to score when the defense is on its heels rather than getting constantly bogged down in half court sets. Don Nelson could be an instrumental resource that Kerr calls upon.
What aspects of Phil Jackson could he use? Jackson targeted Steve Kerr as a coaching candidate because of his hands-on connection to the triangle offense. Kerr has a tremendous amount of knowledge regarding this offense because of his playing days in Chicago, under Jackson. Even though he isn’t going to New York, people continue to pry into the possible use of the triangle offense for the Warriors. He will not, and should not, run the traditional triangle offense with this roster. The triangle requires big guards and post players that are consistent scorers on the block. Both of these qualities are not the strength of Golden State’s current roster. Stephen Curry is not a big guard. And while Bogut and Lee can be effective scorers, a lot of their buckets come from pick-and-roll and put backs. There is an aspect of the triangle the Warriors should be able to use to their advantage. Having post players who are effective passers is essential to the triangle offense. Lee and Bogut are both very good passing big men. Kerr has stated his desire to take advantage of the passing abilities his big men possess. He understands how effective it is when implemented in the triangle. And while you won’t mistake next year’s offensive sets with the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls, big man passing could be a similar element.
The three coaches listed above are well respected and revered, but hopefully Kerr draws the majority of his offensive inspiration from Gregg Popovich. With Popovich, it’s not just the offense. Kerr should look to mold this franchise into what the Spurs are able to accomplish. Yes, the Spurs’ GM R.C. Buford has done a tremendous job of acquiring talent, but Popovich has developed an offensive system where castoffs can come into the fold at anytime and thrive. This is done using a clever scheme of constant motion and pick-and-roll. Open shots are consistently created because the defense is still trying to recover from two passes ago. Isolation is not part of the Spurs’ offensive equation, which Kerr has highlighted as something he would like to remove from the Warriors’ current offense.
Having an offense of constant motion not only stops isolation, but will also allow Stephen Curry to get open looks without having to destroy his stamina running through double, and even, triple screens. He will be open within the offense because the ball will move faster than the opponent’s feet. Defenders will be lost and Curry will start to be confused why he is so open. The Warriors’ worry of having a capable ball handler to let Curry play off the ball will decrease because a motion offense doesn’t require anyone to take sole responsibility for ball control. Curry can get an open shot from a Bogut pass at the elbow. He can get a corner three opportunity from Klay Thompson because Thompson’s defender is still recovering from a pass and cut that was made four passes ago. When the ball is moving, everyone is rewarded by a plethora of open shots.
Steve Kerr would be wise to draw inspiration from every one of the coaches he’s had in the past. To answer the question of what exact scheme he is going to run is impossible. However, one can begin to see how a combination of philosophies could be a pretty deadly offensive system. Based on what was said above, I expect Kerr to run a motion-based offense where stagnation starts to become a thing of the past. I expect the big men to heavily contribute in each offensive set, whether it is smart passing or a plethora of screens. I expect this team to get out and run to take advantage of every possible easy basket. But most importantly, I expect Steve Kerr to develop a program. By program, I mean strong offensive system where the front office can plug in mid level players and they are able to thrive.
Basically, I expect Steve Kerr to mold the Golden State Warriors into the San Antonio Spurs. And I expect him to succeed.