Last season, NBA fans weren’t quite sure what to expect from the Golden State Warriors.
Everyone knew that Stephen Curry was growing into one of the best guards in the league, but many questioned the firing of Mark Jackson, especially following the Dubs’ first 50 win season since 1993-94.
Would Golden State regress? How would the team react to losing their beloved coach? Was Steve Kerr really the right man for the job?
While all were valid questions, Kerr and his Warriors almost immediately silenced the doubters, starting the year 5-0 and going on to win 67 games and an NBA title in his inaugural season at the helm.
For Warriors owner Joe Lacob, the hiring of Kerr signified that Golden State was ready to next the next step in their ascent to the NBA’s elite. For all the love Mark Jackson got from the players, Lacob and other team executives hinted that his attitude often came off as abrasive, and rubbed too many within the organization of 200 the wrong way.
In stark contrast to Jackson, who fired two top assistants, (one of whom rumored to have illegally recorded other members of his coaching staff), Lacob saw Kerr as someone who was strictly business. He saw a man who commanded respect and oozed leadership, qualities that he thought were vital for a young team looking to establish its identity.
So while many on the outside expressed strong criticism over what was perceived as heavy-handed ownership, those inside of the organization we’re supremely confident in Kerr’s ability to lead Golden State to the promise land. Despite external pressure and heightened expectations from the fan base and the media, Kerr proved right away why he was the right man for the job.
But, after a back injury that might keep him out until the All-Star break, Golden State has had to turn to yet another first time head coach to lead the team: Luke Walton.
Nov 7, 2015; Sacramento, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton on the sideline against the Sacramento Kings during the second quarter at Sleep Train Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
For Walton however, the circumstances are entirely different. After all, he didn’t spurn the Knicks in the 11th hour to come to replace one of the most well-loved coaches in the league; he was just unexpectedly thrown into the fire.
Regardless, he’s been able to not only continue the Warriors success, but he’s also helped the team make some noted improvements. At 8-0, Walton isn’t just off to a better start than Kerr, he’s been a major reason they’ve been able to improve.
Implementing an offense that gives the play-calling responsibilities to those on the court, rather than the suits on the sidelines, Golden State has a +18.3 point differential and a 111.3 offensive rating through Walton’s first seven games, compared to a +7 point differential and a 102.2 offensive rating through Kerr’s first seven.
And despite injuries to defensive stalwart Andrew Bogut, the Warriors’ 92.3 defensive rating is an improvement over their already stingy 94.5 defensive rating through their first seven games last year.
Coming off of an NBA title, one would think that the pressure on Walton to succeed right away would be infinitely higher than it was for Kerr at the start of his own career. But, the understanding that his role is to make sure the team is ready for Kerr once he returns, makes his job less about creating his own coaching identity, and more about helping foster and expand the atmosphere that Kerr created during his championship season last year.
So while there is added responsibility, like putting together practices and creating substitution patterns, much of that is done in the context of what Kerr was able to accomplish during his first year.
Steve Kerr and Luke Walton couldn’t have been inaugurated in more different circumstances. But, when your team is as talented, and the organization is as well run as Golden State is, I guess it doesn’t really matter.