By Kevin Li
After the 2013-2014 season, the Golden State Warriors parted ways with their head coach, Mark Jackson, after their first round exit in the playoffs and a 51-31 season. Many fans and experts were skeptical of the move as Jackson had brought the Warriors to the playoffs for two consecutive years. There was even more concern as the Warriors appointed Steve Kerr to be their new head coach. Like Jackson, Kerr was hired directly from the broadcast booth as a first-time head coach.
Yet, some were also supportive of the decision to fire Mark Jackson. Some cited his inability to make the best of the talent that was on the team, with players such as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee, and Andrew Bogut. Additionally, his inability to create ball movement on offense was an issue—much of the time, isolation plays, oftentimes by Curry, were being run, which lead to stagnation on offense.
The Warriors are currently off to a 31-5 start, with wins over the Trailblazers, Clippers, Rockets, Bulls, Mavericks, Thunder, and the Raptors. They have the best winning percentage (.861) in Western Conference and hold a 1.5 game lead on the Trailblazers in the Western Conference. Overall, Kerr has created the most change on offense. The Warriors were already a solid defensive team, with a defensive rating of 99.9 and an opponent shooting average of 43.6% in 2014. This year, they have managed to improve upon that, with a defensive rating of 96.2 and an opponent shooting average of 41.9%, which both rank 1st in the NBA. This is most likely due to the overall improvement in team defense. Additionally, this could be due to the injury to David Lee, a subpar post defender, which has given Draymond Green, a vastly superior defender, more minutes—he played 21.9 minutes per game a season ago and plays 32.9 minutes per game this season. The Warriors’ defense has been vital to their success.
However, the most important factor in the hot start of the Warriors is the improvement in offense. Stephen Curry has still remained the number one scoring option, putting up 22.9 points per game on 49.3% shooting. Klay Thompson has emerged as a strong 2nd option, averaging 21.6 points per game on 46.4% shooting. As a team, the Warriors have an offensive rating of 109.1, which is 4th best in the association, compared to their offensive rating of 105.3 last year, which was 12th best in the association.
The increase in scoring has been due to Kerr stressing ball movement. Under Jackson, the Warriors seemed content with waiting until the shot clock winded down and hoisting up a poor shot. Now, under Kerr, significantly more passes are being made, which has made the Warriors more lethal on offense. Last year, the Warriors averaged a league-worst 245.8 passes per game and shot 46.2%, 9th in the NBA. This year, the Warriors are averaging a 311.3 passes per game, 10th in the NBA, and have shot a league-leading 48.4%. As a result of the increased ball movement, the assist percentage, which is the percentage of made field goals that are being assisted has gone up from 59.1% to 64.9%, an indication that more ball movement is occurring.
Overall, the coaching change has been extremely beneficial to the success of the Warriors. With limited changes to the roster, Kerr has been crucial to the improvement displayed by the Warriors. Jackson was important to the development to the team—he bitterly pointed this out on Friday’s broadcast of the Warriors and Cavaliers game, stating that “You cannot disrespect the caterpillar and rave about the butterfly”. Yet, his coaching ability simply was not enough to push the Warriors to the next-level, which is what Kerr has done. While the Warriors hot start may not be sustainable, especially in the hyper-competitive West, they have made improvements that will almost certainly benefit them later on, especially in the playoffs. As players continue to get healthy (notably Andrew Bogut and David Lee), the Warriors should continue to make great strides under Kerr.