Stephen Curry isn’t the problem in Golden State.
He’s not the one preventing the Warriors from reaching their full potential on offense, and he’s not the one resisting the simple answers. Neither is Kevin Durant, nor Draymond Green, nor Klay Thompson, nor even Zaza Pachulia. No, the Warriors’ problem — insomuch as a 33-6 team has issues, anyway — is crystal clear halfway through the season:
Steve Kerr is the one limiting his team with his own system, and the question is why.
The easy answer is ego. In a league dominated by a simple play — the high pick-and-roll — Kerr asks his team to go to the next level. His offensive system is nuanced, complicated and ever tiptoeing the line between effective chaos and total garbage. Really, it’s Golden State’s “light years ahead” ethos manifested on the court: “We’re smarter than you, and over the course of a 24-second possession, we will force you to make a mistake.” In that light, Kerr is trying to prove how much better he and the Warriors are than the plebes that populate the rest of the NBA.
And while Kerr’s ego undoubtedly plays into Golden State’s recent (relative) struggles, it’s not how you think.
Kerr has an ego, sure; the vast majority of successful people do. Kerr’s isn’t about showing off his intellect, though. Instead, the Warriors head coach believes he can take an astounding collection of talent and turn it into something greater by forcing his players out of their comfort zones.
In short, he’s trying to coach a basketball team rather than just rolling the ball out there and letting his stars play.
Do you really think Kerr is unaware of the weapons at his disposal? He understands the Warriors can fall back on the Curry-Durant pick-and-roll against the vast majority of the NBA. He appreciates just how lethally effective that single action can be.
He also knows that might not be enough against LeBron’s Cavaliers. Even the best play loses its luster when you run it over and over again; otherwise, LeBron himself would simply power his way to the rim on every possession. Variety is the spice of NBA offense, and without it, you’re asking to get punched in the mouth in the biggest moments. If you wait until May and June to try to find a rhythm, you’re doomed.
What’s at stake for Golden State in the regular season, anyway? It has no interest in pursuing the record for wins in a season, and the Warriors can sleepwalk their way to home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. So why not use the year as an 82-game laboratory, tinkering in the margins to see if you find that elusive magical solution?
Of course, Kerr is not perfect. He definitely misses his former assistants, Alvin Gentry and Luke Walton, and the offense is worse for their departures. The Warriors need experience running their Curry-Durant pick-and-roll, too, as developing the chemistry necessary to defeat the defending champions will take time.
It’s not just about the two big names. Thompson needs practice to know just when to slide up on the 3-point line to fire away on a wide-open catch-and-shoot opportunity; Green needs to learn his teammates’ exact tendencies to make the perfect pass at the perfect moment as he so often does.
Again, Kerr knows this. He’s not idly sitting by, fiddling as Golden State burns. Don’t be surprised to see the Warriors continue to focus on that particular set over the next month; both Curry and Durant have asked for such a change to the offense, and Kerr could secure his superstars’ trust by giving them a little leeway.
And perhaps Golden State will find that the simple answer is the best. Maybe the chaos of a cyclone offense should be saved for next season, when this team has a year together under its belt.
Yet Kerr doesn’t have the luxury of waiting until next year. The pressure is on for this unprecedented superteam to win a title in its first year, and its second year, and its third, until the heat death of the universe. Kerr still has to see how high this team’s ceiling really is — and the only way to find out is to endure.
Warriors fans and even the players might not always like it, but that’s coaching. If you want to be the greatest — and not just great — this is the way forward.