You can make the argument Steve Kerr is the best coach in basketball. In three seasons as the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, Kerr is 171-35 in the regular season — a ridiculous .830 winning percentage — and an even more ridiculous 31-14 in the playoffs, with one championship and one spectacular collapse a win shy of a second straight title. Kerr’s Warriors are (sigh) likely cruising to a second title in three seasons next month.
Yet at the same time, Kerr’s health has forced him to miss significant time over the past two seasons — and the Warriors have won more without him on the bench. They’re 46-4 without Kerr, including an NBA record 24-0 start to last season and a perfect run through the first nine games of this postseason.
I know your first rebuttal, “Well, my goldfish Tiger could coach Steph Curry and Kevin Durant… and he’s been dead 35 years.” You’re not exactly wrong. In fact, Kerr may be the first to agree with you.
And yet the year before Kerr was hired, the year before they’d win 67 games and an NBA title and Curry captured the MVP award, that same Warriors team won 16 fewer games, didn’t make it out of the first round and Curry finished sixth in MVP voting. So clearly something is different about Kerr. But what is it?
Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard took a deep, deeeep dive into Kerr and the Warriors’ culture, distilled into 25 different examples. I’d strongly encourage you to read all of them, but I’ve pulled two here for your convenience.
Occasionally, says Adams, the assistants may get down on a player and focus on his limitations. It’s human nature. But Kerr rarely does. At first, Adams was skeptical, but he’s come around. “He believes there’s something special about each one of these guys as humans and players. And he works very diligently about fostering that in each individual. And this isn’t some pie in the sky thing. Sometimes we’ll say, ‘I don’t know if he can do this’, and Steve is always the rah-rah guy. He sees something sometimes that we don’t see. He recognizes the small contributions.”
Barnes describes Kerr as forever “in your corner”. “It’s a way in which he leads by not reminding everyone of his position,” says Barnes. “He can be the head coach but he can also take you aside and be a fan of your game.”
Here’s an example of that from a game in New York in March, just before Kerr left for his current leave of absence.
While anyone may be able to coach Curry and Durant on autopilot, Draymond Green is a different challenge. Green is mouthy, impulsive and constantly challenges authority — and yet he’s the player that makes the Warriors the Warriors. Yet Kerr knows exactly how to manage him.
Last year, the Warriors were playing in New Orleans. As Green tells it, in the first half Steph pulled up for “some crazy shot.” Then Klay did the same thing. The lead slipped, from double digits all the way down to one, at which point Kerr called timeout. “And at that point,” says Green, “I’ve taken like one shot and have like, no turnovers. But [Steve] looks right at me and goes, ‘What the f— is wrong with you? Get your f—— head in the game!”
Green was shocked. Kerr was yelling at him?!?
“But he’s smart because he knows exactly what I’m going to do,” Green says. “I’m gonna get mad and then I’m going to yell at everyone else and get them going.” He pauses. “Now is that a tactic? Is it on purpose? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. It’s coaching is what it is. That’s coaching. Sometimes I sit there afterward and think, ‘Damn, that motherf—– got me.’”
Green continues. “But he knows me. You couldn’t do that to someone else. He has a feel for it. That’s his thing. He has this feel for exactly what each player needs.”
The entire piece is a perfect study of one of the most relaxed, competitive, intelligent and self-depreciating coaches in major American sports today. Read it.