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Warriors and Jazz highlight NBA's rough season
Plus, a look at why Kerr ball keeps getting questioned
The Golden State Warriors have only won four of their last ten games. Their opponent tonight, the Utah Jazz, have lost six of their last eight. But look past these recent rough patches and you’ll find two of the NBA’s best teams. Both will be hoping to get back on track against a potential playoff opponent while also dealing with the roster shuffling act that has sadly become the norm.
On the injury front, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green are both out for Golden State. The Utah Jazz are missing Donovan Mitchell, who remains under concussion protocols, and Rudy Gobert is listed as questionable.
Tough times all around.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (33-13) vs. Utah Jazz (30-16)
WHEN: Sunday, January 23rd, 2022 // 5:30pm PDT
WATCH: NBCSBA, NBATV
Backseat play calling - why does everyone keep questioning Kerr ball?
When coach Steve Kerr took over for Mark Jackson, he revolutionized the team’s offense. In a single season, the team went from last in passing to first, sped up the pace to become the league’s fastest team, and went on to foment a three-point spacing revolution that changed the shape of basketball.
And though it took them to multiple championships, Kerr’s unique basketball philosophy has continuously generated wins — and haters. Well, maybe not “haters” but these backseat play callers aren’t going away. Kerr, who has five championship rings as a player, and three as a coach, has a unique philosophy (at least when it comes to NBA coaches anyways) that invites more second-guessing than usual.
Synergy Sports put out an interesting summary comparing play types. And as our writers chat keeps wondering why Twitter is so eager for Kerr to coach more like Mark Jackson sometimes, I think this is as good an explanation as any.
The article is about college basketball, but the take away is this nifty grouping of team offenses into six groups. This graphic is showing multiple teams, all separated to show play type frequency — these are then grouped into team’s that play in generally the same style.
All of the NBA teams, but one, fall into category six (lower right in the picture above). Labelled as the “pro offense,” it heavily features attacking off the dribble, and plenty of pick and rolls.
Golden State’s offense is in the top left group. Again, the only NBA offense that didn’t fall into the heavy pick and roll, heavy isolation play of group six.
As they say in China, the nail that sticks up gets hammered down, and Kerr’s unique offense draws extra scrutiny when it doesn’t work. Right now, it’s not working. Golden State’s offense is the 13th-ranked at time of writing, scoring around 1.1 point per possession. But is Kerr to blame?
One of the complicating factors is that Curry is absolutely lethal in isolation situations, and has been for most of his career. This season he’s posting the most points per attempt: a gaudy 1.39 points per possession.
Now back to those circle charts, remember that the Warriors eschew the pick and roll like my son does vegetables, and you can see where backseat drivers may want to jerk the wheel out of Kerr’s championship-ring-encrusted fingers.
And while this system has been proven to be good enough to win it all, it also looks silly when things go stale. Instead of dynamic playmaking and zippy passes, we get something that more closely resembles a game of four square as non-shooters play hot potato. Often, the best play is “just give the damn ball to Curry.”
So why doesn’t the team run isolation plays more often for Curry?
The only answer that makes sense is to point back to the Kerr philosophy. This is a model that has been killing teams for nearly a decade. But for those that have already rejected the egalitarian ethos of Kerr ball, looking at Curry’s play data, it’s all too easy to wonder why Curry doesn’t get more isolation opportunities in each game.
Part of it isn’t just about Curry though, and that’s important. Kerr’s system is designed to get more out of all players, not just the star. It’s a system that has brought championships — something many of us old heads wouldn’t dared to dream about before Kerr’s tenure. Has the league caught up, or are guys just not hitting their open shots?
Golden State’s roster is the result of historical inertia more than perhaps any other in the NBA. With a locked in core that costs boatloads of money, and a system designed to maximize the threat of Curry’s shooting by taking him off ball, the Warriors have reliably run into problems when Curry isn’t on the floor.
Early in the season it looked like that would be different this year, but unfortunately the parts still dont work all that well without Curry:
But the real question is how much of this is truly a problem that can be attributed to Kerr. Would Curry’s shooting woes disappear if Kerr gave into the pitchfork-carrying masses and ran significantly more pick and roll and isolation plays for Curry?
That’s no sure thing. Nor is it likely to do much for the Warriors’ role players — a group carefully selected to work well within Kerr ball. Complicating the issue though, teams have not just studied the Warriors, they’ve emulated them. This is not the same league as it was when Kerr first took the job. As Marcus Thompson wrote for The Athletic, some of the joy of that Rockets game winner was just how simple it all was. Get it to Curry, and he’ll hit a game winner. No screens, no fancy off ball stuff… but this looks a whole lot different if plays like this are your teams only option for 48 minutes. I think it’s exactly the change that Kerr is saving. A knockout punch of simplicity after a bunch of razzle dazzle.
Their offense is centered on misdirection and coaxing the defense into mistakes and tough choices, with the terror of Curry as its fuel. They will use four passes and two screens to get Wiggins a post-up because the concoction of motion and decisions can leave a defense drunk and vulnerable. But some defenses have been playing like teetotalers against the Warriors. In the eighth season of the reign of Kerr, teams are aware and trained on the Warriors’ offensive goals. Such increases the demand for execution and shot-making.
Curry is going through a rough shooting patch, Draymond Green is out, Klay Thompson is working his way back after more than two years away from the NBA, James Wiseman hasn’t set foot on the court… and the Warriors are in 2nd place.
Stay the course. We saw earlier in the season that the Warriors have shot making, and if healthy, this is a top tier contender.
Without Draymond Green, I like the matchup against the Utah Jazz a whole lot less. But Kevon Looney has been excellent, and Golden State will need to lean on him again tonight to combat the vertical attack of Gobert (assuming he plays).
Maybe it’s just because I want Klay to get another win, but I feel good about this.