What the best coaches do well is understand a player’s game then put them in a position to play to their strengths, not ask them to do too much. It’s what Gregg Popovich does very well, it’s why guys like Boris Diaw struggle at one stop then thrive in San Antonio. It’s what Bill Belichick does in New England.
It’s what Steve Kerr is doing in Golden State.
And it’s the reason the Warriors are the best team in the NBA right now, have won 11 straight, and have moved into legit title contender status (as much as you want to say that about a team less than 20 games into the season). Kerr has the Warriors playing the best defense in the NBA, but he also has improved their offense by smarter use of the massive talent at his disposal.
Guys like Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry have talked about the offensive changes, but it may be no more clear than what has happened with Harrison Barnes. The breakout star of the 2013 playoffs who seemed to take a step back last season but has become a key starter for the Warriors averaging 11.6 points on 51 percent shooting plus is grabbing 6.7 rebounds a game. The Warriors are 15 points per 100 possessions better when Barnes is on the court, both their offensive and defensive numbers improve.
What is Kerr doing differently with Barnes? Marcus Thompson II laid it out beautifully at the Mercury News.
Under Mark Jackson, Barnes was asked to be a scorer. Especially last year, when Barnes was moved to the Sixth Man role after the signing of Andre Iguodala, Barnes’ role was to carry the offense for the second unit. But most of his action was isolations. That just didn’t fit his game.
Before the season began, Kerr sat down with Barnes and went over film with him. Kerr explained where Barnes’ best spots were on the floor, where he should drift, where he should cut and how he wants him to exist in the Warriors’ potent starting lineup. Plus, Kerr started Barnes with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. That opens the floor for Barnes to cut and find creases to offensive rebound….
“It’s hard when you get the ball in an iso situation and you have a set defense in front of you,” Barnes said. “Very few players in the league can do that. You look at the best – Durant, Melo, those guys — look at what percentage they shoot. And that’s the best of the best, so you can imagine where I’m at. I’m like at 15, 20 percent on isos. To get me with the ball moving, getting me in different spots, playing off other people, that’s more of a strength for me right now. Going straight isos, that wasn’t a strength for me.”
That’s where Barnes gets the ball now, cutting and moving more, both in the half court and in transition. Barnes has the athleticism but not the handles, so when he gets the ball on the move he can get to the rim (where he is getting more often) or to his spots and finish.
Kerr also asked Barnes to be the glue guy among the starters — they’ve got plenty of fire power to score, they needed an athlete to defend and rebound. To play with a little edge. Barnes has loved that role and thrived in it.
Barnes is at home in a starting lineup — with Curry, Thompson, Bogut and Draymond Green — that is +27.8 points per 100 possessions together. That is ridiculous. When David Lee does come back from injury Kerr can’t break this unit up, he’ll have to bring Lee (with Iguodala) off the bench.
And it will probably work, because Kerr will get Lee to play to his strengths, he will get Lee the ball in the spots he can do the most damage. Then the Warriors will be just that much stronger.