It’s been noted more times than can be counted that Steve Kerr was a rookie NBA coach — the first rookie NBA coach to win an NBA title since Pat Riley did it with the Showtime Lakers.
But Kerr was not new to NBA management — he had been the general manager of the Phoenix Suns during the end of the Steve Nash/Mike D’Antoni years. Frankly, Kerr made mistakes that brought an end to that era, such as bringing in Shaquille O’Neal. Kerr the GM didn’t seem convinced that team and that style could win an NBA title.
However, when he got in the coaching seat in Golden State last summer, he thought this team could win a title playing a similar style. And after he won he said he could imagine an up-tempo, jump shooting team winning it all because of Steve Nash and Mike D’Antoni.
“I imagined it with Steve Nash. Steve was kind of the original Stephen Curry,” Kerr said from the podium as NBA champion, his shirt still drenched in Champagne. “Slightly different, but similar mindset in terms of — and similar skillset of passing and the ball handling. And the Suns were so close. Things didn’t go their way. But I imagined it. And I was there with Steve as general manager, and I thought it was going to happen for him. But he set the stage for Steph.”
“I think Steve kind of laid out a vision for a whole generation of young point guards. And with the game changing, Mike D’Antoni kind of initiating that style in Phoenix, the floor starting to spread, the whole league kind of playing shooting fours and fives and playing a little faster. I think Mike and Steve in many ways set the table for Steph Curry. And I think Steph would tell you that too. He has great respect for Steve.”
It takes a little bit of luck to win an NBA title — such as Amar’e Stoudemire staying on the bench at a pivotal moment and not getting suspended. Those kinds of breaks eluded the Suns.
But the other key difference between the Warriors and those Suns was defense. D’Antoni got thrashed for the Suns defense, but it was better than people remember — they gave up more points per game because of the pace, but they were a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of points allowed per possession. They were okay.
These Warriors were elite defensively — best in the NBA this season in defensive efficiency.
“Everyone wanted to talk about how many threes we took. We’re the number one defensive team in the league, and that’s what wins,” Kerr said. “You’ve got to be able to score points somehow, but you have to be good defensively. You have to be great defensively to win a title. For whatever reason, that seemed to be overlooked this year. But the combination of the offense and the defense, that matters, and I don’t think people pointed that out enough.”