Warriors' Steve Kerr knows increased scrutiny awaits him entering Year 6


Warriors' Steve Kerr knows increased scrutiny awaits him entering Year 6

SAN FRANCISCO – After five remarkable seasons as head coach of the Warriors, it seems ludicrous that that Steve Kerr is on trial in Year 6.

Oh, but he is.

The prosecution opens this upcoming NBA season claiming Kerr is an average coach who had the good fortune to inherit a rising squad and ride a wave generated by exceptional talent. Lucky.

The defense counters, arguing that he’s a stellar coach with three championship rings representing hard evidence. Skillful.

Kerr knows he’s on trial because, well, he’s an NBA coach and debate of the league rages 24/7/365. Though he has many believers -- Warriors CEO Joe Lacob certainly among them -- he need not Google the phrase “Steve Kerr overrated” to realize he has skeptics.

The next six months, then, are a referendum on his ability to find answers to more questions than he has ever faced as a coach, with one looming above all: Can he coax his diminished roster beyond its relatively modest expectations?

“You coach according to your circumstances,” Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area. “We’ve got five rookies here. We’ve got a bunch of other young players. We have six guys returning, including Klay (Thompson), who can’t get on the court. That’s five returning guys on the court. We had 18 guys playing Tuesday, so it’s 13 new guys.

“I’ve got to explain stuff. I’ve got to coach.”

For most of Kerr’s tenure, he could lean on the veterans for support. Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and David West are basketball sages. Kevin Durant has a full comprehension of the game. Draymond Green entered the NBA with a coach’s mentality. Steph Curry was the exquisite solo artist, knowing when to improvise and when to stay on script. Thompson was the metronome, routinely putting 36 productive minutes.

Now, Kerr and his expanded staff have to prepare players with little or no history of success in the NBA.

Curry, Green and Looney know their way. Alfonzo McKinnie and Jacob Evans III, each with one season as a Warriors, are still learning. D’Angelo Russell is the new star, emphasis on new. After that, it’s Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III, NBA vets but first-year Warriors, as Willie Cauley-Stein will be once his foot heals. Jordan Poole, Eric Paschall and Alen Smailagic are rookies. By figurative definition, so is Omari Spellman.

“I look at this year as a growth year,” Kerr said. “We’ve got to get a couple of these young guys to pop. We’ve got to get them to break through, so that when Klay is back at full strength next year we come back and we’ve got our core intact, with Steph, Klay, Draymond, D’Angelo and Loon. We’ve added to that core by that time. Maybe it’s Jacob. Maybe it’s Omari. Maybe it’s Paschall. Maybe it’s Alen. We don’t know.

“But the whole point of this year is to put in all the work, dedicate our time to all these young guys, maintain our culture, get them incorporated into our way of doing things.”

For inspiration, Kerr looks to the Miami Heat, whose identity remained even after the roster went from stars to sawdust.

“I think about (Heat coach) Erik Spoelstra, somebody I really admire,” Kerr said. “I think he’s one of the best coaches in the game. He went from coaching the Big Three -- Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James -- to all of a sudden, a bunch of young guys. What I admire about Erik is that Miami’s culture has never changed. When you play Miami, it doesn’t matter who is out there. You know you’re in for a tough game. They’re going to battle you and compete like crazy because they have built something tangible. Erik makes sure he upholds that culture.

“That’s what we’re trying to do this year.”

That means, for Kerr, expanding his coaching philosophy. He concedes he’ll make adjustments on offense, retreating a bit from his favored free-flowing system, with constant player motion and ball movement. That was the best way to utilize a roster rich with skilled players with a grasp of a system that can be complicated.

There will be more pick-and-roll action, something critics have been braying for since Durant signed in 2016. It’s logical to rely on it more now largely because it’s simpler, based on taking advantage of mismatches.

Pick-and-roll actions emphasize a team’s true scoring threats, and the Warriors are down to two, Curry and Russell. It’s unreasonable to expect D-Lo to fill the void left by Durant’s departure and Thompson’s injury, but he has proved he can find money in the pick-and-roll.

“The last few years were more about just putting them through their paces, getting the race horses out on the track, running and getting them back in the barn,” Kerr said. “This is much more about teaching what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”

[RELATED: D'Angelo Russell soaks in time with Steph Curry in first practice]

Not once did Kerr talk win/loss record. Not once did he mention the playoffs. He seemed focused on seeing incremental progress that might mean something this season but certainly must next season.

Kerr is the only coach in the post-merger era (since 1976) to get his team to five consecutive Finals. His 322-88 record and .785 winning percentage through five regular seasons are the best among all NBA coaches -- as is his 77-28 (.733) record among coaches with more than 25 postseason games.

That may be enough for the defense to rest its case. But the other side is unwilling to conclude anything before getting a look at Year 6, when Kerr has his first real project.

Why Steve Kerr confident Warriors rookie Jordan Poole will get better

Why Steve Kerr confident Warriors rookie Jordan Poole will get better

Jordan Poole is in a shooting slump.

Over the first five games of the season, the Warriors rookie shot 38 percent (11-for-29) from beyond the arc.

But over his last nine appearances, Poole is at a dismal 18 percent (9-for-50) from deep, and just below 24 percent overall.

"Jordan is a young guy, he should be a junior in college and he should be coming into a situation where he's getting shots of Steph Curry or Klay Thompson; or playing behind those guys, learning from them every day in practice," coach Steve Kerr told reporters after practice Tuesday. "Maybe making an occasional visit to Santa Cruz to get a lot of playing time.

"That's how ideally you want to raise a young guy, but we don't have that luxury. So we're throwing him right into the fire. He's working his tail off. He's doing a great job.

"This league is unforgiving for a young player. He's just gotta keep doing what he's doing. Keep watching film and keep learning from his experience. He's gonna get better.

"We have great faith in that because of his ability and his character. He'll get there but it's a difficult time for him for sure."

(Quick tangent -- Santa Cruz could have used Poole on Sunday as the Sea Dubs lost to the Salt Lake City Stars, 102-77).

The 20-year-old went 1-for-8 overall (0-for-5 on 3s) last Friday against the Celtics.

He was 0-for-7 from the field (0-for-3 on 3s) Sunday night in New Orleans, and when it rains it pours:

What's strange is that the Michigan product is getting good looks:

But it hasn't been all bad for Poole.

"The one thing I'm really pleased with -- I think his defense has been much better," Kerr said. "He's starting to understand the NBA game and the schemes and the coverages. The things you have to do as a guard -- he's picking up on all those things.

"His defense is way better now than it was a month ago. That's a great sign and he's gotta stay with it."

Kerr is correct, and here are two examples from the Warriors' loss in Oklahoma City on Nov. 9 to prove it:

Additionally, Poole is averaging 2.4 assists over the last nine games.

[RELATEDWhy Draymond says Paschall doesn't even know NBA game yet]

But understandably so, the focus is on his shooting struggles.

"He's pressing. I know exactly how he feels," Kerr added. "I was in a similar circumstance as a younger player -- not getting this amount of playing time -- but my first year in the league feeling like, 'Man, this is totally different from college.'

"This is all brand new for Jordan and we're trying to help him through it."

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Why Draymond Green believes Eric Paschall doesn't know NBA game yet

Why Draymond Green believes Eric Paschall doesn't know NBA game yet

Besides all of the injuries, Eric Paschall has been the story of the Warriors' season so far.

The rookie is averaging 16.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, while shooting 52 percent overall.

The No. 41 overall pick racked up 30 points and seven rebounds Sunday night in New Orleans, on a very efficient 10-for-17 from the field.

Not bad for a guy who doesn't have a clue what he's doing when he takes the floor (sarcasm font).

"Sometimes he can get a little lost out there, not knowing where to go," Draymond Green told reporters after Golden State's 108-100 loss. "Just trying to help him find his spacing.

"Right now, he’s just scoring off raw talent. He really don’t know how to play the NBA game. As he figures out more and more the NBA game, how to get fouled, he’ll get better and better.”

Paschall certainly got fouled against the Pelicans, as he shot a career-high 10 free throws (he made eight to put him at just over 84 percent on the year).

The three-time All-Star clearly is trying to motivate the 23-year-old and wants him to stay hungry.

Draymond assisted Paschall on three buckets Sunday, and you better believe that he is going to do everything he can to help the rookie continue to grow:

Furthermore, you got to love this aggression:

Paschall probably doesn't have much of a chance to win Rookie of the Year, but at this rate he absolutely will make one of the two All-Rookie teams (quite possibly First Team).

[RELATEDHow Draymond is leading Dubs through ‘frustrating’ season]

The opportunities will keep coming.

“Where we are right now, without D’Lo (D'Angelo Russell), we have to continue to find ways to get Eric the ball in different situations,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Because he’s our best scorer.”

We all saw that coming before the season started, right?

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