Here is a link to my Thursday column about the Warriors. The full text runs below:
OAKLAND — Are the Warriors improved from last year?
Does gravity make things fall down? You bet they’re improved. Their record is 15-2, and coming into tonight’s game against New Orleans, the Warriors have won 10 in a row.
So, the first question — are they improved? — morphs into two questions: How improved are they? Why have they improved?
They are a better offensive team because they actually run offensive plays. Under Mark Jackson, they ran pretty much nothing. Last season, I phoned a former NBA head coach and asked him to describe Jackson’s offense. The coach just laughed and laughed, then pled no comment. Which pretty much meant Jackson’s offense was a joke.
Under rookie coach Steve Kerr, the Warriors have an offensive philosophy and they try hard to make it work. That means they actually practice plays. They also are a better defensive team. They are quick to the ball. They are confident. They are good. And they know how to use center Andrew Bogut. Finally.
Sure, Stephen Curry is their key player. But Bogut is key, too. You would not have known this on Jackson’s team — and if I am comparing Jackson and Kerr, that’s how it goes.
Bogut is essential on both ends of court. He changes opponents’ shots. He makes guys taking layups look afraid as they re-adjust in midair and miss. On Tuesday night in the Warriors’ 98-97 win against Orlando, Magic guard Elfrid Payton drove for an uncontested layup until Bogut contested it and knocked the ball away. Boom.
The offense runs through Bogut. He sets picks as big as Mount Everest. And he is a great passer. Just great. Having him is like having a second point guard at center, Bogut dishing off to Klay Thompson as Thompson scoots under the hoop, Bogut passing the ball to Curry for a 3. Bogut sets up shooters. Things are so different from last season when defenses routinely trapped Curry. Bogut changes that because Kerr uses him correctly.
After Tuesday’s game, I asked Bogut to name one thing he likes more about Kerr than Jackson. He took a deep breath. “You’re lucky (Andre) Iguodala isn’t here,” he said, “because he just lost it with one guy for asking the same question.
“We had success here with coach Jackson. I’m not going to knock what he built here. The difference, for me personally, is I’m more involved in the offense. To be honest, I’m doing the same things on defense I did last season. Coach Jackson was more of a manage-yourself-type coach, where he’d let guys come in and you knew what you needed to work on. Steve Kerr, we do stuff more as a team fundamentally before practice like drills and stuff like that. There’s positives to both sides of it.”
And who says Bogut is no diplomat?
The concerns about the Warriors are simply stated. This is early in the season and lots of strange things can happen down the line. The Warriors have played a relatively soft schedule, lots of Eastern Conference teams, although their road record is 9-1. Not bad. And they have beaten some tough teams — Sacramento, Portland, the Clippers, Houston. So, the Warriors are no illusion.
Tuesday night, I asked Kerr if he knows how good his team is.
“I know we’re good,” he said. “I know we have a lot of the qualities that make for a very good team. We defend and we have good flow offensively and a lot of versatility with our defensive matchups. Those are all great qualities. What I’m interested in is how we handle adversity when it comes. It’s going to come. Our schedule is going to get tougher. We’re going to hit some bumps and how we respond to those will tell me a lot. I think we’re very good. We just don’t know quite how good. That’s to be determined.”
He’s an honest guy. With Jackson, you never got a straight answer. It was always cliches like, “You have to respect the process. You have to value the ball.”
A reporter followed up my question to Kerr by saying the Warriors are known as a fun-loving team. How does Kerr feel about that? Kerr looked down. He took his time.
“It makes me angry,” he said in a stern voice. “I want them to NOT have fun.”
He laughed. “It should be fun. Sports are supposed to be fun. We’re the luckiest people on Earth. We all get to come here and play basketball and coach basketball and try to win a game. Nobody’s digging ditches. Nobody’s working in a coal mine. Every day should be fun.”
Oh, that’s another thing. Kerr has a sense of humor. Jackson had his sense of humor stolen at birth.
Kerr already is better than people imagined. He is the reason for this early improvement. He is wildly intelligent. He has a flat-out great coaching staff, and is not afraid to surround himself with coaching talent.
Before last season, Warriors owner Joe Lacob told Jackson to assemble the best coaching staff in the NBA. Lacob would pay for it. Jackson refused. He was afraid, I believe, of competing voices, of competent voices, of assistants knowing more than he knew. It was generally understood he had the worst coaching staff in the league. He wanted it that way.
Kerr has no such fear of talent. He sought out talented assistants. This is the best Warriors coaching staff in a long, long time.
Jackson would not let reporters speak to his assistants. Paranoia? In a conversation with me, he once referred to an assistant as an “underling.”
With Kerr, it’s an open door to the assistants. Everyone talks. Everyone is available. Kerr opened up the windows and let the sun shine in.
Jackson took all the credit for the team’s success. Not Kerr. When the Warriors beat Portland with a steal to close out the game, he informed the media that assistant coach Ron Adams told Kerr to go for the steal. Kerr didn’t feel diminished by sharing glory.
Kerr knows how to write. During timeouts, he sits on his stool, faces his players and draws up plays on that white board. I never saw Jackson do that. Jackson said he communicated in other ways. I guess.
And there’s something else. After Tuesday’s game, I asked one player what he likes about Kerr. I won’t name the player out of a sense of propriety. You’ll understand in a minute.
“Steve knows who to MF and who not to MF,” this player told me. “He knows who to take aside. It’s not all X’s and O’s. Steve learned from Phil (Jackson) and Gregg (Popovich).”
In case you’re wondering, the player didn’t say MF. You can figure out the real quote. Kerr may look like saint in a medieval painting — he almost glows. He has a salty side.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn firstname.lastname@example.org.