The Golden State Warriors are off to their best start in franchise history. First-year head coach Steve Kerr has played a major role in their early season dominance. Kerr, who has never been a head coach at any level, is looking to become the first coach in NBA history to become the Coach of the Month in his first ever month coaching. Right now it appears that he and Memphis Grizzlies’ second-year head coach Dave Joerger are neck and neck for that award. And while the acknowledgment would be quite an honor, it is still meaningless compared to the Warriors overall goal: a championship. But with Kerr, the Warriors are firing on all cylinders and have taken the next big step towards that goal.
What has made the Warriors so amazing this season is Kerr’s ability to seemingly get more out of each and every player’s potential up and down the roster. From Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Andrew Bogut to Draymond Green and Marreese Speights, they have all improved drastically this season. Kerr has made a point of emphasis to work on individual weaknesses, strengthening the team overall. Mark Jackson was predictable in playing to his strengths over and over again while never improving on their weaknesses.
For instance, Curry has only had one terrible turnover display so far this season, one in which he had 10 in a shorthanded, back-to-back loss in Phoenix. He is averaging 3.7 turnovers per game on the season, slightly down from last year. The Warriors can live with three or four creative turnovers a game because he is worth the high wire act; it’s just his style of play. But when he adds three or four more in bad, lazy, one-handed passes, that’s when they become an issue. So far, Curry hasn’t had too many of those.
As for Curry’s backcourt Splash Brother Klay Thompson, he has evolved significantly over the past two seasons. Last year it was the stubborn perimeter defense, this season it’s the much more aggressive play at the rim. He’s taking more shots, shooting at a higher percentage and his numbers are up across the board. He’s averaging 22.4 points, 3.4 assists, and 3.5 rebounds compared to his career averages of 16.3 points, 2.2 assists, and 3.1 rebounds. He’s shooting 45% from the field and 43% beyond the arc, respectively. His offensive aggressiveness and increase in scoring have created more open shots for his teammates and they are making opponents pay at 49% from the field and 106.5 points per game, ranking second and third in the entire league.
Steve Kerr knew what he was going to get with the likes of Curry and Thompson, but it’s the emergence of Draymond Green alongside his frontcourt mate Andrew Bogut that has elevated the Warriors both offensively and defensively. Green is averaging 12.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists, nearly doubling his stats in the starting role compared to last season off of the bench. But what’s been most impressive about Green has been both his aggression and patience. He has, for the most part, played extremely steady basketball. He has excelled on the defensive end and simply taken what is given to him on offense. He is shooting nearly 46% from the field. To put that into perspective, he only shot 40% last season and just 33% in his rookie campaign. The undersized, yet overweight second-round draft pick with a sketchy jump shot is now the Warriors engine. Why? Because he has put in the work to improve each and every offseason. No one has heart or balls like Draymond Green and Steve Kerr has instilled his confidence in him so much that when David Lee makes his return from a hamstring injury, there is no way in hell that Draymond is going back to the bench.
Dubs big man Andrew Bogut hasn’t been the same offensively since his disturbing elbow injury in 2010. But this season he appears to have a much softer touch around the rim. He has been scoring at a higher rate than Warriors fans are used to seeing and is not only plating the center position, but he’s been the center of the team’s offensive flow. So far this season Bogut has averaged eight points and 9.2 rebounds. He is also third in the league in assists among centers, dishing out 2.8 per game. But most impressive has been his five games scoring in double figures in just the first 12 games. In 67 games a season ago, he reached double figures just 19 times. However, the key for Bogut remains the same – health.
Bogut left Sunday’s contest in Oklahoma City with an orbital contusion and the Warriors were clearly lost without him. Not having the luxury of a solid back up veteran center like Jermaine O’Neal this season is going to be tough to overcome at times, especially if Bogut goes down for any long stretch. Luckily for the Warriors on Sunday, Marreese Speights came through…again.
Speights has not only emerged as a key player for the Warriors, but an early Sixth Man of the Year candidate. With a PER of 28.88 that ranks third in the league behind only Anthony Davis and Brandan Wright, Speights has been spectacular. He is averaging 11.8 points, 4.2 rebounds in just 14.5 minutes while shooting a whopping 63%. He finished with 28 points, seven boards and two dimes in 25 minutes of play during Sunday night’s heroic victory. Has Steve Kerr awoken a monster?
One thing is for certain when it comes to these Warriors. They are hungry. They are inspired. They are confident. With two straight playoff appearances and a few key offseason additions, the experience is there. The question heading into the season was, “Can Steve Kerr take them to that next level?” So far, the answer is a definitive “YES.”
Follow Rich Peters @Tricky_Roma.