A genius is a person who has a level of talent or intelligence that is very rare or remarkable.
Steve Kerr’s modest NBA career involved hitting one of the biggest shots in NBA history, winning multiple championships with the Chicago Bulls and being the ultimate glue-guy among the best players in the game’s history.
He took over as head coach of the Golden State Warriors in 2014, leading the team to one of the best runs in league history. Throughout his time, the Warriors were (rightfully) given the praises of their great players like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant.
The front office received its fair share of praise. Bob Myers is known around the league as one of the best general managers in basketball. From drafting the above big three to creating the cap space for Durant and then filling out the roster, he’s been light years ahead of the rest of the NBA this decade.
Then there’s Kerr. Kerr has won only one coach of the year award despite commanding the Warriors for seven seasons during one of the best stretches the NBA has ever seen. Many say he’s benefited from the greatness around him—which to an extent is true—but they don’t want to sing his praises too highly.
As Golden State makes its assault on the rest of the NBA, it seems fair to say that Steve Kerr is not only one of the best in business; he may be basketball’s true genius.
Getting the most out of his team
Kerr has made a living off of maximizing the players at his disposal. While Curry, Green and Thompson consistently get the hype, Kerr is a role player at heart. Even without Thompson and James Wiseman, the Warriors are first in the NBA in defensive rating by a considerable margin.
This has been a constant theme for Golden State. Even with a player like Curry, who’s not known as a lockdown defender, they consistently are among the best defenses in the league. Kerr has been able to mold this group around Green’s versatility and a litany of role players that nobody wanted.
Andrew Wiggins and Gary Payton II are among the league leaders in NBA plus-minus. They might have come up in entirely different routes, Wiggins as the first overall pick and Payton II as an undrafted free agent, but both players were available for any team to take. When the Warriors took on Wiggins, he was seen widely as a throw-in to the D’Angelo Russell trade. Minnesota had to throw in a first-round pick to dump the former franchise player.
Since then, Wiggins has completely outperformed Russell and elevated the Golden State defense to even higher levels. He’s among the top 20 in defensive win shares and defensive rating (the Warriors have four starters in the top 20 defensive rating).
Coming to Golden State has maximized Wiggins’ efficiency on the court, and he’s reaping the rewards from playing in a system that develops talent. Last season, he averaged nearly one block and one steal per game. This year he’s slightly below that number, but that’s mainly because players have been less inclined to attack him off the dribble.
Payton II, however, has been the revelation of the season. After touring through the G-League and getting multiple NBA chances before, the Warriors have unlocked an entirely new role for him off the bench.
Unlike most of the league, Kerr and the Warriors looked at what Payton II could do on the court rather than what he could not. Stealing Bruce Brown’s role in Brooklyn, the Warriors use Payton II as almost a center on offense.
His ability to be the secondary cutter in the play and finish at the rim is high-level. Nobody is scared of his jump shot, but he can provide excellent defense and finish above the rim as a role player.
The same could be said for Juan Toscano-Anderson, Nemanja Bjelica, Otto Porter Jr. and Damion Lee. All were available for anyone in the league, but the Warriors unlocked them and maximized the best parts of their games. Now, they’ll all make a significant impact come playoff time.
Bill Belichick is widely regarded as the greatest coach in all sports. What he does best is maximize his roster for the highest output from all 53 players. As a coach, understanding the roles and situations that best suit your players can be the most challenging thing. Kerr is the best in the league at that.
Golden State operates with 11 of its current players making $5 million or less on the salary cap, cheap by NBA standards (two rookie contracts). Outside of that group, Wiggins was viewed as one of the worst contracts in basketball, and they’ve yet to get Thompson or Wiseman back on the court.
All of those players are currently producing positively on the Warriors’ court. Credit deserves to go to Kerr, who is again proving to be a genius in unlocking the new Warriors.