Golden State Warriors: Steve Kerr must better utilize Stephen Curry

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 03: Stephen Curry #30 and Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors converse against the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena on December 3, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 03: Stephen Curry #30 and Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors converse against the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena on December 3, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The Golden State Warriors are trying to figure out who they are and only Steve Kerr can help them regain the identity that has won them three titles.

Imagine the entire Golden State Warriors roster is in a dungeon. All of the players are trapped at the bottom of a pit and standing at the top is head coach Steve Kerr, holding a rope ladder. While that rope ladder won’t help them escape completely, it’ll at least get them out of the hole.

And yet, Kerr holds onto the ladder, refusing to throw it down. Instead, he gives his team some less effective tool–let’s say, Legos–to try to build themselves a set of stairs. That’s the situation the defending champs are currently in.

The Warriors are not in a good place right now. They no longer feel like the fun, high-energy squad we saw when Kerr first took over. They no longer feel like the all-powerful force that Kevin Durant turned them into.

Coaching, at any level, is not easy. Coaching a group of millionaires who are at the top of their field is even harder. The job that Kerr has been tasked with is not easy, especially when you consider the physical and mental fatigue of chasing a fifth consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

However, if the Warriors are going to re-assert themselves as the best team in the league, then it’s going to require a complete team effort, starting with Kerr at the top. While Golden State has many problems–some more complex than others–it seems as if Kerr has the opportunity to help with some simple fixes.

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The Warriors don’t have an identity right now. They’re lost, worn down, and frustrated. As of right now, it’s hard to call them a “team,” when they’re playing like a collection of extremely talented individuals.

Circling back to the metaphor, Kerr’s rope is Stephen Curry. Putting the ball in his hands hides a lot of the Warriors’ flaws and alleviates the pressure on everyone else. It seems, at least on the surface, simple enough.

What can be said about Curry that hasn’t already been said or written? He’s magnificent. A lethal force, unlike anything we’ve ever seen yet willing to buy into the team system, almost to a fault.

The Warriors are at their best when Curry is running the show. We saw it in 2014-15 when he led Golden State to the title. We saw it the following year when he had the greatest offensive season ever and led the Warriors to the winningest season in NBA history.

Then Durant showed up, but the formula stayed the same. When the All-Star forward went down with an injury in during the 2016-17 season, Curry took control of the offense and led the team to 22 straight wins.

In 2017-18, the Warriors were on the brink of elimination as their Durant-centered offense stagnated and gave the Houston Rockets the opportunity to build a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference Finals. It’s no coincidence that the Warriors were dominant once the ball returned to Curry’s hands.

Kerr has gone away from that and it’s clearly impacting the team.

Ethan Strauss of The Athletic wrote about how the Warriors are utilizing Durant in light of the team’s 20-point collapse to the Rockets.

"Some numbers from Synergy, with the caution that it is difficult to define such plays. In the 2016-17 season, in actions I would classify as “KD friendly,” Durant spent 11.5 percent of his plays in isolation, 12.6 percent as the ball handler in pick and roll, and 7 percent posting up. Fast-forward to this season and KD has spent 17.4 percent of his plays in isolation, 21.6 percent as pick-and-roll ball handler and 10 percent in post-up."

He adds that: “it often appears that many of these plays are called to make Durant happier, much as nobody with the Warriors would admit that Durant must be made happy at the occasional cost of efficient play.”

Strauss goes on to note that Durant’s off-ball actions are few and far between, cutting with less frequency than he has previously as a member of the Warriors. While certainly, Durant deserves to be held accountable for disengaging from the offense if he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, ultimately, it’s the coach’s job to implement those motions and, more importantly, a philosophy of motion. That won’t happen if, as Strauss writes, Kerr is calling inefficient plays simply to placate the two-time Finals MVP.

While no one would argue against the fact that Durant’s shots–from anywhere on the floor–are generally good shots, the Warriors aren’t getting easy looks and the offense, at times, comes to a halt. This becomes most evident late in the fourth quarter, where the Warriors have struggled mightily this season.

Due to injury and personnel issues, Kerr has had to play around with the rotations a lot. Klay Thompson‘s shooting woes and Draymond Green‘s offensive ineptitude thus far have forced Kerr to stagger Curry and Durant, something that would have pleased Warriors fans the last two years. During the team’s two previous title runs, he would often play both of his MVPs together and rest them together, leaving Thompson to carry a second unit on his own, much to the chagrin of Golden State supporters.

While the MVP stagger is understandable and completely reasonable, it’s the way that it has manifested itself that becomes problematic. When Durant plays, the offense primarily runs through him, which makes sense. When Curry plays with no other stars on the floor, he still doesn’t lead the offense, instead, playing an off-ball role next to Shaun Livingston.

Kerr surprised many when he noted that he likes having Curry playing away from the ball because of the 6-foot-7 Livingston’s ability to post up. The veteran can punish mismatches down low with his great turnaround jumper, but that shouldn’t be your primary offense. The point of having an MVP on the floor at all times is so that they can control things while the other one sits. Relegating Curry to setting screens–which he, admittedly, is exceptional at–and standing in the corner is counterproductive.

From fans to the media to Curry himself, the new rotation is raising a lot of eyebrows. Kerr rests Curry about halfway through the fourth quarter, bringing him back for the final three minutes or so, where he finally gets to be on the floor with Durant again. The rotation makes their margin for error much smaller and what they do in those final minutes doesn’t help.

Curry is playing more minutes than he has in the Kerr era, but the quality of those minutes and what he’s allowed to do during them leaves a lot to be desired. He should be the focal point, not another role player with an equal hold on the offense as Andre Iguodala.

By not playing Curry and Durant together more, they’ve almost forgotten how to play with each other. And if they don’t run sets where they’re both involved, you’re not maximizing your potential. And we haven’t even gotten to Thompson and Green.

Individually, Curry is a magician, Durant is an alien, Thompson is a sniper, and Green is a floor general. However, the Warriors are at their best when those guys are all playing off each other and that starts with Curry leading the charge. Down the stretch, it seems like the Warriors can simplify their offense, let the star point guard use his natural gravity to attract multiple defenders and then let Green or Durant make something happen.

It’s not about getting Curry more shots–though, he should increase his 11 three-pointers per game average to about 15–it’s about making the game easier for everyone by using the cheat code in Under Armour shoes. While Kerr’s egalitarian philosophy works for three quarters, the Warriors should look to scrap that in tight games down the stretch and let the stars be stars. Golden State shouldn’t look to turn into the Rockets, but utilizing pick-and-roll when you have arguably the greatest pick-and-roll player ever in Curry seems like a sound strategy.

Kerr has done a great job of creating a healthy culture and environment in the Bay Area. He’s won three championships in his first four seasons and attributing that to the sheer strength of the roster’s talent isn’t fair. Making it work is difficult.

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The Warriors are faltering right now and he can help steer the ship in the right direction by unleashing his most powerful weapon and letting everyone play off of Curry. And, in regards to rotations and offensive creativity, Kerr needs to figure it soon because it’s only going to get more difficult once DeMarcus Cousins makes his debut.