The Steve Kerr-helmed good ship Golden State Warriors may be in title contention for the first time in 40 years or since the last time Rick Barry had real, not acrylic hair.
Ex-headset Steve Kerr’s rookie-season with clipboard and necktie has drawn raves and brought early comparison along the lines of Kerr is to Mark Jackson as Bruce Bochy is to Dusty Baker—a geographically apt analogy. All four, at least on the surface, are player-friendly; but beneath the veneer Kerr and Boch are known as a bit more capable between the lines. (Singletary and Harbaugh don’t get to be part of this Bay Area coach-and-successor-coach analogy because they’re pretty much both dicks.)
The jury’s out, rather hasn’t even been selected, on Kerr but Boch has a fistful of rings and a bust already being sculpted in Cooperstown by Lionel Richie’s blind girlfriend. And Baker, well, he still has a share of Russ Ortiz’s game-six game ball from ‘02.
The meatiest portion of this side-by-side is race. I don’t buy it. Black coach/white coach, doesn’t matter. Xs and os on a white board by any other name only factor insofar that the right talent is in place with the right rotation the right amount of health and …in Kerr’s case to date, that the team has faced the right amount of Oswaldian foes.
Not that the NBA even pretends to be anywhere beyond Blossom reruns watchable during the regular season. The elite teams line up and get their wrists stamped for the playoffs before October and the Warriors are finally on the list and being treated as such by fanbases on the road and the TNT Three. The league’s also-rans queue behind the red rope and text their friends in the rain they’re going to give it 10 more minutes or until the Uber shows up and then go somewhere else.
Currently, the Warriors at 14-2 are two games from a franchise-record 11 straight wins and the last nine have primarily been courtesy of a roadtrip through the hapless NBA East—basically fecund ground for all those Kentucky Freshmen you never hear about again (apologies to Anthony Davis).
On paper, the Warriors’ super Splash Brothers perimeter attack is the kettle corn. Klay Thompson hasn’t found his stroke thus far this season and is still .430 from the floor and Steph Curry is audaciously growing into his over-sized Under Armour kicks as the grass-fed superstar answer to LeBron and KD. But it’s the banging in the restricted area that’s creating the early season run of straightforward victories for the Bridge-stamped grinders.
Marreese Speights is the NBA equivalent of the last baby carrot on the party tray. Re-assigned to Oakland at the onset of the 2012-’13 campaign, Speights was used sparingly last season, as any former 16th overall pick on his fifth roster (if you don’t count Memphis twice) in seven seasons journeyman should be. This year, his field goal percentage is .570—a whole point and change higher than any other time in his career. With 10 blocks and 187 points through his first 15 games, he’s on pace to shatter the career-high points, boards and blocks of his 2012 season by the All-Star break. The 6’10” power forward is a sure-handed and sure-footed mate to Andrew Bogut down under the hoop while David Lee figures out whether to order now or wait till after Christmas to pull the trigger on a new hamstring.
Small forward Draymond Green is averaging 30 minutes and 11 points per game over his last 10 this season, not blockbuster by any means. However, when Curry and Thompson hear the occasional clang, Green dusts off his cape and drops 20 as he did Sunday in front of his home-for-the-holidays Auburn Hills crowd.
College hoops’ forgotten superstar Harrison Barnes, at 6’8”, also at small forward, is averaging more than a dozen points a game. That’s .500 from inside the arc and .400 from long-range. He’s adding six boards and a couple assists in about 30 minutes/per off the Dubs’ talent-laden bench.
It’s the Warriors ability to run-and-gun and score 10 in under a minute that keeps them in the game if they grow cold for a quarter or get off to a lackluster start, as they did in Miami and OKC on this current road trip. But it’s the half-court game and the ability to play both physical and smart under Kerr that will give this season longevity.
The only problem is, come playoff time, it’s the Clips, the Thunder and the Spurs—not the Nets, Hornets, Heat, Magic and Pistons—on the playlist. It is then we’ll begin to see whether Kerr belongs amongst the game’s elite, or back in the studio.