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Talking numbers with Warriors coach Steve Kerr

POSTED: Feb 18, 2015 11:22 AM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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One of the major numbers that Steve Kerr pays attention to is the number of passes per possession.

Steve Kerr has the best winning percentage of any coach in NBA history. In his first season on the bench, Kerr's Golden State Warriors went into the All-Star break with a 42-9 record, the league's No. 1 defense, and the league's No. 2 offense.

The only team since the 1977-78 season (when the league started counting turnovers) that has ranked No. 1 on both ends of the floor was the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, a team that went 72-10 with a back-up guard named Steve Kerr.

The Warriors had a great defense last year and Kerr didn't want to rock the boat on that end of the floor when he took over for Mark Jackson. But he did want to make changes on offense, where the Warriors ranked at the bottom of the league in ball movement.

The changes he's put in have made the Warriors one of the most improved offensive teams in the league, even though they were already above the league average in offensive efficiency. The only two teams that have improved more offensively from last season -- the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers -- added multiple All-Stars to their rotations.

Only one other team -- the Atlanta Hawks (fifth and seventh) -- ranks in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, the mark of a true title contender. And the Warriors have been better than the Hawks on both ends of the floor.

NBA.com sat down with Kerr during All-Star 2015 to talk about some of the Warriors' key numbers and what they mean.

NBA.com: I don't want to get into the Charles Barkley thing, but would you say that you're open-minded about what numbers can tell you?

Kerr: Yeah. I feel like I'm open-minded. I listen.

NBA.com: What numbers do you care about?

Kerr: I care about passes, how well we're moving the ball, any numbers that can show us passes per possession, how often turnovers happen within a certain number of passes, that sort of thing.

NBA.com: What have you learned about your team from the numbers?

Kerr: I've found that most of our turnovers happen in the first few passes, in possessions of two or fewer passes. People might think that if you move the ball a lot, you're more likely to turn it over. I don't look at it that way.

Generally speaking, when we have possessions of six or more passes, we shoot an incredibly high percentage and we have very few turnovers. It's very interesting. It's almost counterintuitive. But most of our mistakes happen before two passes are even thrown. I've also found that in most of our losses, the numbers are pretty glaring in terms of how little ball movement we had.

Warriors possessions by number of passes
Passes Poss. FGM FGA FG% eFG% TO TO/Poss PPP
0-2 2,421 961 1,845 52.1% 58.1% 389 0.16 1.07
3-5 1,937 826 1,755 47.1% 53.1% 266 0.14 1.09
6+ 776 345 834 41.4% 47.2% 86 0.11 1.16
TOTAL 5,134 2,132 4,434 48.1% 54.1% 741 0.14 1.09
via SportVU
eFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
PPP = Points per possession

NBA.com: Do you care about lineup data?

Kerr: I look at it. It's tricky, because most of the stuff is such small sample sizes. So you get certain lineups that you play a lot and maybe you can get something from.

But if you play a group of guys together and the sample size is literally 16 minutes, you better watch those 16 minutes, because what happens if a guy on the other team hits a half-court shot? That's a minus-3 for that group. Does that mean anything, because the guy hit a half-court shot? What if that group comes down and gets five straight great field goal attempts and they run the offense really well, but none of them go in, the numbers would be a negative.

So I think you have to be selective with what is important to you, and you really have to delve into what might mean something and what might not.

NBA.com: And you have to give things time.

Kerr: Sure.

NBA.com: Of course, when it comes to the playoffs, you don't have that time in regard to combinations and matchups. You'll cross that bridge when you come to it, but I assume it's tougher to make decisions in that situation.

Kerr: It is, but honestly, we kind of know who our team is. We know what combinations work for us. You see it every day in practice. You feel it.

We like to have Shaun Livingston and Marreese Speights playing together, because Marreese gives Shaun the floor space he needs. Shaun is more of a 15-17-foot jump shooter. Well, when we get them in pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops, we like to have Mo out there with Shaun, because of that shooting component.

Little things like that we're not going to change in the playoffs, just based on a matchup. We're still going to do what we do.

NBA.com: Speaking of Speights... Andrew Bogut has been one of the league's best big defenders for several years. His rim-protection numbers are great. His post-up defense numbers are great. But when he's been out, your defense hasn't fallen off very much. How have you been able to maintain defensively in the games he's missed, as well as when he just goes to the bench?

Warriors efficiency with and without Bogut
Situation W L OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg
Games w/ Bogut 33 4 109.6 96.0 +13.7
Games w/o Bogut 9 5 109.5 100.8 +8.7
Bogut on floor 111.0 93.7 +17.3
Bogut off floor 108.8 99.3 +9.5
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Kerr: One of the keys to our defense is our ability to switch on the perimeter. We have a lot of like-sized guys. And Draymond [Green], to me, is the key to our defense. He's the key figure, because as the power forward, he's frequently involved in screen-and-rolls. And because he's quick enough and active enough to switch out onto a point guard, we're able to stifle a lot of the first options out of the opponent's attacks. And when that happens and the shot clock starts to wind down, we're able to stay in front of people and force a tough shot.

Note: The Warriors have allowed just 95.4 points per 100 possessions with Green on the floor and 101.3 with Green off the floor.

We've had games where we've struggled rebounding the ball without Bogut. But we do have a lot of quickness on the floor and when we can have Harrison [Barnes] and Andre [Iguodala] and Draymond and Klay Thompson out there at the same time, we switch quite a bit and we deny penetration.

NBA.com: There was a day last week where you reached No. 1 in offensive efficiency, so you were No. 1 on both ends of the floor. The only team that has ever done that is the '95-96 Bulls.

Kerr: Is that right?

Top 3 in both offensive & defensive efficiency since 1977-78
Season Team W L OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank Playoffs
1985-86 Boston 67 15 108.7 3 99.9 2 Won Finals
1990-91 Portland 63 19 109.5 3 100.8 3 Lost in conf. semis
1995-96 Chicago 72 10 112.0 1 98.6 1 Won Finals
2000-01 San Antonio 58 24 104.7 3 94.9 1 Lost in conf. finals
2009-10 Orlando 59 23 109.5 2 100.2 2 Lost in conf. finals
2014-15 Golden State 42 9 109.6 2 97.3 1
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions

NBA.com: Yep. But if you're that good on both ends of the floor, where is there room for improvement at this point?

Kerr: There's always room for improvement. You can never stop moving forward. But we have our weaknesses just like everybody else does.

NBA.com: Do you focus on games that you've lost and what went wrong in those?

Kerr: Yeah. I do. We look at games that we lose and sometimes it's obvious, like we lost a game to the Clippers on Christmas night and we didn't move the ball at all. The ball movement was awful and we got bogged down. We got back to the Bay, worked on that for a couple of days of practice, scored 120 the next night, and it was like, "All right, we're OK."

That's a constant process, because you're always getting a little better, getting a little worse from one game to the next. There are things to clean up, things to highlight. And it's a never-ending process. But for us, we're a rhythm team. We need our offensive rhythm to really be playing at our best, and the last few games, we haven't had much offensive rhythm at all.

NBA.com: There were two losses a couple of weeks ago, Chicago and Utah, where they kind of beat you up on the glass (36 combined offensive rebounds). Is defensive rebounding an area of concern?

Kerr: At times. It's not a glaring issue. We tend to give up some offensive rebounds, but that's partially because we lead the league in defensive field goal percentage. So there's more offensive rebounds to be had. That's an area that's hurt us at times, but not all the time.

NBA.com: Year after year, the team's offensive numbers drop off dramatically when Stephen Curry steps off the floor. He's obviously a great offensive player, but what can you do to reduce that drop-off?

Warriors OffRtg with Curry on and off floor, last 3 seasons
Season On court Off court Diff.
2012-13 106.2 98 8.2
2013-14 109.7 93.8 15.9
2014-15 113.5 100.4 13.1

Kerr: If you have any suggestions, I'm all ears. But it's going to happen, naturally, because he's our best player. He's our catalyst. We've had some success with our second group. We've tried to find combinations that can click. But when you lose the guy who's one of the most lethal weapons in the league, there's going to be a drop-off no matter what.

NBA.com: Is there a mind set with the second unit that "We're a defensive group"? The Bulls had a great bench a few years ago, with Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson, where they didn't score a lot, but were still a great unit, because they let the other team score even less.

Kerr: I don't know if that's our identity, but that's the idea. If we can get stops, that group can really get out and run... [Leandro] Barbosa, Andre ... if Draymond's with them ... Shaun Livingston. That group can throw the ball ahead and get easy baskets off of misses. The biggest thing is not turning the ball over, getting good shots, just being solid, and letting that all take care of itself.

NBA.com: Curry's pull-up shots have gone down from 10.3 per game last season (which led the league) to 7.4 per game this year. Is that a result of specific direction that you gave him or did it just come more naturally with a new system?

Kerr: It came pretty naturally, because the point we made from the first day of training camp is that we want to throw the ball ahead to the wing if someone's open, which means Steph is frequently passing it ahead to the wing instead of dribbling it up. So that will eliminate some pull-up shots.

And then, we were adamant about getting better ball movement. We have occasional bouts of hero ball, where some of it, you live with, because he's so good. The Dallas game the other night, we were down 20, he just started launching shots, they were all going in, and you just let him go.

But you have to feel that. In the course of a game, if we need flow, if we need rhythm, if we need continuity, the ball's got to move. We've pushed that hard with him and with the whole team.

NBA.com: Is there a signal to him as he's bringing the ball up the floor to get the ball moving?

Kerr: Usually, it's just during a free throw, I'll pull him aside and say, "Hey, we need ball movement. Run this or run that and let's get the ball moving. Let's find our flow again." And he gets it.

NBA.com: Is the thought of Oklahoma City as a No. 8 seed scary?

Kerr: The whole West is scary. Everybody's scary. Oklahoma City, obviously, when they're right, they're one of the best teams in the league. They could be eighth or they could be fourth. Who knows? There's still 30 games left. A lot can happen. But there's not a single team that you want to play in the West playoffs. There's just not. So if you spend too much time thinking about it, you'll drive yourself nuts.

NBA.com: But are you conscious of what teams you match up best with?

Kerr: Yeah, we have a sense for certain teams that would maybe bother us more than others. But once you think about that, then it's like, "All right, so then what?". You can't avoid them and you can't manipulate matchups. You can't say, "All right, we're either going to win a few more or lose a few more." It's just going to be whatever it is. And there's going to be four great teams in the West that are out in the first round. That's just the way it is.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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