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Passing Makes Perfect

by Brian Witt

"You have to be near perfect to be champions."

Those were the words spoken by Warriors guard Klay Thompson following the third day of training camp on Monday. Perfection may be asking a lot, but then again, who knows what it takes to win it all better than the Warriors?

In the early days of training camp, there's a long way to go before a championship can be attained. Practice makes perfect, as they say, and before you can place the cherry on top, you have to have build a base to put it on top of. Thus far through training camp, the Warriors have been focused on building that base by going back to the fundamentals, specifically those related to passing.

"No matter what we're doing, there's passing involved, so we're talking about that accuracy constantly and showing some film," Steve Kerr related on Monday. "It's a big thing for us this year."

Indeed, there's been a constant and heavy emphasis on passing accuracy throughout the first half of training camp. However, you may be asking yourself, haven't the Warriors been a great passing team over the last several seasons?

That question speaks to the issue Kerr and the Warriors are trying to address. Certainly quantitatively, the Warriors have stood head and shoulders above the rest of the league in recent years in terms of their ability to turn passes into points, as they've led the NBA in assists per game by a wide margin in each of the last three seasons. In 2016-17, they Dubs averaged 30.4 assists per game in the regular season, while the Denver Nuggets ranked second in the NBA with an average of 25.3. Still, though, there remains plenty of room for improvement in the qualitative aspect of Golden State's passing.

"We are the most unselfish team around but we're probably an average passing team in terms of our fundamentals," said Kerr at Media Day. "Our guys see everything and they move and they pass and they cut; they're totally unselfish. But you see on tape a lot a guy catching the ball at his shoe laces instead of in his shooting pocket."

"There's a dramatic difference in makes and misses when you get a bad pass or a good pass," he continued.

Before Kerr was a Head Coach, he won five championships as a player, and his understanding of the vital importance of passing fundamentals at the highest level of basketball in the world was reinforced in his earliest days as a newcomer to the NBA.

"I'm a Tex Winter disciple," said Kerr, "and in Chicago...I'll never forget one of my first practices with Michael [Jordan] and Scottie [Pippen]. Tex had us line up at half court, throwing two-handed chest passes back and forth to each other, one-handed passes, left hand pass, bounce pass...like, ‘What is this, third grade?' You've got the two best players on Earth throwing the ball back and forth to each other. It's a good reminder that fundamentals matter, no matter how old you are, no matter how good you are."

The last part to that story – the importance of fundamentals, no matter how good you are – bears extreme relevance to the Warriors as they approach the upcoming season. Despite the fact they're coming off three-straight Finals appearances, the message concerning passing accuracy has been received by Golden State's players, and they're intent on addressing it.

"It's definitely something I know I need to get better at," Draymond Green admitted on Monday. "I don't really need to see any tape. I know I can be a lot better at it."

Given the fact that Green is already one of the top passing big men in the entire league, it's probably not a bad thing that he readily admits he has room for improvement in that category. After all, he led Golden State and ranked second among forwards and ninth overall in the NBA last season with an average of 7.0 assists per game. However, as he would go on to explain, the importance of passing accuracy differs from intended recipient to intended recipient.

"Steph can kind of shoot it from anywhere," said Green. "Klay is a little different. Not that he can't shoot it from anywhere, but Klay's release is...everything is so compact. It's all here. So if you throw the ball down there, he's got to get it back here. So it's a little different...KD's a lot easier because the target is so much bigger. The dude is seven feet."

The variance in player's shooting motions adds another level of complexity to passing accuracy, as those motions are almost as unique as fingerprints. However, depending on the intended recipient, there may be a larger margin for error than there would be otherwise. Of course, if you ask one of the top shooters in the world, they'll tell you they should make it every time.

"It helps to get a pass in the pocket," said Thompson, "but if it hits me, it's got to go in. That's how I look at it."

That's a high standard to live up to, but that's also part of the reason why Thompson has solidified his status as one of the top shooters in the game, and perhaps, in the history of the league. When you factor in his backcourt mate Stephen Curry, as well as sharpshooting newcomers Nick Young and Omri Casspi, Golden State may now possess a more potent shooting arsenal than they've had throughout any of their three recent Finals campaigns. As such, there's perhaps even a greater importance that the passes those shooters receive are in the correct spots.

"We have such great shooters and we move the ball so well, if we can pinpoint our passes better, I really believe our percentages as a team and as individuals will go up," said Thompson.

The Warriors led the NBA in points and assists per game and posted the best team shooting percentage (.495) in the league last season. If their passing accuracy improves in the year ahead, so too could their output in each of those three stat categories.

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