Led by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the Golden State Warriors rallied past the Miami Heat on Wednesday night to improve their history-chasing record 51-5 on the season.
The Splash Brothers made a combined 10 threes in Miami: Curry hit six from beyond the arc en route to a ho-hum 42 points, and Klay Thompson added 33 points, including four successful threes.
If and when the Warriors best the Chicago Bulls’ 1996 regular-season record of 72-10 and dethrone them as the best regular season team of all-time, they will be remembered as a team made up of light-out shooters. As they should be.
But the Warriors are also a team made up of terrific passers, and passing has been chief among Steve Kerr’s priorities since taking over as the team’s head coach. As Andrew Bogut explained on Bill Simmons’ podcast on Wednesday, Kerr believed that if the Warriors could simply cut down on turnovers, they’d be a championship-calibre team.
To do this, Kerr forced his players through rudimentary passing drills that sound better suited for toddlers learning the fundamentals of basketball than for a team professional athletes at the apex of the sport.
“I still remember the first training camp we had under coach Kerr,” Bogut said. “We were doing basic passing drills into the passing net, like left-handed passes, right-hand, overhead, and doing dribbling drills through cones, and a lot of guys were pissed because they were like, ‘hey, we’re NBA guys, we don’t need to be doing this stuff.’ But coach Kerr was like, ‘no, we’re going back to basics. You guys turn the ball over way too much. If we can limit our turnovers and just turn it over four or five times less per game, we’re going to win a championship.’ “
But it was more than just making solid passes. It was getting everyone to buy into a system of selflessness. Bogut continued:
Guys were kind of like ‘ugh, we don’t want to do these petty little drills’, but after a couple of weeks I think guys understood what he was trying to relay onto us. And it was genius in a way, because it’s just instilling the little things, like making the right pass, getting to a jump-stop, hitting your teammate on the chest so that he can get a nice rhythm into his jumper, and it just worked out perfectly.
Consider the following clip, from the Warriors’ November victory over the Pistons. The passing and ball movement on display here is, to quote Bogut, perfect. And it highlights everything Kerr instilled during training camp: making the right pass, hitting players in the chest, and passing up a good shot for a great shot.
It’s hard to imagine too many other teams in the NBA (except for perhaps the Spurs) passing up so many decent looks so that Leandro Barbosa can hit a wide-open three.
But it’s precisely this sort of ball movement (yes, and also Steph Curry) that separates the Warriors from everyone else.
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