OAKLAND, Calif. — Steve Green, one of the planet’s foremost experts on the Golden State Warriors, seized the opportunity last month to do something he had never done: watch them play in person.
For three days at the start of training camp, Green grabbed a seat on a balcony at the team’s training facility here and fixed his forensic eye on what was happening below. He was not shocked when Stephen Curry, as a part of his shooting routine, sank 17 straight 3-pointers. Green was not surprised by the Warriors’ unselfishness when they scrimmaged.
But when Coach Steve Kerr had his staff arrange a set of traffic cones on the court, Green took notice. The Warriors, with the sort of single-minded focus that drove them to the N.B.A. championship last season, committed themselves to a no-frills dribbling drill, working their way around those cones. The drill would have been familiar to anyone who had played youth basketball, but Green had long ago dropped it from his own practices. Perhaps, he was realizing, that had been a mistake.
“Here are the greatest players in the world,” he said, “and they’re still working on the basics.”
Green, 64, is a decorated junior college coach, having won two national titles and more than 400 games at South Plains College in Levelland, Tex. But last season, he did something unorthodox: He scrapped his offense and copied the Warriors’ playbook by studying their games on television.
It was a smart move. South Plains, whose emergence as the junior college Warriors was detailed by The New York Times, won its first 29 games of the season, averaged nearly 100 points per game and reached the semifinals of the national tournament.
Now on the cusp of his 18th season at South Plains, Green has a new roster, with only three returning players, and more size. (“We built through the draft,” he said, deadpan.) But his best player, the high-scoring guard Jordan Brangers, is back for another season, and Green plans to stick with much of his Warriors-centric offense.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I’m a groupie.”
After the Warriors welcomed Green’s request to visit their training camp, he feels as if he has an even better gauge for how they operate. Kerr has a fairly open policy when coaches express an interest in sneaking backstage to catch a glimpse of his basketball cyborgs.
“We don’t have any secrets,” Kerr said, “and if these guys are interested in coming to watch us practice, there’s no harm in it and there’s a lot of benefit. I like for them to see what we’re doing, and if it helps them and their teams and their players develop, I’m all for it.”
Bruce Fraser, one of Kerr’s assistants, said he often wondered how much other coaches gained from watching the Warriors practice. They dribble around traffic cones. They shoot 3-pointers and play loud music.
“I don’t know if underwhelmed is the word,” Fraser said, “but you may look out there and say: ‘Is that all they do?’”
He added that much of the Warriors’ offense was so nuanced that it must be difficult for someone to just pop in for a day or two and acquire a ton of insight.
Still, that did not appear to be the case for a shooting coach from Belgium, who peppered Fraser with questions for about 20 minutes after a recent practice. And it certainly was not true of Green, whose depth of knowledge about the Warriors runs so deep that he can watch a game live on TV and identify whether Kerr has plugged in a new play.
At practice, Green said, a couple of things stood out to him from the start. The first, he said, was the Warriors’ chemistry. At different moments, Kerr would bring everyone together so they could talk. Green was not privy to their conversations — the balcony was out of eavesdropping range — but it looked like democracy in action.
Then there were the high-fives. So many high-fives.
“You couldn’t walk by somebody without acknowledging them or being acknowledged,” Green said. “And it wasn’t just players. All the coaches, all the staff members — everyone. It sounds kind of crazy, but I’d never seen so many high-fives.”
Beyond the emphasis on team-building, Green was struck by the Warriors’ focus on fundamentals: dribbling, shooting, passing. For a solid chunk of each practice that Green attended, the players threw dozens of passes against large pitch-back nets that were configured with targets. The Warriors love to pass, but Kerr wants them to be more precise.
“You can see on tape if a guy is catching the ball at his shoelaces instead of in his shooting pocket,” Kerr said recently. “There’s a dramatic difference in his makes and misses when you get a good pass or a bad pass, so we’re trying to work on that.”
Green also noticed that the Warriors were efficient. Nobody stood around doing nothing. Assistants divided the team up to work on various offensive sets at different baskets. One coach was in charge of practicing out-of-bounds plays. Players cycled through the stations. Green got a little jealous.
“We can’t do that because I don’t have 22 assistants,” he said. (He has two.)
“I also don’t have three courts,” he added. (He has one.)
But as he watched All-Stars like Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson during their individual shooting drills, Green was struck by their meticulous approach. They were craftsmen. No wasted movement. Just shot after shot, and only the types of shots they would attempt in games.
“These guys are serious about improving their skills,” Green said. “You read these articles about LeBron James and his summer workouts, and you don’t ever know for sure. But if you actually go and watch, these guys are serious. They are serious about keeping their jobs and getting better.”
After one of the practices, Kerr worked his way up to the balcony. Green introduced himself.
“Oh!” Kerr told him. “You’re that coach from Texas.”
They made small talk about mutual acquaintances. As an assistant at the University of Houston in the 1980s, Green had coached Randy Brown, a guard who later played for the Chicago Bulls alongside Kerr. (“Great teammate,” Kerr said.) Green also mentioned that Emmanuel Omogbo, one of his former players at South Plains, was on the Warriors’ summer league team.
Kerr talked a bit about his offense and his personnel. Green enjoyed the conversation. He followed it up with a trip to California’s wine country. He was not in top shape the next morning.
Back at South Plains last week for his team’s first practice of the season, Green told his players about the Warriors’ penchant for high-fives. The message carried only so much weight.
“Two of my guys got into it before the day was over,” he said with a hint of resignation.
Green also remembered that he had some old equipment tucked away: traffic cones. He had his players dust them off.
Published at Wed, 11 Oct 2017 06:00:23 +0000