The Golden State Warriors will be attempting a fascinating experiment in the upcoming season. Coming off a championship year in which they won 83 of 103 games and had a regular-season scoring differential of 10.1 points per game, they’re going to attempt to somehow improve upon that by tinkering on the margins of their organization.
Usually that means replacing the seventh man with some ring-chasing vet from another squad or maybe adding an intriguing rookie or two into the mix. Those options weren’t readily available to the Warriors, however, because like most NBA contenders they’ve blown their cap to smithereens already — remember, it won’t skyrocket ’til next year — and unlike most title winners, they didn’t have a ton of guys in demand whose contracts were all up at once.
The only one they had to show the money to, really, was Draymond Green, and they were happy to do so. Besides, roster continuity has always been important to coach Steve Kerr, a protege of Gregg Popovich who’s preached “corporate knowledge” as the secret to San Antonio’s success for years now, so the top 10 fellows from last year’s rotation will return.
So how to improve then?
Well, the first unorthodox thing they’ve done is to replace the training staff en masse, a most unusual move considering that the Dubs lost just 80 games to injury all season long, the fourth-lowest in the league. That’s just a ridiculously low number and one they’ll struggle mightily to beat, even if they replace everyone with cyborgs. First-round pick Kevon Looney will already miss at least half the season all by himself rehabbing from offseason hip surgery.
Yet, as assistant general manager Kirk Lacob explained to Diamond Leung of Bay Area News Group, the contracts of their head athletic trainer, their director of athletic performance and their strength and conditioning coach weren’t renewed because the team wanted to streamline the communication between their training department by having one specific person in charge who will then report to Kerr and the front office. That person will be Lachlan Penfold, an Australian, whom the Warriors gave the title of “Head of Physical Performance and Sports Medicine.”
“He’ll be the one voice who’s going to go to Steve and to (general manager) Bob (Myers) and say, ‘This is what I recommend,’” Lacob told Leung. “I think it just allows for a more direct, clear delineated line of communication.”
Australia is the leading country in the world in the rapidly burgeoning and extremely competitive field of sports science, especially when it comes to preemptive and anticipatory injury analytics, the science (or is it more art?) of predicting when injuries will happen before they do and developing countermeasures to prevent them. One would assume that Penfold has extensive experience in this area, but you wonder how much more the Warriors can really improve here.
As Kerr explained to Ken Berger of CBSSports.com, they were already wearing monitors during practice from Catapult, the Australian company that’s pioneered practically weightless devices that track athlete’s heart rates, acceleration, flexibility and coordination, among other metrics, and process them in real time for technicians to observe on their laptops. Like other forward-thinking teams around the league, they also made extensive use of the “SportVU” cameras in all 29 arenas that track and record the movements of all the players on the floor during games.
Training staffs can compare one set of results with the other to track progress or decline, comparing the numbers to an athlete’s healthy baseline, and they can even isolate which muscle groups players are babying or overcompensating. The Warriors used this data to inform their decisions to rest Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and others at various points in the season.
According to Grantland.com’s Zach Lowe, the league is conducting a study into Catapult and its various competitors, and we’ll probably see players wearing league-approved and mandated devices in actual games in the near future, because it’s in everyone’s best interest to prevent long-term injury. Given all that, what can Penfold and his new underlings provide to the Warriors staff that they were lacking?
The other piece of tinkering the team is on the verge of is bringing in future Hall of Fame point guard Steve Nash as a part-time player development consultant, according to an ESPN.com report that Kerr himself confirmed and expounded on to Tim Kawakami of Bay Area News Group. Nash would ostensibly work with Curry and their other guards and perimeter players on shooting, dribbling, playmaking and so on.
Kerr was Nash’s general manager for a couple of seasons in Phoenix, and the two-time MVP is also close with team president Rick Welts, current developmental coach Bruce Fraser and reserve guard Leandro Barbosa, a former teammate. It’s well-documented that Kerr envisioned Nash mentoring Curry with the Suns, and he came close to pulling off a draft-day trade that would’ve sent Amar’e Stoudemire to the Warriors for the rights to Curry. Fortunately for Warriors fans, Don Nelson nixed the deal.
Curry has long been compared to Nash, and while their styles aren’t an exact match, Nash is the only other star point guard who was remotely in Curry’s league as a long-range marksman. He’s also the perfect contemporary to work with current players, someone who they watched excel at the highest level. Nash’s career has bridged both Kerr’s and Curry’s, and the Warriors MVP already quipped his approval of the would-be hire by teasing his skipper on Instagram, writing “Finally we get a decent coach around here.”
It remains to be seen if Nash can impart his genius onto Curry and others. Not every superstar has been able to make that smooth transition into coaching, and often frustration sets in when working with players who simply aren’t as driven or talented. Often star players themselves have no way of explaining or even understanding why they were better than others. They tell themselves it’s because they worked harder and wanted it more, because it makes for a better narrative than “I won the genetic lottery.” Nash was no athletic marvel of course, but he had preternatural coordination, muscle memory and court vision, and it’s doubtful any of that can be taught.
And if it could, it’d be worth a hell of a lot more than whatever the Warriors will pay him.
Regardless, give the Warriors credit for giving it the old college try when they could simply rest on their laurels and stick with the status quo. I’m just saying, if you’re going to recruit a legend to give you the edge you need to get past the Spurs, I’m not sure Nash would’ve been my first pick.
They should’ve hired Joey Crawford.