Steve Kerr, it has recently been announced won the voting for the association’s Coach of the Year Award (COY). According to Marc Stein of ESPN Kerr, the Head Coach of the Golden State Warriors, “ultimately won the balloting in a very deep field not only for his coaching but his role in building the culture that put the Warriors on a path for a record-setting 73 wins.”
Whether Kerr deserved the COY or not based on the fact that he missed 43 games of on-court coaching is a matter that can be debated. On that note, it’s worth pointing out that Connor McDavid is considered out of the NHL’s Calder race by many, despite being the best rookie by popular opinion. The reasoning for it is simple: McDavid missed 37 games this season, and you don’t take his averages at face value over an 82-game season when he only played in 45. Why this reasoning wasn’t applied to Kerr missing 43 games is a matter that could be looked at.
Firstly, there is a bit of a breakdown between comparing McDavid and Kerr because coaches and players are different animals. After all, Kerr could help in his role even as he was absent due to surgeries. McDavid, in a playing role as opposed to one that’s exclusively mental, couldn’t do his duties while recovering from a broken collarbone. In short, that Kerr wasn’t courtside for the entire season doesn’t mean that he wasn’t a part of the team’s success. However, I still think a coach is primarily the brains of in-game operations, and it’s pretty hokey to give Kerr the award despite all the missed games.
But more importantly, I also think that those that voted for Kerr missed a major point that refutes the notion that Kerr did an excellent job this season. The irony of Kerr winning the COY is that a good coach knows not to chase regular-season records at the risk of attritioning his playing personnel. Arguably, Kerr did just that in chasing the “record-setting 73 wins.”
The Golden State Warriors were playing meaningless basketball down the stretch of the regular season when it comes to playoff seeding. They beat the Spurs in the West by six games, and they had an even bigger lead on Cleveland for the outright best winning percentage in the NBA. However, Golden State’s starters were still logging big minutes as the team closed in and surpassed the record for most wins in a regular season.
Now consider this question: if Steph Curry was rested down the stretch instead of played to pursue the record, would he have suffered the tweaked ankle and the sprained knee? That’s a question that no one can really answer, but I’m not asking you to answer the question but just to consider it. Stop and do that please.
Did your considerations look something like this?
“If Curry was better rested entering the post-season he might have been physically stronger such that his two injuries may not have been as significant as they were. Maybe the tweaked ankle is nothing and the sprained knee is just a tweaked knee.”
You might think that Curry would be injured regardless, but Steve Kerr opened himself up to somebody thinking as written above when he played Curry the minutes that he did play him down the stretch of the regular season.
While acknowledging that the Curry injuries are post-season ones, and the COY is a regular-season award, I think that the coach’s job in the regular season (if he has a contender) is to prepare his team for the post-season. From that point of view, pursuing a record in the regular season is precisely what a good coach does NOT do. The way Major League Baseball managers, after clinching their division, focus on setting up their rotations for the playoffs is a case in point.
Golden State’s Steph Curry logged big minutes in throw-away games down the stretch of the regular season. He only played about 30 in the last game where his team set the record, and that’s an acceptable amount. But against the Spurs Curry played 35:22 for no reason other than to chase a regular-season record. Prior to that, he played 34 minutes against Memphis, 36 minutes against the Spurs in a different game, and 42+ against none other than Minnesota. Maybe if his minutes were kept in the 26-30 minute range for the last 5-7 games of the season, Curry wouldn’t be so glass-like right now. But regardless of the speculation, I do not think a good coach, let alone the Coach of the Year, takes the chance.
It’s ironic that the very feat that Kerr is credited for, the 73-win season, won him the Coach of the Year when the pursuit of that record might be a factor in costing him the NBA title, something Phil Jackson’s 95/96 Chicago Bulls won.
More from ESPN’s Michael Stein: “If you’re focusing on the 43 games that a frighteningly stubborn health condition forced (Kerr) to miss…you’re lasered in on all the wrong stuff. You’re missing the big picture.”
It will be interesting to see if ESPN writers say that about McDavid and the Calder, substituting “43” with “37.” But on that note, it doesn’t appear to be the direction they are going. Pierre Lebrun of ESPN claimed the following on March 31st: “I’m going to continue to talk to more NHL scouts, coaches, players and execs and see how they feel about McDavid’s limited games. As of now, probably leaning a bit toward (Shayne) Gostisbehere” for the Calder.
In my view, “the big picture” in the Calder watch is McDavid’s 1.07 points-per-game average and the fact that he played in 45, not a piddly number. It’s enough to treat his average as a very credible one. For Kerr, “the big picture” is that he overplayed Curry, and now Curry is injured. I’m not saying there is cause-and-effect there although I will say I can’t discount it. But regardless, overplaying a star player in throw-away games is a boneheaded coaching decision that is unbecoming to someone named Coach of the Year.