Seth Partnow at The Washington Post on Steve Kerr:
"The Warriors are largely the same squad, with the major change being Shaun Livingston replacing the cast of thousands who backed up Steph Curry last season. The closest analog was Flip Saunders taking over for Larry Brown in Detroit, and essentially keeping the whole team together.The similarities are instructive of the sort of opportunity required for such improvements to take place without major personnel upgrades. Both the mid-2000s Pistons and Mark Jackson Warriors were elite defensively (third and fourth respectively in defensive rating in the last season before the coaching switch), but lagged on offense (17th and 12th in offensive efficiency).In both cases there were good reasons to believe the offenses were under producing the talent level. In case of the Warriors, the reasons were fairly obvious – despite a roster studded with great passing talent, (especially on the front line where Andre Iguoudala, Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green and David Lee all possess exceptional playmaking skills) Golden State passed the ball less than any NBA team in 2013-14, running an offensive best described as “antiquated.” An injection of ball and player movement was always going to improve the team, though it would have been hard to predict the magnitude of the increase.For the Pistons, it was slightly more complex, but under Brown, they too ran a hidebound offense which resulted in high turnovers and a lot of midrange shots. Under Saunders, Detroit improved in turnover rate from 14th to first while dramatically increasing the space on the floor through the use of the three pointer. Specifically, by freeing Rasheed Wallace to become a prototypical “stretch 4,” as Wallace almost doubled his attempts from deep over the previous year. With this more efficient shooting on more attempts due to fewer turnovers, the Pistons vaulted to fourth in offensive rating.As a side note, Saunders was thought of as an offensively innovative coach at the time, demonstrating the need for constant evolution to match that of the league, as Saunders-style offenses are now somewhat behind the curve in generating the best shots."
I really like this comparison – with the important caveat we don’t know Kerr’s ability to handle other types of coaching assignments. Saunders has proven himself less functional with other types of teams.
But for the Pistons in 2005, Saunders was a good fit. Just as we know Kerr fits the 2015 Warriors well after they’d taken crucial steps in previous years with Mark Jackson.
Though he has a bad rap among Detroit fans, Saunders led the Pistons (a franchise record) 64, 53 and 59 wins. He never could have instilled the defensive principles Larry Brown did, and they eroded under Saunders’ watch. But Saunders saw the Pistons combine Brown’s offensive fundamentals , Saunders’ freer offense, and Brown’s elite defense. The Pistons efficiently shot 3-pointers and spaced the floor in a way Brown’s teams didn’t. Seeing the floor better thanks to Brown, Chauncey Billups was ready to lead in the way Saunders allowed – and Brown likely never would have.
There’s something about coaches who can instill a culture and coaches who allow a talented team to thrive. Those are two different task, and not every coach is equally adept at handling both.
That said, there’s a major difference between Kerr and Saunders that has already manifested. Kerr is much better making adjustments throughout a playoff series than Saunders was. For a team with championship-level talent, that’s of the utmost importance.