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On Thursday, Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson said he believes new teammate D’Angelo Russell will turn into a “superstar” as a member of the Golden State Warriors.
“I think that’s a little premature, saying there’s no more dynasty. I mean, we still have Stephen Curry, a two-time MVP,” Thompson told ESPN’s Cari Champion. “Draymond Green, a Defensive Player of the Year. I think D’Angelo Russell was an incredible get for us, I mean, the kid’s gonna blossom into a superstar in this league.”
Russell came to the Warriors in the sign-and-trade agreement that sent Kevin Durant to the Brooklyn Nets, although many have questioned how Russell fits next to Curry and Thompson in the Warriors’ backcourt.
The 23-year-old point guard, who made the 2019 Eastern Conference All-Star team as an injury replacement for Victor Oladipo, derives much of his offense from the pick-and-roll game — something Steve Kerr has rarely utilized in his offense. In addition, Russell’s defense is considered average at best, which means a backcourt pairing next to Curry could potentially lead to defensive woes.
However, Thompson may be on to something when he predicts another leap from Russell this upcoming season.
Steve Kerr and his staff have watched several borderline All-Star players become bonafide stars during his tenure as Warriors head coach, and Thompson can personally attest to this.
In the season prior to Kerr’s arrival in 2014, Thompson averaged 18.4 points per game, but saw his scoring output jump to 21.7 points per game in his first season under Kerr. His 3-point and free throw percentages also saw noticeable increases, and he was named to his first of five consecutive All-Star teams.
Making more dramatic jumps under Kerr’s tutelage were Stephen Curry and Draymond Green.
Curry had already made the All-Star team under Kerr’s predecessor Mark Jackson, but was never seriously mentioned in the same breath as LeBron James, Kevin Durant or the other “superstars” of the mid-2010s. But in his first season under Kerr, Curry won his first MVP award and led the Warriors to their first title since 1975. His brilliance even led some to question whether the Warriors star was better than his Finals nemesis LeBron James.
Finally, Green went from a rugged role player to a perennial NBA Defensive Player of the Year candidate under Kerr, and saw dramatic increases in just about every major statistical category.
How does this translate to Russell? In December 2014, Curry described how Kerr has helped already-competent players build upon their skill sets.
“It was just about a couple tweaks that he wanted,” Curry said. “Watching the game and being around the league for so long, he understood what successful teams could do based upon our personnel.”
Russell has shown promise in catch-and-shoot situations, something that should help when he’s forced to play off-ball next to Curry. In addition, Kerr has already stated that the Warriors plan to run more pick-and roll next season, and the acquisition of free agent center/alley-oop menace Willie Cauley-Stein should give Russell even more pick-and-roll opportunities.
And as for improving Russell’s defense, Kerr and assistant coach Ron Adams have a track record of that as well.
Adams —who is widely considered a defensive guru – spoke in 2017 about the noticeable strides Kevin Durant made on defense after he joined the Warriors in 2016.
“He’s become a much more consistent defender here,” Adams said. “He’s played and showed defensive brilliance throughout his career. But I think his consistency here has been really good. That’s really helped our program.”
Durant never averaged more than 1.3 blocks per game with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but saw that number rise to 1.6 and 1.8 in the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 seasons. He finished in the NBA’s top 10 in blocks per game in both of those seasons, and was a legitimate NBA Defensive Player of the Year candidate in 2018. Durant’s massive 7’5 wingspan certainly helped him elevate his defensive game, and Russell’s above-average size for a guard (6’5″ height with a 6’10” wingspan) should do him favors as well.
In short, the “Steve Kerr bump” appears to be real when it comes to All-Star level talent. Of course, Curry and Thompson and Green were entering their respective primes and already steadily improving prior to Kerr’s arrival, but the quotes from Curry and Adams seem to indicate this is more than just a coincidence.
Russell had a breakout season in 2018-2019, and if recent history is any indication, Thompson may be correct in predicting “superstar” status for his new teammate.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/warriors/article/Klay-Thompson-D-Angelo-Russell-Steve-Kerr-fit-Dubs-14276686.php.