OAKLAND — More than a basketball coach, Ron Adams considers himself a basketball teacher.
“Coaching is a form of teaching, obviously, but I look at myself more as a teacher,” Adams said. “At this point in my career I’m a teacher and a mentor. That’s what I do.”
“Teacher” may not go far enough.
With a 45-year résumé as an NBA and college coach, including stints at Fresno State and Fresno Pacific (his alma mater), horned-rimmed glasses and a measured, detailed manner of speaking, the 67-year-old Warriors assistant is closer to a basketball professor.
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Right, Steve Kerr?
“He is, yeah,” the Warriors head coach agreed. “Coach is like our resident guru. He’s our wise sage. He’s seen everything in this game.
“We all see the little game a little differently … and (Adams) sees it 100% from a defensive perspective. Which we need. That’s why I call him our defensive coordinator.”
Getting NBA players to care about defense would appear a thankless, gigantic pain.
After all, it’s offense that sells tickets, fills up highlight packages and gets rewarded by eight-figure contracts. Offense is flashy fun. Defense is grunt work.
Yet take a closer look at these Warriors and their NBA-best 34-6 record. Beyond Stephen Curry’s hair-trigger release and fancy dribbling. Beyond Klay Thompson’s perfectly formed jump shot and blossoming floor game. Beyond the four times Golden State has entered the fourth quarter with 100 or more points.
It’s really a team built on defense.
Who leads the NBA in opponent field-goal percentage? The Warriors at 42.1%. They’re also second in blocks (6.4 per game) and fourth in steals (9.3).
Now look at defensive efficiency rating, which measures the number of points a team allows over 100 possessions. Golden State’s 97.0 leads the league by more than a bucket.
Warriors fans appreciate what they’re seeing. During Wednesday’s 126-113 thumping of the Rockets, Oracle Arena experienced a volcanic eruption when Andrew Bogut sent back consecutive shots by Dwight Howard.
What part does Adams play in all of this? A rather large one.
“He puts a lot of time and preparation into how we’re going to guard people, especially team defense, and he addresses individual defensive needs game by game,” Bogut said. “If you had a bad one, he’ll break out the laptop and show you exactly what you did wrong.”
Kerr, in his first year as an NBA coach, depends on Adams’ knowledge just as much.
“He’s seen it all,” Kerr said. “Not just in the NBA but going back to Fresno State when he learned from Boyd Grant, who was one of the best coaches of his time. It’s awesome to have Coach Adams on board, his experience and to learn from him.”
Putting his time in
Anyone wishing to speak with Adams following a Warriors practice should be prepared to wait.
“He’s pretty much always the last guy out there,” one of the team’s PR staff said.
Practice is over, but at one hoop in the corner of the gym Bogut and Adams are working on free throws. Bogut stands at the line, and Adams is under the rim. Bogut shoots and Adams gets the ball back to him. Dozens of times.
Then it’s James Michael McAdoo’s turn. The rookie and Adams work on post moves, over and over from both sides of the block. Next up is Festus Ezile. Adams puts the injured center through a battery of drills. Ezile repeats baby hooks and jumpers and leaps up and down in place. It’s a drill Adams uses to teach big men how to avoid foul trouble.
Except for Curry and Kerr filming a humorous free-throw shooting contest with ESPN’s Hannah Storm (no surprise, Curry wins), the gym is deserted when Adams comes over, introduces himself and takes a seat in a nearby padded folding chair.
The Warriors are Adams’ eighth NBA team but the first that gave him the opportunity to return to his home state. He grew up on a farm between Laton and Selma, a farm his brother, Don, still operates. Ron attended Laton High and played basketball at Fresno Pacific, where his coaching career began in 1969.
“Unlike the old days, guys coming into the NBA are skill-deficient coming out of college,” Adams said. “So you get guys who have missed steps. These are gifted people, so you help them take the steps that they’ve missed.
“I don’t think I get any greater delight than watching someone grow and feeling you’re a small part of that.”
Adams insisted that getting NBA players to focus on defense isn’t as tough as it sounds. Not when they understand the benefits.
“What you try to do as a coach is try to get the player to see the possibilities for his career,” he said. “If you’re a one-dimensional player, your options are going to be limited. Take Steph as an example.
“Steph is very much in the MVP discussion, and some of that is due to his improvement on defense. Early on I just tried to point out to him that if he wants to get to the highest level as a basketball player and us to the highest level as a team, adding this component is what will help him and us get over the top. He’s a very bright guy, and he understands that.”
Here’s what Curry told the Bay Area News Group: “It doesn’t matter how many points I score. (Adams) seems to find that one or two things that I can do better on the defensive end after every game that kind of knocks you back into reality a little bit.”
Adams recalled his time at Fresno State as “one of the peak experiences of my career.” Clearly though, he’s talking about his years as an assistant under Grant that included the 1981-82 squad that went 27-3 and the NIT championship in 1983. In his four years as Grant’s successor, the Bulldogs went 43-62 under Adams from 1986-90.
“Boyd Grant was such a pleasure to work with, and he was really instrumental in my professional growth. He had great confidence in me, which was really special at that time,” Adams said. “My head-coaching time there was difficult.
“We kind of started behind the eight ball with talent. The talent base we had built was eroding, and I was operating on one-year contracts that made it more difficult to recruit. But I look at it as a really good growth experience for me despite the heartache.
“We did some things that were pretty miraculous. Those were marvelous defensive teams, they really were.”
Kind of like these Warriors.