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When NBA coach Steve Kerr took the helm as the basketball coach of the Golden State Warriors in 2014, he inherited a highly talented but hugely underperforming team.
Because Kerr believed deeply in analytics, his first strategic task as coach was to sit down with the team’s metric guru, Sammy Gelfand, to review the strengths and weaknesses of the team by the numbers.
Kerr had an inkling of the problem from watching the Warriors play. His bias was to move the ball on offense with a high ratio of passes to shots. He wanted Gelfand to confirm what he suspected. Although he didn’t have any hard evidence that more passes translated to more wins, he was deeply committed to the idea that sharing the ball changes the mindset of a team.
Gelfand discovered something extraordinary in the numbers. During the previous season, the Warriors had averaged just 247 passes per game, the lowest pass count in the NBA.
And then Gelfand offered the difference maker.
When the team passed the ball more than three times per possession, they led the league in points for those possessions. Kerr pounced on this idea and made the idea the cornerstone of how he would change the culture of the team.
Kerr and Gelfand concluded that 300 passes was the magic benchmark number and would result in the most points. Even more than making baskets, Kerr believed more passing would create a team-first mindset of moving and sharing the ball, leading to unselfish play and creating the team camaraderie he believed was necessary to win championships. The Warriors won the NBA Championship that year and, under Kerr’s leadership, remain one of the best passing teams in the NBA.
Great team leaders are always on the lookout for the magic action, metric, or activity that could become a difference-maker for team performance. Sometimes, they can be found in the numbers. Other times, they can be discovered by examining the fundamental qualities of performance largely taken for granted. In all cases, they sit right under your nose waiting to be uncovered.
What are your team’s 300 passes?