The crisis was averted.
If you thought the US “fiscal cliff” was daunting, you weren’t following the Warriors’ problems two months ago. As the NBA regular season began, head coach Mark Jackson and his staff faced the unpleasant reality of replacing Andrew Bogut.
Since David Lee, an undersized center for the New York Knicks, was not a realistic option, Jackson had to choose between starting Andris Biedrens, a formerly effective pivot man who had lost his superpowers, and the sushi-raw 23 year old rookie Festus Ezeli.
Jackson, who prematurely promised a playoff berth the season prior, decided to start the rookie big alongside freshman forward Harrison Barnes.
Today the Warriors are 22-10, fifth in the Western Conference and three games from the first seed, holding opponents to the second lowest field goal percentage in the league (42.7%), according to Yahoo! Sports. Live in denial if you wish.
There is plenty of praise to go around, but acknowledgement is undisputedly due to Jackson. This is a man who had no coaching experience whatsoever when he was hired by Golden State in June 2011.
As bare as his pedigree stood at the time, Jackson appealed to owner Joe Lacob for his intelligence and familiarity in the sport. The 47 year old former point guard enjoyed a 17 year NBA career which landed him 3rd all time in career assists (10,334). While Jackson was never considered a franchise centerpiece, his consistent approach to each contest made him a valuable ball handler and locker room leader.
Jackson also worked extensive time as an NBA broadcaster, where his knowledge of the game was exposed for everyone to appreciate. He most recently commentated for ABC and ESPN in the 2011 NBA Finals.
Lacob awarded Jackson a 3 year, $6 million contract. It was a significant risk for a club with one playoff appearance since the 1993-94 campaign, but the dice roll paid enormous dividends.
“The fact that he enjoyed a stellar playing career…will prove invaluable in the long run,” stated Lacob. “…his knowledge and background will be an incredible asset for our team and organization.”
Indeed, Jackson has completely transformed the identity and philosophy of the Warriors. The 2011-12 season was merely a transition year.
For years characterized as a one-way, run-and-gun organization, the team has rediscovered a liking for relentless defense. In addition to remarkable opposing field goal percentages, the players have committed to closing out shooters on the perimeter, evidenced by rivals’ 33.1% 3 point accuracy, tied for 2nd in the NBA. Golden State has anchored down its defense without gambling for steals, a significant key for consistency in the playoffs.
On offense, the Warriors have decelerated their Ferrari pace (11th in the league in fast break points) and reduced downtown attempts (20.4 tries per game, 12th in the NBA). The team is finally executing plays and swinging the ball, a large part to ranking 7th in assists in the association.
Last but not least, Golden State is tied for 1st in the NBA in total rebounds. This is a monumental moment for Warriors fans; the days of starting Corey Maggette at power forward are never coming back (so unravel the noose).
Much thanks to Jackson. Can we say he’s unconventional? Sure. After all, Jackson is a firm believer in Hack-A-Shaq tactics, despite threats from David Stern. The coach’s reliance on his rookies has also raised attention, in particular his trust in Ezeli and Draymond Green, of which the latter displaced Richard Jefferson in the rotation.
Regardless of his tactics, the most important variable going for Jackson as a coach is his likeability. The former guard rarely raises his voice to make a point, and he relates to the distractions in a player’s life.
“It’s an easy sermon to preach when you have your players buying in,” explained Jackson.
After failing with Eric Musselman, Mike Montgomery and a distracted Don Nelson, it seems the Warriors have found their hero. Warriors fans should rejoice, because the worst is over.