After a rough inaugural season as head coach of the Golden State Warriors in 2011-2012, Mark Jackson led the Warriors to their first playoff berth since 2007 this season and only their second trip to the playoffs in 19 seasons. He led the Warriors to a 47-35 record this season, and he came in seventh for the Coach of the Year Award. Despite his accomplishments, Jackson has been labeled as more of a motivator than a fundamental coach. Head assistant coach Mike Malone has been known to be the X’s and O’s coach of the staff, meaning he drew up the majority of the plays for the Warriors. Malone is expected to take a head coaching job with another NBA team though, such as the Sacramento Kings, so, next season, in Jackson’s first full season without Malone by his side, will he prove that he’s a true coach or that he’s just a motivator?
Jackson’s motivational skills are arguably the best in the NBA, and he has certainly showcased them in his passionate speeches to his team during timeouts. Based on his background as a pastor at True Love Worship Center International in Van Nuys, CA in the offseason, Jackson surely knows how to preach. This season, Jackson did a fantastic job preaching defense to his young team. The Warriors ranked fourth in the NBA during the regular season for opponent’s field goal percentage at 43.9 percent. Also, after ranking 28th in the NBA during the 2011-2012 season with 39.2 rebounds per game, Jackson preached the need for more of an overall team effort on the boards. His preaching led to the Warriors tying for second in the NBA this season with 45 rebounds per game.
Clearly, Jackson’s motivation and belief in his players has led to significant improvements in key aspects of their game plan. During the 2012-2013 season, Jackson made the Warriors a better defensive and rebounding team, which they needed to become in order to have a successful season and make the playoffs. However, it’s not clear if the Warriors improved because of his X’s and O’s coaching or because of his motivational skills.
Besides their improvements on the court, another significant reason why the Warriors were successful this year was because they had a “never give up” mentality, which was instilled in them by Jackson. Jackson became the face of a team that continued to defy expectations, and their great team chemistry continued to grow because of his energy and passion.
“I think we showed this year that it’s a big factor from the top down, from coach Jackson through all his staff and through our players…” Curry said when asked about the Warriors’ chemistry. “The vibe in our locker room is real energetic and fun and real personable, I think from Day 1.”
Like the San Francisco Giants, the Warriors thrived off being labeled the underdogs and loved playing as a team and unselfishly. The Warriors would not have become the group of fighters that they were without Jackson’s motivation and belief in them.
“We’ve got a lot of heart and character and we’re resilient,” Bogut said after the Warriors were eliminated by the Spurs. “We could’ve let this series go in Game 1…But we never gave up in this series or the Denver series. Just kept fighting and that’s all you can ask.”
It can’t be stressed enough how Mark Jackson has truly changed the culture of the Warriors so far in his coaching tenure. In his first season as head coach, the Warriors experienced several injuries to key players, and Monta Ellis, a fan favorite, was traded rather suddenly for Andrew Bogut, who was injured at the time and out for the remainder of the season. Jackson was able to stifle many concerns going into this past season because of his belief in the system they had implemented and the culture that he had started to grow. He even claimed that trading Ellis helped changed the culture as well.
This season, Jackson and the Warriors overcame many people counting them out of the playoff conversation, especially after Brandon Rush tore his ACL in his left knee in the second game of the season. Jackson continued to motivate his team by telling them they would have to find a way to win without Rush, which they did. The Warriors continued to defy expectations, but whenever they hit a rough patch during the season, they knew where to turn. Jackson always found a way to inspire and motivate his team to do better and play their style of basketball. This Warriors team seemed more confident and proud of themselves than any other Warriors team in the recent past because of Jackson’s passion alone.
“Sometimes one of the best statements you can make is fight,” Jackson said after the Warriors lost to the Spurs in Game 6. “At the end of the day, our tank will be empty and our light will be bright. I truly believe that’s exactly what took place. Guys battled, guys gave me everything they had. We fought and I could not be prouder of any group.”
Despite his inspirational speeches, Jackson rarely had the clipboard during timeouts, meaning, he was rarely the one to draw up plays. Since that was mainly Malone’s job, Jackson found his place as the motivator. He admirably filled this role, but since it’s likely that Malone will no longer be a part of his coaching staff next year, Jackson will perhaps have assistant coach Pete Myers fill the role of the X’s and O’s coach. As Nate Timmons of Colorado Sports Guy has said, sometimes the hardest part about coaching is motivating a team to succeed. Even though he might not be considered as a pure, fundamental coach, Jackson is surely one of the best motivators in the league, which makes him well-suited for the Warriors.