Golden State Warriors: Why Mark Jackson Will Triumph Without Top Assistant Mike Malone


Former Golden State Warriors head assistant coach Mike Malone was recently hired as the new head coach of the Sacramento Kings. Before coming to the Warriors with Mark Jackson in 2011, Malone had 10 years of assistant coaching experience. He was previously the assistant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers during the LeBron James reign and for the New Orleans Hornets from 2010-2011.

The Warriors will be without their main X’s and O’s coach of the staff, meaning he drew up the majority of the plays for the Warriors, especially during timeouts and in close-game situations. Mark Jackson and the Warriors will have to make some significant adjustments in Malone’s absence.

Jackson finished seventh in this season’s Coach of the Year voting. Despite his accomplishments last season, the departure of Malone will certainly be a tough loss. Malone is known as a defensive guru and was the mastermind behind the Cavs’ defensive scheme from 2005-2010, which was remarkably successful. He also helped set up the Warriors’ current defensive system, which yielded the fourth best opponent field goal percentage (43.9 percent) in the NBA during the regular season.

December 12, 2011; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors assistant coach Michael Malone (center) instructs during the first quarter of the open practice at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Malone made some significant changes to how the Warriors defended the pick-and-roll, and this alone drastically improved the Warriors’ overall defense. In a high pick-and-roll situation, Malone decided to implement a system called “Ice” coverage.

In “Ice” coverage, when the pick is coming, the guard steps in front of the player they’re guarding, so their opponent can’t use the screen that’s coming for them. Meanwhile, the big man on defense stays back away from the screen in the paint and faces the direction where the opposing guard is attempting to drive.

Before Malone came to the Warriors, David Lee or Andris Biedrins, the two starting frontcourt players in 2010-2011, would attempt to stop the opposing guard at the spot of the pick, which often resulted in the Lee or Biedrins recovering late to their man. This simple adjustment allowed for more coverage of the paint and the opposing team to settle for contested jump shots.

The Warriors will need to ensure that they can consistently execute the defensive schemes that Malone implemented. Although Malone was the “defensive coordinator” of the Warriors, Jackson must have been a part of implementing this defense, so as long as his coaching staff understands the system, the Warriors should be able to continue to play the quality defense that they did last season.

Also, if Andrew Bogut can stay healthy for at least 65-70 games next season, his consistent, dominant inside presence would automatically improve the Warriors’ defense because of his ability to change and block shots.

The media has portrayed Jackson as just a motivator, but he is more than prepared to be on his own and coach without Malone. In addition to his coaching credentials from the past two seasons, Jackson was also a great leader during his 17 seasons as a point guard in the NBA. He played in the 13th-most games in NBA history, and he finished third all-time in assists. Jackson was an incredible floor general, so he clearly knows how to run a game and execute a game plan.

In addition, he can compete and hold his own against any great coach out there. In the Warriors’ playoff series against the Nuggets, Jackson outcoached former Nuggets coach George Karl. Jackson set the competitive pace when he decided to start Jarrett Jack at point guard and move Harrison Barnes to power forward in David Lee’s absence, even though the official starting lineups announced Carl Landry as the starting power forward.

Jackson always found a way to counter every move or adjustment that Karl made. Karl countered by starting Evan Fournier and going small too, but Jackson’s youngsters, Klay Thompson, Barnes, Draymond Green, and Festus Ezeli outplayed any lineup that Karl put out there.

Karl also made several mistakes in the series, such as running isolations for Andre Miller, not knowing how to effectively guard both Stephen Curry and Thompson and not attacking the paint enough. Jackson took advantage of these mistakes by utilizing an effective zone, targeting Miller defensively, and controlling the transition game. Jackson, and not the more experienced Karl, brought the intensity and competitive spirit that was needed to win the series.

Lowell Cohn of the Press Democrat claims that Malone was the main strategist for the Warriors, so his departure will impact the Warriors greatly. He discusses how Malone was the details guy, and that even though Jackson would tell Malone some general ideas for an upcoming play, Malone was the one to draw out the play and explain it to the team during timeouts.

However, Joe Lacob hired Jackson to be the head coach of this team for a reason. In fact, Malone was even up for the same head coaching position, before Lacob decided to hire Jackson to be the head coach. Jackson was chosen because he’s smart, analytical, and a confident, convincing leader.

May 16, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors head coach Mark Jackson instructs against the San Antonio Spurs during the fourth quarter in game six of the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. The Spurs defeated the Warriors 94-82. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Jackson will adjust to the added pressure of not having the best assistant coach in the league, because his whole team is behind him and wants to succeed as much as he does. Jackson said from Day 1 as head coach that he wanted to change the culture around the Warriors, which he has done. This Warriors team loves to play as the underdogs and to play for each other.

“The main reason why we’re here is Coach,” Bogut said about the Warriors’ success in the playoffs.

Jackson has displayed a great balance between commanding respect and authority while also maintaining his motivational and comedic personality. His energy and passion led to great team chemistry, which was a large reason why the Warriors had such a successful breakout season.

“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.”

Jackson might not be a pure, fundamental coach like some others, but he has a system set in place with his team, and he is more than capable of executing it without Malone.

Also, Jackson still has a quality group of assistant coaches to help him. It’s rumored that Jackson will most likely name Pete Myers his new head assistant coach. Another possibility is to promote assistant coach Darren Erman, who has focused on developing the talent of the young players on the Warriors.

With the help of his assistants and his motivational spirit, Jackson might have to work a little harder without Malone, but he can certainly continue to build a winning culture with the Warriors.