One of the most pleasant surprises midway through the 2012-2013 NBA season has been the new-look of the Mark Jackson-led Golden State Warriors. After 17 years as one of the league’s best point guards and several years as a premier TV analyst (coining the “Hand down, man down” and “Mama there goes that man!” phrases), Jackson, now in his second season as head coach of the Warriors, has made his presence is clear.
A Brooklyn native, Jackson (third all-time in assists) goes about his job in a humble, God-fearing manner that’s earned him the respect and buy-in of his peers and his players.
“He honestly has a calming presence,” said Warriors guard Jarrett Jack. “I think, one, him being a former player, not being too far removed from the game [helps him as a coach]; and also, we respect his body of work. Not to say if we wasn’t the player that he was we wouldn’t respect him, but I think it helps. He’s been in our shoes, he knows what it is to play an 82 [game] groovin’, grind-out season, you know. He has a calming influence and a very approachable personality.”
Previous years have seen Golden State be one of the most exciting, high-octane teams. While it’s been entertaining, it’s generated just one playoff appearance in the last 17 years – 2007 when they infamously beat the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the opening round as an eight-seed. “From day one, he’s preached [this] new identity we were gonna have; a toughness about us that relied on defense that’s allowed us to be successful,” said Warriors point guard Stephen Curry. “We’ve had teams that try to outscore people a lot, and it does breed an exciting brand of basketball, but historically, we haven’t had as much success in the win column. So, I think it’s just the way he’s come in and preached the same message every single day. Even though last year was kind of rough, sticking with the game plan of how we’re gonna get to where we are now with the talent that we have on this team. As a player, knowing that he’s played on some great teams himself back in the day, he’s bringing those same lessons to us as a team now.”
After finishing 23-43 last season with no training camp and a roster ravaged by injuries, things are finally starting to click in the Bay Area, and it’s Jackson who’s really responsible for changing the culture. The Warriors, at 26-17, have already won more games than all of last season and would be the fifth-seed in the Western Conference if the playoffs started today. “They’ve improved their rebounding significantly, and their defense has improved, too,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau commented recently.
“Well we’ve got better players, first of all,” said Jackson, humbly deferring the credit to his players and Warriors management. “Legitimate centers who can protect the rim and then overall we had a training camp. My guys were committed from day one, the rookies came in the day after the draft, last year’s rookies were there the day after the draft and then my entire team other than one guy was there the day after Labor Day, so we drilled, we practiced, we prepared and we preach it and we hold guys accountable. We’re an elite defensive team, we’re an elite rebounding team, and when you do those things you put yourself in a position to win.”
While Curry, Klay Thompson, David Lee and others still have Golden State among the league’s best scoring, sharpest shooting teams – they average more than 100 points per game – they’ve emerged as a high-level defensive team, as well. Most telling is that they’re a top-five team defensively in opponent field goal percentage and three-point percentage, and are the best defensive rebounding team in the league despite playing undersized at times.
“I think the coaches have done a great job of designing a defensive scheme of how we’re gonna play the pick-and-roll, how we’re gonna play the post, regardless of who we’re playing against,” said Curry. “We have our own game plan each night that we drill every single day, different principles that in the past we might have changed night to night based on who we were playing and having to adjust instead of us being the aggressors no matter we’re playing. Whether it’s D-Wade one night and he has a certain strong suit, we’re gonna do what we do and do it to the best of our ability and hope for the best instead of allowing other teams to change how we play.”
“We know who we are and we know what we have to do to win ballgames,” Jackson said after a recent loss to the Bulls. “And somehow, with the lack of size at times on the floor, we’ve found a way to be very successful thus far during the course of this season. So it’s a fact that we can still get it done. And when we don’t get it done, it’s not because of a lack of size.” Long story short: Jackson refuses to make excuses. The Warriors still have a ways to go to get into the top echelon of teams out West and recently hit a bump in the road suffering back-to-back losses to the Bulls and Bucks (earlier in the week they beat Miami and OKC). But as long as they continue to defend, rebound and follow Mark Jackson, things should continue to move in a positive direction for Golden State.
“Everybody knows we have two all-stars and [people] expect us to hang around; the bottom line is that we’re very satisfied with the type of season we’ve had thus far, but we’re not gonna sit on it. We’re gonna continue to do the things we’re doing and look forward to a great second half of the season.”