By: Darren Schmidt

Coaching in the NBA is pretty simple: if you have bad players you will lose. If you have good players you will win. If you have great players you can win titles.

Most people who follow the NBA understand this, but still, year after year, the relative merits of head coaches are discussed to death. It’s no different here. Fans are becoming increasingly critical of the job Keith Smart is doing with the 19-26 Warriors.

Like all coaches, Smart is constantly second-guessed for who he plays and doesn’t play. A month ago people were so outraged about Vladimir Radmanovic getting minutes I was worried a fan was going to bumrush the floor and take him as a hostage. But Smart stuck with him and Vlad Rad eventually started helping the team. Now Smart’s getting criticized for who he’s not playing (enough)—Ekpe Udoh and Steph Curry.

People need to calm down calling for Udoh. He’s a limited rookie who’s been active for a month after not playing for 8 months and he’s averaging 12 minutes a game. That doesn’t seem unreasonable. The situation with Steph Curry is a little more complicated. You never want a disconnect between the coach and the “star,” and it’s hard to argue that putting Curry on the bench is good for the Warriors in the short or long term, but it is worth pointing out that the Warriors are 9-4 when Curry plays fewer than 30 minutes and 2-2 when he plays fewer than 25. There’s also the possibility that his reduced minutes are an attempt to get Curry to play defense in front of his opponents and not behind them.

Defense is a sore subject with Warrior fans. As a team the Warriors had the 29th ranked defense in ‘09/‘10. In the offseason they brought in David Lee and Dorell Wright to play next to Curry, Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins. You know what that gets you this year? The 28th ranked defense. I’m not sure what people want and expect Smart to do to make this a better defensive team. To paraphrase noted defensive guru Don Nelson (who said the following about free throw shooting), if you want to get better defensively you should get better defensive players. Larry Brown would not make this a good defensive team. Neither would Tom Thibodeau. Dwight Howard might, though.

Ultimately, coaches are judged by their records. 19-26 isn’t good, especially for a team that has had two winning seasons since Blackstreet was hot, but it’s a pace for 35 wins, which is about where people thought the talent of this team stood before the season started. The Warriors are also on pace for a bigger improvement than any of the other teams that won fewer than 30 games in ‘09/’10: the Wolves, Kings, Wizards, Pistons, Nets & Clippers. And without getting too deep into every Warrior fan’s least favorite subject—injuries—the fact is they have a winning record when their top three players all play. Winning 35-42 games depending on breaks with this roster is a bad coaching job?

Keith Smart isn’t a good coach and he isn’t a bad coach. He’s a decent coach because he has decent players. And if the Warriors get better players he’ll become a better coach.

17 Responses

  1. Permabear

    My biggest gripe with Smart is that he plays Monta TOO much. Monta leads the league in minutes. There are many games where Monta never sees the bench at all. When you watch game after game, what you will see is that Monta is not a particularly strong fourth quarter player. There are some games where he finds a second gear, but more often than not Monta misses shot after shot and makes mistakes. The reason is because the guy is flat out exhausted. Whenever Smart has let other players come in for Monta, more often than not the Warriors don’t lose any ground. Curry can easily pick up the scoring gap and Reggie Williams can light it up when given the opportunity. On the rare occasion when Monta is given enough rest, he finds that second gear and helps the Warriors win those close games. Smart is following the lead of Nelson who always overplayed his best players.

  2. White Hat

    It IS the Warriors management, including Smart.

    Starting with the GM’s issues, here’s the whole roster, rated below. Below average guys must get heavy “protection” from teammates whenever they’re on the floor. Average guys have pluses and minuses, but are probably no worse overall than the NBA norm for their position. Above average aren’t perfect, but are pretty consistent positives to the team. You may disagree on some individuals, but probably not by much.

    Out of the 14 players on the payroll, only 4 make consistently positive game contributions. They’re outnumbered by the below average guys.

    Below average players:

    B Wright (Zero boards, little D, limited offensive range, slow, no power in this PF)
    Gadzuric (hands of stone, limited mobility)
    Amundsen (No discernable skills whatsoever)
    Lin (not even in town)
    Udoh (shows potential, but currently no boards, rookie mistakes, limited O)
    Charlie Bell (who?)


    Radmanovich (solid all-around contributor handicapped by brain blips)
    Biedrens (Defensive rebounding his only above-average contribution, offset by everything else)
    Law (OK D, minimal O)
    Williams (Good-not-excellent player, but not a backup forward and a big step down from 1st team dubs guard)

    Above average:
    D Wright

    Yes, some of the BA guys are improvable and keepable – Udoh, for example – this is only my personal take on their status as of this minute. The point is that while the dubs have some excellent players, as a team their overall talent level tracks pretty closely to their record today – below average. Even excellent team play (we’re not there, folx) couldn’t overcome that issue by much. This is a front office problem, and the new ownership didn’t improve the picture with the moves it initiated since taking over.

    Don’t think Riley’s office could have done much better, personnel-wise, over the last year? Hmm. Wouldn’t you rather have Raja Bell than Charlie Bell? CJ Watson over Law or Lin? I think Smart would be delighted to have Tolliver over Carney (now gone) or Amundsen, too.

    Even worse, while more than a third of our payroll is almost unplayable, there are some killer holes in the team. Running Ellis, Curry and D Wright 40+ minutes per game, then asking them to take over in crunch time, is pretty unrealistic. And every team needs at least one real banger on hand, even if their playing time is only situational. Sometimes brute force is the only answer.

    Management could immediately improve the picture by bringing in a second OK backup guard with Carney’s empty roster spot. Or a decent banger like Jeff Adrien. Either would make a better contribution to the team than the current zero from that space. Other than the small hit to the corporate bottom line, there is no reason to do nothing. Right now.

    Better yet, if Lacob were to put his money where is mouth is he’d buy out Charlie Bell’s contract and fill BOTH of his team’s biggest personnel holes immediately. Those are big holes! Fixing even the lower priority one would easily be worth Bell’s buyout settlement. Lacob should either move on it immediately or quit pretending his priorities are different from Cohan’s.

    So part of the Warriors’ problem is clearly the moves made (and not made…) at the GM level over the last year – right up to now. The other component, the elephant in the back seat, is team D. Warriors D has been so awful for so long that fans tend to shrug it off like bad weather, but good D wouldn’t just reduce the other team’s FGs, it would help solve the Warriors’ consistent handicap of a big disparity in free throw attempts against their opponents. I doubt that anyone else in the league gets called for more stupid, useless fouls than the dubs. Slapping and touch fouls happen when D breaks down.

    Effective defense is strictly a coaching responsibility because it requires a coordinated team effort, continuous training in techniques and responsibilities, and the ability to get the team to do hard, unrewarding work (good D is a lack of drama, not highlight clip stuff).

    Lacob is preaching patience. Teambuilding programs like developing defense do take time, and it’s probably a little early to expect results in that area from a new coach, especially since veteran Warriors like Ellis never (apparently) heard of defense under the previous regime. On the other hand, Charlotte’s D handed the Ws their ass on Friday. While Charlotte had a history of defensive emphasis under Larry Brown, they also have a new coach as of December and an uncoachable head case for a team leader. In other words, it isn’t too soon for us to hope that the Ws would start showing some improvement. A truly excellent coach would have his team showing signs by now. A normal human being (like Smart, presumably) better have at least something going by yearend, or he’s probably not coming back next year. That’s assuming Lacob is serious about winning, and not just another P&L guy like Cohan.

    We’re calling you out, Joe Lacob. Put up or shut up. Start right now.

  3. Steven R

    Tonight is a perfect example of why Keith Smart lasts only one year in Golden State! By the way it is, Smart, Stupid!

  4. Jerome

    I think that is the best way to describe the coaching, alright, okay, average, but not bad or good or great. Smart does some things that make no sense. I agree with Lacob when he kinda complained about the rotation and not completely understand it. In addition, when guys play well, they dont seem to get back in the game or play in subsequent games. Case in point, Brandan Wright sparked that fourth quarter comeback against Indiana and has barely gotten his warmups off since. Why? He rebounds and changes shots probably more effectively than Udoh can right now. He runs the floor, has good hands, and finishes those layups ir half hooks around the rim that Udoh, Andris, and Amundson havent been. But he did stick with Vlad so give him credit for that. Vlad comes in and rebounds and spaces the floor better than anyone on the bench. When you dont trust the younger guys (guess Nelson rubbed off some) than who have to play guys where you know what you are going to get. thats why the starters are playing heavy minutes and he sticks to the same guys off the bench for limited stretches. Its a typically Warrior season in that instance. Around game 60, youll start seeing those young guys play cuz the Warriors will be out of the playoffs and they need to see what they have. Tough for me to say especially with guys like Ellis playing at an elite level and Lee starting to come around. But they just dont have the horse to win this race, even for eighth.

    Finally, anyone wanting Carmelo, you are dumb. He would be Stephen Jackson with more scoring if he came to Oakland. Hes going to be a “superstar” and i use that term loosely that never wins anything because he does not mesh around other players like true superstars do.

  5. Johnny Quid

    Although I agree with the idea that “if you have good players you will win” (i.e. Phil Jackon’s crappy coaching), it is up to the coach to utilize the players. If the players aren’t on the court, you can’t exactly win, can you?

    Lets face it: The Warriors don’t lack talent. They really don’t.

    Ellis and Curry, I don’t think I need to comment on their skill level.
    D. Wright, playing extremely well lately.
    David Lee, made a significant contribution to the team, clearly showed when he went out with the elbow injury ruining the good start that they had (were it not for this, I’m almost 100% sure Warriors would be in 7th/8th spot right now)

    These 4 players are solid starters. Now this is where Keith Smart’s coaching comes into effect. Biedrins? Udoh? Vlad? Who do you play?

    Biedrins in my opinion should be playing as a backup center. Yet Keith Smart doesn’t play him as one. He’s too soft. He can’t make up his mind. He has the skill level, but hesitates way too much and way too often. Until he actually decides to impose his will on others, he shouldn’t be starting.

    Vlad or Udoh. In my opinion these would be the ideal 2 starters. For one, Vlad can shoot. On a fast paced team like the Warriors, having a shooter on the court is ALWAYS important. Secondly, Vlad isn’t actually a bad player. He has his moments where he makes horrible choices and screws up really easy plays, but that is simply a part of not getting enough minutes. Biedrin’s gets minutes, yet still plays terrible. Ever since Vlad started getting more minutes, he has proven that he can be effective.

    On the other hand, the same goes for Udoh. Despite not getting that many playing minutes, Udoh has proven that he can be effective. Both as an offensive player and as a defensive player. I think Udoh to start in place of Biedrins would probably be the best choice. Or to at least try it for a while to see how it goes, because Biedrins has not been effective at all.

    That is where Keith Smart’s coaching fails. You can’t sit out Curry, no matter what, unless the team has a good lead. You also can’t start soft players like Biedrins, or have players like Amundson in as opposed to Udoh or Vlad, much more solid players with much more abilities to run the court and make shots.

  6. Joel

    There is no reason for Smart to play Radmanovich. Radmanovich should have no future with the the Warriors. Even this time of losing doesn’t have to be lost time. Smart should be coaching for the future and not worry about eeking out a couple wins by playing a severely limited, overpaid veteran heavy minutes at positions which the W’s badly need to develop. And you don’t develop players or build chemistry by not playing the players in question. Especially if it is already a sunk season.

    Who cares if Radmanovich has played a few good games this season? He is injury prone and has a historically lackadaisical attitude.

    There is simply no point in playing Vlad. The Warriors may have new owners but sometimes their foresight is quite nearsighted.

    • Wooy

      Disagree. Vlad Rad is the best help defender for Dubs and actually hits threes at a higher percentage than any other warrior big. This helps bring a big out from under the rim, and clears the driving lanes for the guards.
      You should realize the nba is going smaller and the further any 4 or 5 position players can hit a shot, the better.
      The only ‘Old’ school team which has effective bigs is Boston. All else run see the Spurs and the revamped Magic for proof.
      The current Warrior roster is built to run and that is Vlad Rad in not all the game, but for spurts where they need to run and spread the floor. Gets our Big 3 guards to score.

      • Joel

        Ask yourself,

        In which stage of his career is Vlad Rad? Close to the end, and making one last contract run

        What kind of player is Vlad Rad? A bench player. He’s only first off the bench because he plays on the Warriors.

        Does keeping him at any cost with any expectation help the long term goals of the franchise? No.

        He’s an expensive Devean George. The W’s spouted a lot of the same BS about him.

  7. Steven R

    Although, I’m not a huge fan of Keith Smart allowing Curry to rest and benching him for his mistakes is definitely a smart move. Too many times this season Curry has made poor decisions that lead to easy points. For example last night in the first quarter telegraphing a pass that led to an easy layup and Smart calling for a 20 second timeout with the Warriors then trailing 8-0.

    Another reason why it’s a good decision is because Curry has injured his ankle five times already this season including the day before in practice, but there’s still no excuse for some of his turnovers.

    For your assessment of Ekpe Udoh he should not be in the NBA right now. He isn’t to the point of being on the list of another failed drafted big man, but he’s on his way. He looks lost offensively, in six minutes the other night facing San Antonio he didn’t even grab a rebound, he’s athletic and he can block shots, but he needs to play.

    He’s certainly not going to get it in the NBA, so he needs to be sent down to the D-League where he can gain confidence at both ends of the court because right now he shouldn’t even get any minutes.

    Andris Biedrins has more moves than Udoh in fact last night he made a solid post move on Emeka Okafor and got to the free throw line where he hit both free throws and his form looked much better.

    But, there lies the problem both Lee and Biedrins needs to be used down in the post more so the Warriors aren’t always having to look to run. Both Lee and Biedrins are good passers, so if teams double the Warriors should get open looks and be able to move the ball and get open shots.

    You talk about the ball not moving as much as it does with Curry. That’s interesting because Ellis is averaging nearly the same amount of assists as Curry is. Ellis is at 5.6 per game and Curry is at 5.9, so both are averaging six assists per game.

    Finally, Ellis is far superior to Curry. As much as I would hate for the back court to be splitup, Curry isn’t the guy who is destined to be the best player for his team he will be the sidekick.

    Another issue with Curr is his defense he gets out-muscled by bigger players and he gets into foul trouble, which is another reason why Curry is on the bench. Ellis on the other hand doesn’t usually get into foul trouble on occasions he’ll reach or try for a steal and get beat, but more times than not he stays right with them and makes their job difficult.

    Finally, Ellis has become a leader.

  8. WarriorsGo

    First off I dont agree with the benching of Curry, or atleast not that long. If you notice the Warriors play better with Curry on the floor. Even with his careless turnovers at times the Warriors still flow better offensively. Besides that Curry has been cutting down on his turnovers before the game against the Hornets, but If you watch the game a few of those turnovers were the recieving players fault as much as Currys. The man was supposed to seal off his man on a entry pass and failed to so he leaked out for a steal. And as far as Udoh gos I think the Warriors should give him the majority of the minutes at center this year since we are not going anywhere this season and see if he can develope into that role. If not start looking elsewhere, but Biedrins is not the answer. To weak, no moves, cant shoot free throws. If the Warriors are going to play with their small back court they are going to need someone to have an inside game. Udoh has shown glimpses of that and can shoot the free throws. Lee doesnt play inside as much as I thought he would. Honestly I would rather build on Curry then Ellis just to put that out there. Its only Currys 2nd year and hes still putting up pretty good numbers. The turnovers will get better with more experience. Smart shouldnt bench Curry everytime he makes a turnover. It will affect his game and only make him think to much instead of playing. Theres a reason Curry only averages 6 assists per game and that has to do with Ellis holding on to the ball alot. If you look at all the point gaurds in the league that have high assists like Williams,Nash,CP3 they all have the ball in their hands for most of the game. To me it seems like Smarts offensive sceems dont work well with Curry as well. They should be doing alot more pick and rolls with Curry and Lee/Udoh(get Udoh used to it).

  9. Daniel

    Sorry, Steven, I disagree…my opinion is that your examples of coach Smart being stupid are quite vague on one hand, and much too specific on the other. “Not doing his job” is extremely vague — as is off-handedly saying the Hornets were playing physical and the Warriors not matching it was “on Smart, too”. And recognizing West playing more tentatively? Okay…and which big man, pray tell, would the Warriors have used to attack West and with what arsenal of inside moves? Their best player in the post is probably a tie between Ellis and Lee, and that says it all.

    The Warriors aren’t a physical team. They aren’t close. They are a jump-shooting, fast-breaking team. They almost never play physical, because you know what? That gets in the way of jump-shooting and fast-breaking.

    And this is not even mentioning that I wonder at your sources — did you have a mic in the Warriors huddles and thus know what Keith Smart told his players to do and not do?

    What I saw is the Warriors being careless with the basketball and giving up too many open mid-range jumpshots, which, like the Spurs the night before, the Hornets were ruthlessly efficient in making.

    The Warriors team, as it is currently comprised, needs a few things to win: to force about 15-20 turnovers a game while only turning the ball over less themselves (this helps even the possessions per team, as the Warriors always give up extra possessions via the opposition’s offense rebounding), and to outshoot their opponent percentage-wise and outmake their opponent in 3-pointers (which, again, they need to offset the amount of offensive rebounds and second-chance points they give up, as well as the almost nightly disparity in free throws caused by them being poor defensively and being a jump-shooting team).

    Guess what? They didn’t take care of the ball, nor did they win the 3-point or field-goal percentage battle. Result? 9-point loss. It really is that simple, and Coach Smart telling them the right things wouldn’t have made more 3-pointers fall or the Warriors to automatically shoot a better percentage. The players didn’t execute, period.

    • Steven R

      I disagree with your assessment and here’s why. Not doing his job maybe vague, but as you can see the way the Warrior start games which is most often slow just shows that Smart does not do a good job of preparing his team for the game. How many first or second quarters of games can the Warriors find themselves down by double digits?

      Only to comeback from those deficits? Sometimes they result in wins but most often results in losses.

      David West was in foul trouble not because of any of the big men but because of Stephen Curry because he was not afraid to go at him and attack offensively, He received two fouls in that first quarter and both were on drives by Curry.

      It’s not like West is a premiere shot blocker so why not advise Curry and Ellis to attack the side of the basket that West is on?

      It was Smart who also said that things were going to change in Golden State such as playing more defense and slowing the game down a little more. The defense still has not come yet although at times there are glimpses of it.

      Yes, if Smart is wanting to change the way the Warriors play he needs to call more plays for Lee and Biedrins down low. It was nice to see Biedrins get to the free throw line and make both of them when he got fouled by Okafor.

      Yet, it’s only on rare occasions that Lee or Biedrins gets posted up. What’s the point of signing Lee if all he does is shoot jumpers?

      Lastly, if the players aren’t executing that falls on the coach! We see the same bad passes night in and night out by the Warriors and nothing changes. There were times last night where the Warriors looked great, but could not do it consistently.

    • Steven R

      I will also say this about Smart and what makes him a bad coach. Anytime the Warriors get a double digit lead and it looks like going to be a relatively easy game. Instead the Warriors stop what they have done to get the lead and let teams get back into the game. Like tonight a 16 point lead vanishes because the Warriors pick up a silly foul, get careless with the ball, and do not boxout. That’s on Smart when the Warriors get a double digit lead they have to continue to play like they did that got them the lead.

  10. bgalella

    The Warriors are who we thought they were. An erratic team that can occasionally out gun its opponent but has trouble grinding out wins in close games.

    That comes with experience, both players and coaches.

  11. Steven R

    It actually is Smart, Stupid! The Warriors should have defeated the Hornets last night, yet they didn’t come out and play. Careless mistakes in the first opening minutes set the tone for the entire night.

    First you had Stephen Curry’s classic turnover in the opening minutes that gives opposing teams points and then you have Smart with the 20 second timeout. Monta Ellis saved the Warriors after falling behind 8-0 by hitting a three and being fouled, making the score 8-4.

    What really shows the stupidity of Smart was in the first quarter though. David West picks up two quick fouls and that’s when the Hornets bench came in and the lead that grew was cut down by the Warriors.

    West comes back in during the second quarter and instead of attacking West the Warriors settle for jumpers. That’s just stupid basketball by the Warriors and by Smart, for not realizing that for the Warriors to beat the Hornets getting West out of the game was key.

    So, yes, this loss is on Smart for not doing his job and recognizing that West would have to play more tentatively with the two fouls.

    Also, the Hornets were playing physical and yet the Warriors let that effect them as well and yet the Warriors didn’t match it. That’s on Smart too.

    Sorry, but you can say that it’s not Smart, but that’s not true it is Smart!

    • Wooy

      I dont think Smart is perfect, but did you see the Hornets play? ANYBODY on that team would be on our roster!
      Their skll level outclasses ours. Simpy stated.Good Day,

      • John Wooden

        Agree wity Wooy
        Chris Paul is one of the top seven elite players in the NBA. He will not let his team lose. He will shoot more, pass more, get some steals or simply cajolee any under achieving teammate. For Christ sakes,he argues calls when they are 25 pts up, the guy lives and breathes coaching.

        Even is Dubs played well, highly doubtful we would have won. Chris will not let his team lose. And they are healthier now than when Dubs played em down there.