The NBA is a talent league. Moreso than any other sport, basketball is a simple tale of who has the best players and who plays the best at the right time.
The greatest coaches, the coaches we hail as the untouchables, the ones on the Mr. Rushmore of NBA greatness (Jackson, Popovich, Auerbach, to name a few) have all been accompanied by tremendous talent in accordance with their coaching ability.
“Any coach needs talent. You start with talent. Without talent, we’re all in the soup”
— Red Auerbach
In other words, great players make great coaches, and they’ll be the first to admit that.
With that said, not everyone can have a Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or Bill Russell. This revelation birthed the NBA Coach of the Year Award. This award doesn’t always go to the coach with the greatest conglomerate of talent or highest number of wins, but for the coach that has done the best job for that season.
While the coach that does the best “job” for a season is a subjective term determined by national sportswriters from across the country, it still is the best barometer for a coach’s success within his given situation. Whether you like that process or not, it’s what we got and unless it changes, is the greatest stamp of approval we have for a coach’s endeavors for one season.
This leads me to Mark Jackson, a coach who has gone through (unsurprisingly, it’s still the Warriors remember?) a lot in his first 98 games as a coach. In hopes of keeping the good vibes going, I won’t go into what Jackson has gone through specifically, but let’s just say it wasn’t the ideal start to a coaching career.
With David Lee and Stephen Curry inching closer towards a flight to Houston in February and chants of “MVP” beginning to peruse the crowds of Oracle Arena, the improvements and efforts from coach Mark Jackson can’t be overlooked.
Jackson’s first season was mired by a lack of talent, tremendous turmoil and tons of tanking. Thankfully, the front office wasn’t oblivious to the fact that this was a terrible basketball team last season. Management responded with savvy moves and a smart draft, and Jackson is now reaping the benefits.
Jackson was talent deprived last season, but that doesn’t mean he got a pass. His promises, substitutions and rotations were questionable at best, ridiculously incoherent at worst. Critics, pundits and fans alike were wondering if Jackson was indeed the right hire for this young, faceless franchise.
What a difference an offseason makes.
Jackson has this team playing like, well, Mark Jackson. The Warriors are playing with passion, unselfishness and most importantly, toughness. For years this team has been associated with being soft, a moniker now out the window with the additions of Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry. This team is actually playing like one continuous unit, a credit to Jackson’s coaching style. There is a sense of incredible chemistry with the guys on the roster, from the stars all the way to the Kent Bazemores, they really enjoy their company.
Jackson’s in-game coaching adjustments are still a work in progress. An area of his style that has needed the most work, Jackson is slowly progressing. Jackson has mentioned his zen-like ways when it comes to coaching, citing Phil Jackson as to why he doesn’t take more timeouts to stop opposing runs. Suspect at times, I see where he’s coming from. Learning from their mistakes is the best experience for a young team. Winning while doing so is even better.
Talent comes first, and there’s no doubt Jackson has been blessed by the sudden blend of talent that has come way to Golden State. Two new veteran leaders, three impressive rookies, an incredibly consistent forward and a healthy point guard later and you have the makings of a 22-10 beginning to the season.
Rookies are known to have their ups and downs, coaches included. Jackson had many during his rookie campaign, but those are now few and far between. That’s not say he’s perfect, of course he isn’t, but the improvement is showing. The talent is complimenting the coaching in ways no one imagined in Jackson’s second season, and for now at least, questions about his job or ability to coach at this level are put aside.
Warriors fans are well aware of the term “culture change,” both Joe Lacob and Jackson preached of this change since his hire and we’re now seeing the results. The terrifying remnants of the Cohan era are long gone as the Warriors have now fully entered the “Lacob era” of its franchise’s history.
The camaraderie and togetherness in the locker room is a sight to see. There are no “personalities” in the locker room, not one player that thinks of himself before the team or doesn’t recognize that it takes a team to win at a team sport. It’s refreshing to see, especially with a franchise so accustomed to the opposite.
There’s nothing wrong with being a “players coach” in the NBA. Doc Rivers is often regarded as being one, and even though the Celtics are looking their age now, that doesn’t take away what he did in their championship year. He had the talent, and that talent loved him. The style of coaching that Bob Knight practiced is fading. The age of zen, adapting to your players and a rather calm demeanor is rising.
These players are a collective unit, not just individual talents. Jackson isn’t Popovich when it comes to play-calling, but he doesn’t need to be for this team to win. As cliché as it sounds, this team really does believe in each other. The combination of young talent and veteran leadership has been put together perfectly by management and coached wisely by Jackson. It’s a sight to behold when all phases of a franchise are in sync and producing results, it’s even more impressive that it’s with this franchise.
Winning cures all, and this team absolutely has its flaws, but 32 games into his second season as a coach at any level, you would be hard pressed to find a better coach of the year candidate than Mark Jackson. And to think, the final piece of the puzzle (the biggest one at that), Andrew Bogut has barely played but 72 unhealthy minutes this season. You add the injury to Brandon Rush to the equation and you have a team that could be even better than what it is now.
This team went from a potential playoff team to a team that can potentially win multiple playoff series. Credit the addition in talent, but also credit the maturing of Mark Jackson as a head coach. He’s learning from his mistakes and is still a work in progress, but the befuddling mistakes that plagued his rookie stint are getting harder to find.
If the Warriors keep up this current pace, with Mark Jackson being a New York guy and being the popular figure that he is within NBA circles, there won’t be an easier decision comes awards season. This is very much a talent league, but even talent needs direction. Mark Jackson is directing this team towards a playoff birth, and at this point in the season, that doesn’t seem crazy at all.