Earlier this off-season, Golden State Warriors’ assistant coach Mike Malone left the franchise to become head coach of the Sacramento Kings. Malone was among the more celebrated assistant coaches in the league, known for X’s and O’s creativity and a commitment to hard work. Earlier this summer, I wrote a summary of how Malone changed the Warriors for Blue Man Hoop.
Now we are left to wonder whether the Warriors can maintain their offensive and defensive innovation without Malone. Every season, NBA teams add new tactics and techniques, forcing other teams to adapt or face a competitive disadvantage. Recently, the Warriors have stayed on the positive side of cycle. Four out lineups, high three-point usage, a pick and roll centered scheme, and several unique plays such as the Elevator and Corners sets have helped the Warriors succeed offensively.
The innovation for which Malone receives the most credit, however, is a defensive strategy. As this article at Hoop Chalk details, the Warriors re-designed their pick and roll defense to best complement the roster’s skills and weaknesses. After the disaster that was Keith Smart’s hard-hedge system, the Warriors switched to an “Ice” oriented pick and roll strategy. (For those not familiar with the Ice/Downing strategy, this post at Fear the Sword contains an informative breakdown.) By Icing the pick and roll, the Warriors lightened the near-inept David Lee’s defensive responsibility and were able to keep Andrew Bogut in position to protect the rim.
While Malone’s presence may be missed, I do not think his departure will have a drastic effect on the team. The Warriors have one of the highest paid coaching staffs in the league, a progressive front office, and a developing statistics department. Many changes were credited to Malone, but that may be a product of the sports media desire to place singular credit and singular blame on group activities. It is likely that the entire coaching staff contributed to the Warriors’ progressions.
Though it is never beneficial to lose an innovative thinker, the changes to the Warriors’ culture have been completed. For years teams have been hiring the San Antonio Spurs‘ top coaches and executives yet the Spurs have been able to maintain consistent performance from this group, largely because of their stable ownership, head executives and head coach, and seemingly innovative culture. Though through history the Warriors have failed in those regards, with Kirk Lacob, Bob Myers, and Mark Jackson, the Warriors may be able to replicate the Spurs consistent success despite losses.