Sitting at 41-25, the Golden State Warriors are in the middle of one of their best seasons in two decades. By going 9-7 over their last 16 games, they have the opportunity to reach 50 wins for the first time since 1993-94, and also to put up back to back seasons with 47+ wins for the first time since 1975.
After winning a playoff series and last year behind the scintillating performance by Stephen Curry, expectations were extremely high for the Warriors. They had added one of the premier defenders in the league in Andre Iguodala over the offseason and many predicted they would finish in the top half of the Western Conference. However, the season hasn’t gone how fans and media anticipated. Although they are 16 games over .500, they are still in the sixth spot in the difficult Western Conference, and having home court advantage in the postseason seems unlikely.
Naturally, because of the perception of underachievement, someone has to take the blame. For the most part, head coach Mark Jackson has been that scapegoat. From confusing rotations to a lackluster offense (currently 12th in offensive efficiency), Jackson has received tons of criticism from fans and media alike. If one dares to go onto Twitter after a disappointing Warriors game, Jackson is almost always the one getting blamed for the loss, regardless of player performance. The question is, how much of that criticism is justified?
One of the biggest complaints about the Warriors this year has been how poorly their offense has looked at times. With talented offensive weapons like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and David Lee, the perception is that this team should rank higher than 12th in the league in offense. They have a tendency to fall in love with isolations, which can kill the flow of the offense and results in four players standing on the perimeter as one player goes to work.
However, as poor as the offense has looked, this may be in part due to the roster makeup. While overall the team has struggled, the starting unit of Curry-Thompson-Iguodala-Lee-Bogut has an offensive efficiency of 114.5 (per NBAwowy.com), which is nearly five points better than the league leading Miami Heat. The main drag on the teams overall offense has been the lackluster bench for most of the season.
Before the acquisition of Jordan Crawford and Steve Blake, there was no real backup point guard to lead the second unit. Toney Douglas was never going to be able to lead the offense, and Kent Bazemore was forced into a role of a point guard that he was never comfortable in. This led to the Warriors having one of the worst benches in the league, and plummeted their offensive efficiency.
However, since Crawford and Blake have arrived the bench has looked revitalized. Up until their dismal performance against the Los Angeles Clippers, they had averaged more than 40 points per game coupled with more than nine assists per game. This had resulting in back to back blowouts against the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks, two teams the Warriors are fighting with for playoff positioning.
Even with the bench improvements, Jackson does deserve some criticism for the lackluster offense we see on a nightly basis. It is extremely frustrating to see the team result to isolation post-ups when the team if filled with such willing and able passers, and you can’t help but think that a better offensive-minded coach would result in improvements.
One of the biggest complaints about Mark Jackson this season has been his reliance on “hockey substitutions,” or replacing all five starters with five bench players. These had slowly been disappearing, as he had often been leaving Klay on the floor with the bench, but since the acquisition of Steve Blake, they have started to make a comeback.
A perfect example of why fans have been critical of Jackson’s use of a “bench mob” is Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers. With three minutes left in the third quarter, the Warriors had a four point lead when Jackson subbed in Jordan Crawford for Klay Thompson, resulting in a bench lineup of Steve Blake-Jordan Crawford-Harrison Barnes-Draymond Green-Jermaine Oneal. In the remaining three minutes of the quarter, the Warriors got outscored 9-0, turning a four-point lead into a five-point deficit. Even then, Jackson stayed with the bench unit to start the fourth quarter, and the Warriors found themselves in a six-point hole before any starter touched the floor again.
This is just one example of how the bench mob has been used this year and why it has frustrated fans. While it makes sense that Jackson is trying to maximize the time his starters get to play together (they have the best +/- of any 5 man lineup in the league), sometimes it comes at too great of a cost. Staggering lineups would give them the opportunity to ease some of the pressure on the bench units and may result in less runs for the opposition.
For all of Mark Jackson’s faults, he still has this Warriors team in a place they haven’t been in some time. As mentioned earlier, they are on the verge of back-to-back seasons that haven’t occurred in nearly 40 years, and he has successfully transformed the culture and perception of this team.
For years, the Warriors were known as a fast-paced, fun team that ran on offense and tried to simply outscore you, not slow you down. The perception of the Warriors around the country had been shaped by Nellieball, Run TMC and the We Believe Warriors of 2007, who bombed threes and didn’t play much defense.
Now, even with what Mark Jackson calls “the greatest shooting backcourt of all time,” their identity is found on the defensive end. By almost every defensive metric, the Warriors are a top-3 defense this season, and number one in the Western Conference. The addition of Andre Iguodala and a healthy Andrew Bogut have a lot to do with that, but Jackson does deserve a lot of credit for getting everyone to buy in and run the system he has implemented. From the first day that Jackson took the job, he said that this was going to be a defensive-minded team and he has transformed this team to just that.
The perception of a player’s or coach’s performance is greatly influenced by the expectations coming into the season. Because the Warriors haven’t found their way to the top of the Western Conference as fans were hoping, they have jumped on Mark Jackson as the reason why this hasn’t occurred, and he deserves a fair share of the criticism.
However, the truth is that the Warriors are at a place where they haven’t been in some time. It appears that they will make the playoffs for the second consecutive year, and in the bloodbath that is the Western Conference, anything can happen. The Warriors have already proven that they can beat the best teams in the league, and if they can make a deep playoff run then all of this will be forgotten. However, if the Warriors don’t make it out of the first round, expect a lot more Mark Jackson talk over the offseason.