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Golden State Warriors: The Mark Jackson Experience

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Golden State Warriors: The Mark Jackson Experience
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Well folks, we're two-and-a-half weeks into the 2012 NBA season, and it's proving to be the wild ride we were promised when the lockout ended and it was announced that 66 games would be played in a grueling 120 days. 

And if nothing else, this compressed schedule has revealed the best—and worst—aspects of each team relatively quickly. 

The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics have talented rosters, but they're older, half-court teams, which will not do them any favors when they have to regularly play three games in four days. 

The Los Angeles Clippers and Minnesota Timberwolves have young teams with budding superstars, but will it all come together in time to make a serious run in the playoffs?

And then we come to a team like the Golden State Warriors, where everything about them screams, "We're figuring out who we are and who we're going to be for a while, so don't expect any sort of consistency in our performance."

And guess what Warriors fans?  So far that's been good enough to beat the two best teams (probably) in the NBA. 

That's right.  Last night the Dubs survived in overtime to beat the Miami Heat.  That's the Miami Heat.  The same team that hadn't lost a road game this season before last night. 

And then there was that game against the Chicago Bulls, followed by another against the formerly-hyped New York Knicks, both won by Golden State when there appeared to be little hope of the Warriors competing. 

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Granted, all of these are home wins in what is arguably one of the loudest arenas to play in for visiting teams, but those are quality victories. 

And on the other hand, the Warriors lost five in a row before last night, including a blowout to a surprisingly good Philadelphia 76ers team at home, a game in San Antonio where Stephen Curry re-injures his ankle and a meltdown against the Utah Jazz in Oakland that couldn't be salvaged by a running jump shot down the lane from Monta Ellis at the buzzer.

So yes, the Warriors have some success to hang their hat on, but they also have some ugly losses—the ugliest probably being the loss of Stephen Curry to a lingering ankle injury, which will be in the back of every Warriors fans' mind for the rest of the year—and this will probably continue throughout the season. 

Which brings us to the point of the article: How is Mark Jackson doing over that nine-game rollercoaster?

Obviously the jury is still out on him as a coach, but Jackson's effect on the stat sheet can already be seen. 

After coming in stressing the importance of defense, Coach Jackson has made considerable headway in that department, as the Warriors' opponent PPG is down to 97.2 from last year's average of 105.7. 

However, getting away from the run-and-gun approach that Golden State has always been known for has also meant a decline in their own offensive output, as they are so far averaging 92.2 PPG compared to 103.4 PPG in 2010-11. 

This is obviously affected by the absence of Stephen Curry, who seemed poised for a career year when he went down.

Jackson is also getting solid play from swingmen Brandon Rush and Dorell Wright within the context of their offense, while Monta Ellis is averaging 7.5 assists and is looking like a playmaker getting his teammates more involved after the loss of Curry. 

And when you look at the roster, it's clear that this is not a finished product when it comes to how Jackson would like to mold it to fit his philosophy.  The best three players on the team—Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry and David Lee—are all offensive-minded players. 

That's not to say that Jackson would like to get rid of them for players who fit his system (although Dwight Howard trade rumors are still floating around), but when you talk about having a team that's focused on defense first, you probably wouldn't want your top three players to be guys who, in all honesty, couldn't match up with the top 10 players in the league at their position on the defensive end. 

With that said, the Warriors as a team look better defensively without a doubt.  Rush has always been a good defender dating back to his college days at the University of Kansas under Bill Self, so his addition in the offseason was an important one for what Jackson is trying to accomplish. 

Jackson at least seems to think so, as he's playing the new guy consistently at about 25 minutes per contest. 

Kwame Brown was another addition that was made with defense in mind, and he's played well in that regard, although some will always see him as the worst No. 1 pick in NBA history

Another big man who will play more of a role in the frontcourt defensively is Ekpe Udoh, who showed a lot of progress in the offseason, and it would seem that Jackson would like to find more playing time for him than what he's getting now at 16 minutes per game. 

And that seems to be one issue that is evident for Jackson: figuring out who his best rotation consists of.  This is undoubtedly difficult to figure out in a year where a shortened preseason meant less time for the new coach to evaluate his team's parts and observe team chemistry on the court. 

From rookie Klay Thompson to the maybe rejuvenated Andris Biedrins to new addition Nate Robinson, who played a vital part in the upset over Miami last night, Golden State has a lot of interesting pieces, but a lot has to go right with all of them in order for this team to have success this year.

In that regard, Jackson has to coach 'em up, as they say.  Since he has never coached at any level before this, we will see what he can accomplish this season from a player development standpoint. 

It also wouldn't hurt to have his one-two offensive punch of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry, who have pretty much put to rest the idea that they can't coexist in the backcourt, on the floor together for more than a few games at a time.

Hopefully Stephen Curry can return soon and stay healthy, otherwise it's going to be a lot harder for Jackson to find out what he can do with this team as it's put together now.

If you had to find one common theme with the Golden State Warriors this season, it's "new."  New owners, new coach, new players expected to come in and contribute in meaningful games for long stretches, even rumors of a new arena across the bay in the near future. 

What that means is this is a team in transition, a team that's trying to shape an identity, and the person that is going to have the biggest impact on that identity is Mark Jackson. 

Viewing last night's game against the Heat as a case study, it could be one hell of a ride.  After a first half controlled by Miami, Golden State went the first 10 minutes of the second half without a field goal, then they somehow managed to cut Miami's lead to 12 at the end of the third quarter.

As LeBron James started to disappear in the final quarter, what was criticized by some as a questionable signing began to pay dividends as Nate Robinson caught fire, as he's known to do, and helped the Warriors claw their way back into the game, capping it off with a free throw to tie it 93-93 with 1:44 remaining in the fourth. 

Follow that up with a couple poor offensive possessions by the Warriors, followed by situations where they had to foul to get the ball back, and the Heat were up three with 49 seconds left. No Golden State fan can honestly say that they thought the Warriors were going to win. 

But none of them would say that they couldn't win, either. 

After Nate Robinson missed a three with 39 seconds left, it looked hopeless, but then Dorell Wright gets the rebound and sinks a three to tie it.  If you follow the Warriors closely, none of this seems all that odd.

After Dwyane Wade misses a jump shot and the Warriors get the rebound and call timeout, there is a funny feeling in Northern California.  In the past fans knew what was coming, they knew what to expect. 

But a new coach means a departure from the past, and these are the moments that fans will remember when evaluating the new regime's performance. 

What happens next?  A poorly designed play, or a poorly executed play, depending on who you want to assign the blame.  Ellis holds the ball at the top of the key, killing time for the last shot.  He begins to drive right, runs into Miami's vaunted defense, goes up for the shot, realizes it will be blocked and passes to Wright, who has no time to hoist a shot before regulation ends.

At this point it's easy to say that Jackson didn't draw up a good enough game plan for the final shot.  It was also easy for fans to think that the Heat would wake up in overtime and leave the Warriors in the dust over the next five minutes.

But Mark Jackson wouldn't let that happen.

As Jackson said after the game, "There was a point, just like in life, where you can fold the tent, or you can begin to believe and fight back."

And would you believe it?  In overtime those new parts, inspired by a new coach, brought in by new owners, fought back to beat what is thought to be one of the top contenders for the NBA title this spring. 

Warriors fans believe it.  They're hungry, ready for success and after the 2006-07 team that became the first No. 8 seed to prevail against a No. 1 seed in a seven-game series, they know that anything is possible.

In what is turning out to be the most crazy, unpredictable NBA season to date, the Warriors are sure to have more ups and downs as their rookie coach figures out how to shape this team into what he wants it to be. 

An optimist would say they've showed solid effort in every game, save for a few letdowns, and the wins over the Bulls and Heat show what the team is capable of and that the talent to win now is there.

A pessimist might say that a shortened season, where everything is magnified, will work against a team like the Warriors, where a new coach and an overhauled roster means uncertainty in regards to performance on the court.

Don't be surprised if you see them lose some games like the ones they have in the first nine contests.  But don't be surprised if they pull off some impressive upsets like the one last night, either. 

As is always the case with the Golden State Warriors, it will at least be fun to watch.

 

 

Follow Mike Springer on Twitter @springtime151

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