Are Mark Jackson's Game Management Skills Holding Golden State Warriors Back?

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 9, 2013

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 4:  Mark Jackson of the Golden State Warriors looks on against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on November 4, 2013 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

When the Golden State Warriors handed their head coaching reins to Mark Jackson in 2011, the former player-turned-broadcaster reached deep into the sports cliche bag.

Jackson was mum on any systematic switches he'd make, but that wasn't for a lack of talking. He lobbed out a playoff prediction. He promised to change the culture, the same way all newly hired coaches do.

He spoke in intangibles, swapping his trademark catchphrases from the broadcast booth for rehashed soundbites of the coaches that came before him. The X's and O's talk never came. There were some rumblings of transition offense and adopting a defensive mindset—elementary coach speak.

Had his media background convinced him to not tip his hand in front of the microphone? Or did his lack of a coaching background cost him key developmental strategies in game planning and management?

If the latter is true, are his Warriors now paying the price for those missing pieces?


Crucial Collapse

The Warriors added veteran Toney Douglas to the mix this summer to bring defense and three-point shooting to their backcourt.

They were not asking him to be Stephen Curry. Not by a long shot.

But with Curry sidelined by a bruised ankle—the left one, not his twice surgically repaired right one—Douglas tried to fill the sniper's spot during a bout with the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 8.

Douglas did a remarkably convincing Curry impression. He led all scorers with 21 points, shooting 5-of-9 from beyond the arc. Yet, he was of no more help to the Warriors than Curry in the game's final three minutes. Douglas was pulled at the 2:58 mark of the fourth quarter and never returned.

Golden State fans wondered what had happened to the hot-shooting Douglas. At least one person in the building, though, wasn't sad to see him go:

There are no must-win games in November, but if there were, this would have certainly qualified. Not only could the championship-hopeful Dubs have added an impressive notch to their resume, they could have exorcised some demons in the process.

San Antonio ended Golden State's postseason run in last season's Western Conference Semifinals. The Warriors haven't won a regular-season game inside the Alamo City in their last 30 tries, a stretch that dates back to Bill Clinton's presidency (1997).

This game could have been different. Despite a woeful shooting night, the Warriors had multiple chances to steal a win.

Jackson shouldn't shoulder all of the blame for his team's scoreless 2:23 stretch to close out the contest. He worked Klay Thompson into a favorable matchup, as the Splash Brother had Spurs center Tiago Splitter isolated at the top of the key with an almost vacant left side of the floor to exploit.

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Panic sirens were blaring in San Antonio:

Rather than create something off the dribble, though, Thompson opted to launch from somewhere just inside the AT&T Center parking lot. The shot, like so many before it, clanged off the back iron.

The Warriors next possession was even more of a mess.

Jackson put the ball in Andre Iguodala's hands on the left wing. Thompson was flanked further to the left, Harrison Barnes was on the right side, Andrew Bogut stood a few feet back of the free-throw line and David Lee occupied the right low block.

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A couple different problems here from the start.

Thompson's not far enough into the corner, so his man has a short enough distance to protect against the drive and still close out on the shooter. Neither Iguodala nor Bogut is a shooting threat from that distance, so there's no reason to crowd a screen should Iguodala break around Bogut.

Iguodala opts to bypass the screen and drives to his left. But Bogut's man is already near the basket, as is David Lee's. Iguodala can either take a contested runner over two defenders or dish back for a low-percentage shot from Bogut.

He opts for the latter.

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Lee could've knocked down that shot had he switched places with Bogut. This was—to put it politely—a tad outside the 7-footer's scoring range:

Thanks to an equally inept Spurs attack and two missed free throws by Tony Parker, the Warriors had one final chance to even the score or leave with a win.

Jackson went back to an Iguodala isolation, although this one had a different look.

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There are parts of the setup that I like. Moving Iguodala closer to the center of the floor gives him driving options to either side. The shooters are also better placed, so they're an easy scoring threat if their defenders cheat.

But what in the world is going on under the basket?

Bogut and Lee are basically stacked on top of each other. Neither one can do damage because the other's defender is also right in his face.

Beyond that, though, why are both of these bigs even on the floor together? Jackson had the chance to get another shooter out there—cough, Douglas, cough—but opted to pack the paint, all but ensuring a crowded path in front of a driving Iguodala.

Iguodala, of course, drove to that same side of the floor, and it was an easy contest for Tim Duncan.

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Iguodala is the Warriors' best slasher. He's shooting 50 percent on his drives this season, via

But forcing him to double-clutch around the outstretched arms of the 6'11" Duncan might fall under the umbrella of cruel and unusual punishment. More importantly, when Iguodala's attempt danced around the rim and out, this game officially fell under the (bad) loss column.

For a team with true title hopes—and a raucous home crowd—giving games away isn't something the Warriors can afford to do.

With Jackson calling the shots, how many more of these crippling collapses should the Warriors expect?


So, How Bad Is It?

I'm not a doctor, but I've seen enough medical shows on TV to know that the best way to handle this kind of thing is just to give it to you straight.

It's not as bad as it seems.

Sure, this was a game the Warriors would love to have won. Not only was it a measuring-stick matchup against a Western Conference power, it was also their first real test of the season—their first five outings were all decided by double digits.

But this was also a game in which they threatened a 2013 NBA Finalist without the services of their best player. The Warriors showed plenty of heart and integrity, those same intangibles Jackson promised to bring upon his arrival.

There were some coaching blunders at the most inopportune times. But Iguodala isn't Jackson's closer; Curry is. Jackson might have struggled to find a capable replacement, but he put his undermanned team in a position to have that problem.

Golden State was actually a good team in close games last season. The Warriors were 5-3 in games decided by three points or fewer in 2012-13 and 27-17 in single-digit affairs.

The fears over losing assistant coach Michael Malone, Jackson's supposed X's and O's specialist last season, were a bit exaggerated. Even after this misstep, Golden State's plus-13.2 net rating (via still stands as the league's best.

None of this happens without Jackson at the helm. Title hopes (!) are mere pipe dreams if the pastor's still discussing grown-man moves from the booth.

He's still getting used to this new cast of characters and has a revamped coaching staff to help through the process.

Things like this take time, even if the Warriors' strong start might suggest otherwise.


*Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of and