Just as those of us on the outside can't say if Mark Jackson did the right thing in reassigning former assistant Brian Scalabrine to the Golden State Warriors' D-League affiliate, we also aren't sure if Jackson is the right coach to lead the Dubs to the championship level they want to reach.
The Warriors' head coach has a way of confounding easy interpretation.
As Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group noted:
The fact that we can't answer with certainty is why this isn't good. Even if Jackson is correctly weeding out a divisive figure, he still takes the hit for hiring him. And for a management still not completely sold on him, it's doubtful this type of stuff produces confidence.
Jackson's decision to reassign Scalabrine isn't an earth-shattering move in isolation, but when viewed as a symbol of the embattled coach's complicated reign with the Warriors, it takes on special significance.
More importantly, it provides an opportunity to discuss the bigger issue: whether or not Jackson can take the Dubs where they want to go.
The Confidence of a Leader?
If the recent episode with Scalabrine has taught us anything, it's that one of Jackson's chief flaws is his thin skin.
He's defensive, possessed of the kind of outward self-assurance that typically comes in just two types of people: those who are so irrationally confident in themselves that they can't even process criticism, and those with such deep-seated insecurity that they're compelled to lash out when their capability comes into question.
It's hard to say which Jackson is, but we know he can be counted on to attack critics with a combination of disdain and barely concealed indignance whenever challenged.
The most recent example featured a surprising dig at one of the NBA's most respected, reliable reporters, per Ethan Sherwood Strauss of TrueHoop:
MJax: "It's poor reporting by Wojnarowski if he decided and knew this to hold onto it till yesterday. I mean, that's blockbuster stuff"— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) March 26, 2014
He also fired back at the media earlier this year after he felt his comments on center Andrew Bogut had been misinterpreted, per Steve Berman of BayAreaSportsGuy.com:
But in three years, in the 23-win season, I didn't throw anybody under the bus. And you can wait and wait and wait, and it won't happen here until somebody else is sitting here. That's not my M.O. And contrary to the choir, it won't be my M.O. I believe in every one of my guys and I'm proud of what we've been able to do. And I'll go down being me. I can't be anybody else.
I'd say that's pretty defensive. Wouldn't you?
Look, there's nothing necessarily wrong with Jackson standing up for himself. But his protestations give off a desperate vibe that more experienced, genuinely confident and secure coaches don't exhibit.
No Free Passes
And that's just it: Jackson is still relatively inexperienced.
This is his third year as a head coach at any level, a fact that should give him a little leeway—both in the media and on the court. That seems fair, doesn't it?
Unfortunately, fairness has about as much pull in the sphere of NBA criticism as Scalabrine now has in the Dubs' locker room. So the focus is always on Jackson's mistakes, of which there have been plenty.
Jackson is not an offensive innovator. In fact, he's about as bland and predictable as any coach in the league. Despite the scoring punch on hand—Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, David Lee—the Dubs offense is woefully simple, slow and, shockingly, often kind of ugly to watch.
Based on what he told Bleacher Report's Matt Steinmetz, then with CSN Bay Area, before the 2012-13 season, we should have seen this coming:
I think when you look on the floor, the weapons we have, you don't really have to be creative. Those guys can score. If you look at the great coaches or the great teams, there's nothing creative about throwing the ball to Michael Jordan on the foul line or Kobe on the wing. That's not creative. That's just some bad boys getting it done when it matters most.
True to his word, Jackson's Warriors frequently go to basic isolation and post-up sets whenever the initial action—often a high pick-and-roll or a pin-down screen designed to free up a shooter—fails. On the year, Golden State ranks just 13th in the league in offensive efficiency, per NBA.com.
Armed with a roster that features elite shooters, excellent passers and loads of versatility, that's an inexcusable result.
The knocks on Jackson's strategic work don't stop there, either.
He's also stubborn, unwilling to go away from five-man bench units that routinely surrender the starters' leads. He's in love with exploiting mismatches, especially on the block, even if dumping the ball into the post consistently bogs down whatever limited flow the Warriors offense has going.
Expectations, both for the offense and the team at large, are driven by the talent on the roster. But the front office is the one slamming down on the accelerator, which means Jackson isn't getting a pass for his inexperience—even if he probably should be.
Credit Where It's Due
Strangely, Jackson isn't getting much praise for the positive steps the roster has taken under his watch. After all, if fans and media are intent on bashing him for bad offense and nonsensical rotations, you'd think a few appreciative words for the team's elite defense would be in the offing as well.
After all, Jackson has absolutely delivered on the promise he made when hired. Per Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle, Jackson said:
We're going to be an up-tempo basketball team that is going to be very exciting. But first and foremost, we're going to be a defensive-minded team. I'm totally convinced that if you want to win in this league, then you have to defend. It's going to be a great challenge, and it's going to start from Day 1.
Golden State is third in defensive rating this year, per NBA.com.
As seems to be the case with everything pertaining to Jackson, even the act of attributing the Warriors' defensive growth to his leadership is complicated. It's easy to argue that personnel is the reason Golden State now profiles as an elite defense.
The schemes the Warriors run aren't complicated, and it's fair to point out that with Bogut in the middle and Andre Iguodala on the wing, it's almost impossible not to play stellar D.
It's unfair, but there's always a way to place blame for the Warriors' failures at Jackson's feet while giving credit for their successes to somebody else. That's been the story for as long as he's been in Golden State, which makes it easy to understand if he's feeling a little underappreciated.
Fortunately for Jackson, there's one thing in his coaching profile nobody can dispute: He has the respect and attention of his players.
It's common practice to view a coach's on-court work (strategy, substitutions, adjustments) as the best measure of worth. But it's crazy to ignore the value of keeping 15 different personalities—many of whom aren't playing as much as they think they should—tuned in.
Without question, Jackson's players are still willing to follow him anywhere. Most importantly, he has the explicit endorsement of the franchise's most important figure, per Strauss:
Steph Curry on whether he expects to have input on whether MJax stays or goes: "I hope they ask, ya, for sure. I'll give my honest opinion"— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) March 26, 2014
Curry: "We're 2 years removed from being a terrible basketball team." Credits Jackson with the transformation. "I support coach 100%"— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) March 26, 2014
In a star-driven league, support from a guy like Curry is incalculably important.
But that support may not save Jackson if these Warriors can't make a serious run through a couple of playoff rounds this year.
Is He, or Isn't He?
So ends the crash course on Jackson's credentials as an NBA head coach.
Unfortunately, a look through his shortcomings and virtues doesn't provide a clear answer to the original question: Is Jackson the right coach to get the Dubs where they need to go?
The most honest answer is probably: Not yet.
There's always a chance he'll improve with time. But the impatience of the front office, the perception that the Warriors are underachieving and the reports that he's fostering a dysfunctional environment likely mean he won't get that time.
Only being under contract for one more year after this one doesn't help, either.
Jackson's only hope is to guide the Warriors to success this season. In other words, if he can't take the Dubs to the next level right now, he probably won't get another chance.