NBA: Looking at Keith Smart's first 40 games with the Golden State Warriors

Ryan NorrisContributor IJanuary 18, 2011

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 02:  Head coach Keith Smart of the Golden State Warriors shouts to his team during their game against the Phoenix Suns at Oracle Arena on December 2, 2010 in Oakland, California. 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.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors are 40 games into their season and sit four games behind the Portland Trailblazers for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.  New head coach Keith Smart has his team at 17-23 and is in the midst of an extended run in the friendly confines of Oracle Arena.

So what do we make of Smart’s first few months as head coach?  It’s a mixed-bag, really.

Smart is no doubt engaged with the day-to-day activities surrounding the team, unlike Don Nelson’s conclusion with the Warriors.  When asked about the difference between the two coaches on the San Francisco radio station KNBR Monday, Reggie Williams pointed to Smart’s more "hands on" approach to coaching the team.  He pointed to how Smart is more likely to point out missed assignments than his predecessor, acting as a teacher and encourager.

Smart is also an entertainer.  His postgame interviews are must-see TV because he can supply funny quotes at anytime.  He looks and sounds excited and proud to be a head coach in the NBA, something Nelson seemed hot and cold about.

Through the struggles, Smart seems to have control of his locker room, and his players have continued to play for him, believing in his vision.  The cohesive, happy personalities on the team is new territory for an organization that has had disgruntled players speak out against the organization, its coaches and teammates over the last few years.

Beyond the cohesive unit, Smart has created a situation for the team’s best player to flourish into the leader it needed.  Now a more vocal leader, Monta Ellis is a serious contender to represent the Warriors at the All-Star game in February.  Ellis is third in the league in scoring behind Kevin Durant and Amar'e Stoudemire and has greatly improved his 3-point shooting and pass distribution from years' past.

It’s not all roses for the Warriors though.  It can’t be when the team is six games under .500. Smart has been inconsistent in determining his rotation.  Last week, Ellis played 48 minutes against the Lakers after battling the flu and was visibly worn down in the fourth quarter.  Williams and the quickly improving rookie Ekpe Udoh did not enter the game, with Smart opting for the trio of Dan Gazuric, Lou Amundson and Andris Biedrins.

At times he runs his best players into the ground, while others, he sits for curiously long periods of time.  One day Ellis may play 48 minutes and others he may sit for eight minutes in the fourth quarter.  This can create uncertainty in the minds of the players involved.  

At this juncture, Smart is about in the same place he was at the beginning of the season.  With new ownership came his opportunity to captain the Warriors' ship. There was a general consensus that this was to be a trial run for Smart, with a potential quick hook if things did not work out the way Joe Lacob and Peter Guber wanted it.

With the ups and downs of the season thus far, Smart seems to still be part of a "wait-and-see" period.  His team is healthy for the first time in more than two years, and there are no more excuses.  The next stretch of home games will help determine the Warriors' success and potentially, Smart’s future.