Without a doubt, the Golden State Warriors have been one of the most exciting teams to watch in the past decade. Now with the addition of first-time coach Mark Jackson, all eyes will be on the Bay Area to see if the latest iteration can win over fans in the same manner of those in the franchise’s past.
At the apex of Nellie Ball, the Warriors managed to pull off one of the bigger upsets in playoff history when they defeated the Dallas Mavericks as an eighth seed in the 2007 playoffs. Back then you could almost guarantee 110 to a 120 points on a nightly basis with the likes of Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson lighting it up from long range, and Jason Richardson powering home dunk after dunk. The problem at the time, however, was that the opponent usually cracked 130.
That was then, and unfortunately the same problem still lingers now, even with the departure of Nellie Ball just over a year ago. While defense is still the biggest technical problem for this squad, some even bigger ones loom on the horizon. All of those problems begin with Monta Ellis and end with Stephen Curry. It’s Mark Jackson’s job to come up with the answers.
Though it would be naive to expect the backcourt duo to guide the team to any legitimate success, barring any significant trades or free agent signings, management hasn’t done much to help them out. Apart from their deft selection in 2009 of the aforementioned Curry, and the absolute steal of Ellis in the second round of the 2005 class, the Warriors “draft capability” seems almost non-existent. It was way back in the 2003 Draft when the Warriors last drafted an impact player, and that was Mikael Pietrus, and he was only an impact role player in that incredible 2007 run.
Injury-plagued Andris Biedrins is a worse foul shooter than Ben Wallace and can’t keep himself healthy, Anthony Randolph is the biggest mystery in the league and Ekpe Udoh might have a solid, journey-man like career in him but little more. To their credit, they’ve never selected higher than seventh during that eight-year span, but that’s not to say that they didn’t pass on some big time talent in the process.
In Mark Jackson, they’ve found the man best-suited to fix the ailing Warriors franchise.
During his three-year stint as an analyst for YES, ESPN and ABC, Jackson has called almost all of the biggest games from his broadcast chair with intense and fiery passion. As a basketball player, and point guard he was no different, and is simply one of the best the game has ever seen. His 17-year career holds many highlights, one of the biggest is that out of those 17 years, he made it to the playoffs 14 times. Out of those 14 times you can easily make the case for 10 of them that his team doesn’t make it if it wasn’t for him. Hell, even the Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. New York Knicks ESPN 30 for 30 documentary doesn’t come close to being as epic or heroic if not for Jackson. He’s also the third all-time assist leader behind the lofty likes of John Stockton and Jason Kidd. With all of that experience in running a club on the floor, Jackson is going to have to figure out how to work best with what he’s got as a coach, and the best is Curry. Often deemed the Bay Area Hoops Savior, Curry is the future of this team, and Jackson knows it. With a future as bright as almost any other player in the league, and the slow, yet seismic shift in the Sunshine State, Jackson knows that he has to give Curry the keys to the car and let him drive.
Herein lies the big problem, can Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry, and Mark Jackson co-exist? Will one of the best point guards in NBA history allow his best scoring option to “poison the well” of his extremely talented young point guard? If you know Jackson in the slightest, the answer is no. The biggest piece to this jigsaw puzzle is Ellis, who in his own right has been an all around star for the Warriors, leading the team in points per game, minutes played and steal. He’s also made it a habit of being amongst the league leaders in all of them (not to mention tattoos of trees). Unfortunately, he is also a major reason why this team is constantly finishing out of the playoff picture.
He’s been a poor leader for the struggling franchise, leading the team in turnovers per game with the lowest three-point percentage to boot. Ellis constantly pounds the ball into traffic, takes ill advised jump shots in big situations, and despite his steal totals, or maybe because of it, plays some of the worst man defense in the league. This all equates to inevitable sideline frustration for Jackson as he struggles to cope with the quandary. With all knocks considered, the Warriors need Ellis to be every bit the scoring threat he has been over the past five years if this team has any chance of playing meaningful basketball in to October. What they also need, though, is Curry to flourish as a player and a leader.
With Ellis around, that might not even be possible, unless of course Mark Jackson can find a way to finally put Ellis in to his place. The question is, in his first year on the sidelines, can Jackson be that man? If the experiment doesn’t work, one of them will have to go.