With the Warriors off to a 20-0 start under interim head coach Luke Walton, a popular topic of discussion has been who deserves credit for the historic start. Coaching-wise Luke Walton and Steve Kerr both defer, crediting the other one, while the NBA has split the baby by officially crediting the wins to Kerr but naming Walton the Western Conference Coach of the Month.
But Stephen “Screamin’ A” Smith has a different candidate in mind. In a radio segment that you really ought to listen to—even for Stephen A. his rant is passionately over the top—Smith offers up some revisionist history of the Warriors’ success. He believes that Mark Jackson—who hasn’t been a Warriors employee for 20 months—is really the one who got the Warriors to 20-0.
Smith begins by praising Walton and Kerr for being such good people, trying to justify the ludicrous things he’s about to say, before describing Mark Jackson’s role in turning around the terrible team he inherited. Which is partially true! Jackson did a good job helping the terrible Warriors to the playoffs, though I would argue that the owner who remade the franchise and the front office who rebuilt it deserve more credit, but reasonable people can differ on this. More importantly, nobody has ever denied Jackson this credit.
He then begins raving about how the Warriors offense requires no coaching:
YOU GONNA TRY AND TELL ME THAT LUKE WALTON GOT SOMETHIN’ TO DO WITH STEPH CURRY PULLING UP FROM 30? YOU’RE GONNA TRY TO TELL ME THAT’S PLAYING CALLING WHEN STEPH CURRY LOOKS AT DRAYMOND GREEN STANDING TO HIS RIGHT, LITERALLY DRIBBLES AND JUKES GUYS, GOES TO DRAYMOND GREEN’S LEFT, IGNORES DRAYMOND GREEN, BOOGIES ON TWO DUDES, GOES BACK TO HIS RIGHT, STEPS BACK, PULLS UP A THREE. OH THAT’S GREAT COACHING BY LUKE WALTON AIN’T IT? THAT’S REALLY TOUCHING! REALLY? REALLY? DO Y’ALL KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT BASKETBALL?
The funny thing here is that this is actually an example of great coaching, yet Stephen A.—who covered the Sixers for over a decade—doesn’t recognize it. Kerr (and Walton) have designed an offense where Green is an effective escape valve in case Curry is pressured, resulting in opponent’s having to choose between guarding Curry straight up or having Green lead a 4-on-3.
Back when Jackson was the coach, Curry would somewhat frequently get double-teamed and forced back towards halfcourt, nowhere to go. In fact, Jackson was a poor offensive coach, never figuring out how to get a team featuring three supremely talented scorers (Curry, Klay Thompson, David Lee) and three more superb passers (Green, Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala) to be any better than the 11th best offense in the league.
Smith goes on to criticize Jerry West (really?) and claim that there are players on the current Warriors squad that they wanted to trade that Mark Jackson put a stop to. If true, it’d be quite weird that this was first reported by Smith two years after the fact, and not by one of the reporters that covers the team daily. And besides, the Warriors front office culture is prized for valuing input from everybody and encouraging disagreement: Jackson disagreeing with West about something would be evidence of the system working as intended.
He then screams—screams!—about how good Draymond Green is, and offers up proof that it’s because of Mark Jackson in the hug Green gave him after winning the NBA Finals. While Jackson did give Green minutes early, to say anything more than he gave him an opportunity denies Green his deserved credit for vastly improving his game each offseason. It also ignores the fact that the biggest growth in Green’s game came last season, when he was inserted into the starting lineup over an injured David Lee, a move some Warriors fans clamored for but Jackson never made.
Smith proceeds to again argue that the Warriors don’t need any coaching, and posits that it was Jackson that got them to that point. Which is insane! It’s insane! How can he possibly think that Mark Jackson was such a good coach that the Warriors could just roll the ball out there and go 20-0, yet while the brilliant magician who was actually the coach was still around he couldn’t get them more than 51 wins?
Finally, Smith gets to the crux of his rant, which is his anger that Jackson hasn’t gotten a look at another head coaching position while Walton is being touted as a future head coach and Billy Donovan was given a job. Which ignores, of course, the fact that Walton hasn’t actually gotten any coaching offers yet, or that Billy Donovan is entirely deserving of a shot to see if he can be an NBA coach after winning two NCAA championships.
Smith positions himself as the brave truth teller, ascribing Jackson not being a coach while Walton is praised to racism, saying it “pisses black folks off.” Smith has a point, but he’s far from the first one to make it, and certainly is the least eloquent one to do so. Here is my former blog co-editor (in a piece I helped edit) writing about it. Here’s the dean of the Warriors press corps, Marcus Thompson, with an incredibly well-written piece on the topic.
The reality is that while race played a role in Mark Jackson’s firing, it was far from the only—or most important—consideration. For instance, Jackson hired the least competent staff in the entire NBA, and was so insecure he wouldn’t let them give interviews. The year after he was fired the only assistant of his that had a job in the NBA was Darren Erman, who was fired by Jackson for recording a meeting in the midst of a power struggle. A few weeks later, just before the playoffs, he all but fired assistant Brian Scalabrine for having the temerity to challenge him.
For all the players who seemed to love Jackson (Curry, Green), there are others that clearly chafed under him, like Harrison Barnes and especially Andrew Bogut. Jackson wasn’t a bad coach by any means, but by the end of his tenure with the Warriors he’d slammed his head up against the ceiling of his abilities. He relies more on man-management and inspiration than tactics, which is great when coaching a bad team filled with talented youngsters. But it’s harmful when that team enters the near-elite and needs innovative strategies to topple their opponents. He’d probably be a decent coach for the next three years of the 76ers, or perhaps the post-Kobe Lakers.
In all walks of life we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, and that’s true of Steve Kerr and Luke Walton too. But to say that Mark Jackson deserves more credit than either of them for the Warriors’ current success is an obvious fallacy, and farcical to anybody who has observed the Warriors over the past five seasons.
Stephen A. Smith is caping for his friend instead of offering cogent analysis, which I suppose is better than his usual tack of saying shit just to make people mad instead of offering cogent analysis. I’ll give it to him, though: the yelling is quite entertaining.