Mark Jackson is praying for a miracle. Religiously spending his days exalting his Golden State Warriors to be just who he’s internalized they are preordained to be.
Over the course of this young NBA season, the challenges have grown as demanding as the day is long for the consecrated minister, new-age of a coach. One day finds him singing the praises of his upstart charges so unabashedly you would think he was in the midst of one of his most tear-jerking sermons, the next pitifully bemoaning their uninspired inefficiency to anyone willing to lend a gracious ear.
Such are the experiences born of coaching arguably the NBA’s most schizophrenic squad. A team skilled enough to virtually resemble Jordan’s Bulls one outing, yet spark mocking comparisons to the aimless, no-way, no-how Washington Generals the next.
But in Mark Jackson’s world, the gospel is the gospel. And in his mind his Golden State Warriors are the NBA’s version of the chosen ones. After advancing to the second-round of the 2012-13 playoffs and taking the division winning San Antonio Spurs to six games, the Warriors Western Conference rise seemed almost anointed.
“I’m finding that the guys in suits and ties want it more than the guys in uniform,” Jackson says now of his team’s humbling 2013 beginnings. “I don’t see anybody in uniform with that same passion. Enough is enough at some point. We’re going to be fine, but we have to turn this thing around, it’s as simple as that. We’re watching the same movie every single night. It gets old.”
It’s a rerun that finds the Warriors turning the ball over more than other NBA team—sans the Rockets—and a horror scene where they have allowed the league’s fourth most points per game off turnovers.
So uneven has their 13-12 start been, at times even their greatest strengths have come to represent vulnerabilities. Surefire All-Star guard Stephen Curry ‘giveth, but taketh away’ style has him third in ‘The Association’ in assists, but tops in turnovers. Even the deadeye shooting Klay Thompson hovered at under 40 percent accuracy over a recent ten game stretch.
“You’ve got to understand who we are,” Jackson told reporters. “Right now, in our lineup, there’s one ball-handler. We’ve got to do a better job of not trying to make home run plays, be careful with the basketball, and execute our offense. We’re good enough to win whether it’s home or away when we play our brand of basketball. If we do the things we’re capable of doing and play our brand of basketball then the schedule won’t affect us. We’ll win our share of basketball games and we’ll get back to who we truly are.”
In inking top perimeter defender and secondary ball-handler Andre Iguodala over the summer, the Warriors thought they had deftly added to the mix, but the versatile, veteran has already missed 12 games with a strained right hamstring. Over that span, opponents averaged nearly nine points more a game and in back-to-back losses to Houston and Phoenix the Warriors averaged 19 turnovers.
In another five game stretch in early December, Golden State fell behind by double-digits in four of those contests and later dropped a hard-fought Western Conference showdown against San Antonio at Oracle Arena where Spurs where without the Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
“That’s how good we are — that we can not play with a sense of urgency for 48 minutes, turn it on when we want to, and still be in ballgames,” said Jackson, presumably speaking tongue in cheek. “We’re going to be awfully good when we get the fact that we have to do it all game long. But you come into a good team’s gym, turn it over 20 times and pick and choose your spots, it ain’t gonna cut it.”
Far and wide, Warriors Nation is clamoring for change, chief among the ready-made suggestions being a more prominent role for do-everything, second-year forward Draymond Green, even if it’s at the expense of the more decorated Harrison Barnes or the far more experienced David Lee.
But to be an effective leader of men, Mark Jackson knows it’s as much about having faith in them as it is teaching them any of life’s most venerable lessons.
“We’re going to be a very good basketball team with what we have and guys are filling their roles, so I’m not gonna threaten guys or punish them,” said Jackson. “Players will not be going to the principal’s office if you turn the basketball over. We’ve won ball games with high turnovers. We’ve got to have game plan discipline. We’ve got to take care of the basketball we’ve got to defend at a high level.”