There has been a lot made recently of the Warriors underachieving season so far. This is a team many though would be in the top half of the west after their playoff run last year, and they are clearly in a win-now mode after signing Andre Iguodala to a big deal in the offseason.
But this season has not gone as planned, and the first person to receive the blame anytime a team struggles is the head coach. That is why Mark Jackson has been ridiculed and put on the “hot seat” in the past few months.
Now, the Warriors have underachieved, and part of the blame certainly falls on Jackson, but is there really a case that this man should be on the chopping block if the Warriors season ends in an unruly fashion?
To answer this question, there are multiple factors to be considered.
A huge consideration has to be given to the competition that the Warriors have faced. The Pacific Division used to be a laughing stock of the league, but this season things have changed immensely. The Portland Trailblazers and Phoenix Suns have made major progress, and the Los Angeles Clippers could be considered one of the top five teams in the league. Simply said, in their division, it’s a dogfight.
They rarely have an off night, and for a team that is still progressing, consistency is the last thing to come. They have the talent to win almost all of their games, but it hasn’t been an easy road so far.
Outside of the division, it doesn’t get much better. The West is stacked with quality teams. The Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs are co-favorites to win the conference, and the Houston Rockets have perhaps the best guard-big man combo in the game. Throw in teams like the Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, and Minnesota Timberwolves, and the West is clearly a really-really tough conference to play in. Winning 50 games might not get you into the playoffs.
Over in the East 50 games will get you a home court and a low-level opponent. It’s practically a first round bye.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, they play in the West. That means playing against players like Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Damian Lillard, Tony Parker, Dwight Howard, Lamarcus Aldridge, Eric Bledsoe, Tim Duncan, Anthony Davis, James Harden, Blake Griffin, Dirk Nowitzki, and Marc Gasol.
Anyone of them can take over a game on any given night, and most of the contending teams have two players on that list. Stephen Curry is certainly on that list, but he is pretty much the only one on the team that can take over a game. Klay Thompson, David Lee, and Iguodala would all be on a second tier list of studs, but the mentioned players are all decidedly first lister’s.
Contending with that is no easy feat, especially when the game can be one by one player. (Example: LeBron vs. W’s a few nights ago)
Aside from the high level of competition, three other things that have led to an increase in Jackson’s seat temperature. They are the midseason injury to Iguodala, the slump of Harrison Barnes, and the way-too-high expectations of the Warriors regular season record.
The Iguodala injury is huge. They essentially replaced two players from last year with him when they signed him. Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry were shown the door so Iggy could move in and become the team’s glue guy. He was brought in to do the little things that every team needs to win, and to give Curry some relief ball handling duties.
While that was a good plan and Iguodala has played well, the depth of the team was hurt by his acquisition. That much was shown by the Warriors dip in play while he was out.
People may say he wasn’t out that long, but every second he missed was crucial to this teams future success because he is a new player.
Getting acclimated takes time, and in his first season he needs all the time he can get with his new teammates. Him missing even a smidgen of time takes away from the chemistry that could be developed with him on the floor. This stuff matters, and the injury definitely set the team back a few games.
As for the slump of Barnes, this one is pretty simple, he needs to play well for the Warriors to play well, and he hasn’t played well. Is this a surprise? Well, kind of, but it probably shouldn’t be. The sophomore slump is sort of inevitable, at least for non-superstar players. While Barnes is good, he’s no superstar, and his numbers are reflecting that right now.
Barnes still has a lot of potential, and the Warriors shouldn’t trade him for anything less than a bunch of draft picks and semi-star, but his poor play is something the Warriors don’t have room for. (See lack of depth, above) He needs to play above his age and above his inexperience for the Warriors to have a better regular season record.
Barnes will still be around next season barring any irrational moves, but he hasn’t helped his coaches’ chances with his play.
Lastly, not leastly, probably mostly, is the high expectations for the Warriors regular season record this year. Do people remember that this was a 6th seed last year? That’s not exactly elite. The year before that they weren’t even in the playoffs. Those two facts alone provide the context of what the proper expectations for this team should be.
They are still climbing their way out of the gutter, and while they have a lot of potential, NBA games are not won on potential, they are won on ability.
So, while this team has the potential to go on a tear and win the Larry O’Brien Trophy, their ability is probably more in line with a second or third round exit. They just simply are not there yet, which is understandable considering they have young players like Barnes and Thompson counted on to be main cogs in their wheel. Give them another year and then we can talk about them becoming a two or a three seed.
Ultimately, Jacksons handling of his players hasn’t helped his cause. But last I checked Stephen Curry hasn’t said any discouraging words about his coach. Curry’s the star, voice, and hope of this team. So until that happens, Jackson deserves at least one more year to see what he can do with this team.
Its not time for Warriors fans to turn on the man that coached them to a playoff series win last year, at least not yet.