Finally, Basketball is Back in the Golden State
For the last five or so years, I’ve been embarrassed to say I’m a Golden State Warriors fan. The team has been nothing short of atrocious, making the playoffs only once in my lifetime, despite a number of high draft picks. But this year is different; the team is off to a torrid 15-7 start, and for the first time in a long time, I’m genuinely enjoying their brand of basketball. I believe that number of factors have led to Golden State’s success, namely a coaching change that brought an entirely new mentality to the team.
In the past couple of years, the Warriors changed coaches, as Don Nelson retired and Mark Jackson took his place. The legendary Nelson retired as the league’s all-time winningest coach, so one would assume his leadership and experience would help the team. This, however, was not the case, as Nelson shaped the Warriors to fit an antiquated mould, “small-ball” or “Nellieball”, which sported small, quick lineups meant to score and not defend. While this offense-only mentality provided high-scoring contests, the majority of the league could trod over the Warriors and their virtually nonexistent defense on any given night. Nelson brought in personnel to fit his system, so the Warriors were full of small, quick players, and lacked height and grit. The team was consistently near the bottom of the league in rebounding, and showed no signs of improvement. Nellieball left the Warriors as nothing more than mediocre, with no real chance for improvement. Perhaps the biggest positive from this Nelson era was the stockpile of high draft picks, a few of which (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes) are starters for the team.
Mark Jackson is quite possibly the polar opposite of Nelson. He was a short, scrappy point guard, and brought a new identity reflective of his playing style to the team. The team now has a more cohesive defense, and has added true big men through trades (Andrew Bogut), free agency (Carl Landry), and the draft (Festus Ezili) that have solidified the paint. Even without Bogut for much of the year, the team has a newfound confidence that I haven’t seen since the last playoff run. I attribute this largely to Jackson’s intensity and energy, as he seems to do a great job managing and caring for his players, something that the aging Nelson seemed to neglect. Competitive spirit and confidence runs throughout the team, as bench players like Draymond Green and Charles Jenkins do a lot of little things, like diving for loose balls and helping defensively, that the team lacked under Nelson.
Many say that coaches are merely scapegoats, and that players run the league. To them, I say, watch the Warriors under Nelson and Jackson, and observe the effect that coaching style has on a team and its players.