|Mama, there goes that really good coach. (Getty Images)|
Right after the news broke that Mark Jackson would be leaving the ESPN announcing booth and become the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, the Internet burst into laughter.
There was a time when it seemed only natural for the point guard, who finished with the third most assists in NBA history (even ahead of Magic Johnson), to take a shot at donning a suit and patrol the sidelines. He was a cerebral player who saw the angles and made teammates better. He ran offenses, called out defensive assignments, and remained effective with veteran knowhow and an acute understanding of the game of basketball.
However after his playing career, he took a seat at the announcer's table and while he had plenty of entertaining conversations with Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy, his analysis left a lot to be desired. He had catchphrases instead of perceptive breakdowns of what was going on. He became the ire of Twitter during nationally televised broadcasts because he wasn't showing the same basketball IQ he showed on the court for 17 seasons. Maybe it was unfair criticism of his announcing style or maybe it was justified, but the sentiment was strong enough to make people laugh when he went straight to the sidelines without any coaching experience.
He was trying a move that Doc Rivers had made so incredibly well. He was a player, then he was an announcer, and then he was a head coach.
Last season, the Golden State Warriors endured injuries and accusations of tanking. They traded one of their best scorers for an injured defensive big man. They were trying to avoid giving their first-round draft pick to the Utah Jazz. This was also a lockout-shortened season in which practices were as rare as multiple days off for teams. Cramming 66 games into a few months isn't the ideal situation for a first time coach. It's really not an ideal situation for any coach.
And yet, that was Mark Jackson's job. It was baptism by fire for the preacher. He took a team from the 2010-11 season that finished 13th in offensive rating, 26th in defensive rating, and 20th in net differential and didn't show any real changes or improvements.
In his first season, the Warriors had questionable lineups due to injuries and trades that resulted in the team finishing 11th in offensive rating, 27th in defensive rating, and 22nd in net differential.
They were spinning their wheels and sliding backwards.
But something happened for Mark Jackson and the Warriors. He was thrown into a chaotic coaching situation to start his career (lockout, injuries, potential tanking) but came out on the other end unscathed. He didn't get a chance to implement a lot of his ideas in the short amount of time. In the process, he got the guys to buy into what he was preaching.
He believed in Klay Thompson and showed him minutes could be had. He kept showing confidence in guys like David Lee and Stephen Curry, even when they were injured. And the organization brought in energetic rookies and key veteran players to build around a squad, which was starting to believe in what the charismatic novice head coach was telling them.
After Wednesday night, the Golden State Warriors (without Andrew Bogut) are 22-10 and off to their best start since the 1991-92 season when they also started 22-10. They're the ninth-best offense in the league, the ninth best defense and have the sixth-best differential.
Newcomers Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack are battling each other for Sixth Man of the Year. Thompson and Curry are obliterating teams on the perimeter. Festus Ezeli, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green are playing gritty, energetic basketball.
And Lee is plugging away in the halfcourt, doing what he's done for years. This time, he's doing it on one of the best teams in basketball. When Bogut comes back and brings the defensive acumen and execution he has displayed for years, the Warriors should only get better.
As long as this team stays healthy and keeps buying into what Jackson is teaching (defensive rotations, sharing the ball, taking open shots, putting the pressure on the defense, suffocating the opponent with your attack), they're going to make more noise than they already have in the first two months of this season.
You'll no longer be seeing "We Believe" from the Oakland faithful at Oracle Arena. It will be "We Expect." Because a team playing this well with this many weapons and receiving this kind of faith and trust from their coach is the kind of team fans expect to win in the playoffs.