As the Golden State Warriors have turned into a dynasty over the past nine years under Steve Kerr, former coach Mark Jackson has become, for some people, a forgotten character in the story of how this all came happened. For others, he’s still very much a part of the conversation, for better or worse.
While some believe Jackson, with his stale offensive schemes and locker room mind games, was holding the Warriors back, there are others, like Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, who believe Jackson is the one who not only laid a championship foundation for Golden State, but who initially pushed the boundaries of the game itself.
“The guy who doesn’t get credit for changing the game, and this so-called evolution of the game, his name would be Coach Mark Jackson,” Thomas recently said on the All the Smoke podcast. “Now let me tell you why Mark Jackson changed the game. Mark Jackson saw a guy by the name of Steph Curry, and a guy by the name of Klay Thompson, and Mark Jackson as a coach made it acceptable, he made it acceptable, for Steph Curry and Klay to shoot from that range.
“People always shot from that range,” Thomas continued. “They just didn’t do it as part of their offensive schemes. Mark Jackson, solely, accepted Steph and Klay shooting from that distance, from that range, during crucial parts of the game.”
So here’s the deal: You’re not going to find a bigger Mark Jackson critic than me. There has been enough credible reporting to conclude that he was a pretty bad guy in that organization. His offense was atrocious only to be marginally popped up by Curry’s greatness. The guy posted up Hilton Armstrong on consecutive possessions with Curry on the floor in a playoff game. He was matchup obsessed, stubborn in all the wrong ways, manipulative and insecure.
Even the credit Jackson often gets for turning the Warriors into a defensive-minded team is overplayed. You give a lot of coaches Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala and they’re going to give you a good defensive team in return.
The bottom line is a team that won 51 games and lost in the first round in Jackson’s final season turned right around and won 67 games and a championship the first season that he was gone. If you think that happened because Shaun Livingston got added to the roster, I’ve got a lot of other things to sell you. All things considered, Mark Jackson was not a good coach. There’s a reason he hasn’t been hired since.
Now, having said all that, I will agree with Thomas on his point, which is an important one. Jackson did, unequivocally, unleash Curry and Thompson, and by doing so, he allowed everyone, from fellow coaches to general managers to fans, to see the possibilities of a new game. And 10 years later, here we are.
Acceptable is the perfect word choice by Thomas. There has always been great shooters. Not as great as Curry, but great nonetheless, and perfectly capable of shooting from great distances. But for basically the entire history of the game, a 27-footer simply wasn’t an acceptable shot. It was a shot, make or miss, that got you benched. So nobody took it. Not in a real game. And, to Thomas’ point, certainly not during crucial parts of the game.
It’s even more than the ranges, too. It’s the off-the-dribble pull-ups. Those were bad shots for the longest time, too. Shooters were catch-and-shoot guys. Whether it be a shot from 30 feet or a transition pull-up or a side-step off-the-dribble 3 early in the shot clock, shots that have always been taken to some degree but have become entirely normal, Jackson gave Curry and Thompson freedom to take any shot they wanted to take, whenever they wanted to take it.
He didn’t bench them for their mistakes. He let them play through it all, and they grew into the imaginative, fearless players that we see today largely as a result of this early freedom to experiment with their game-changing talents without fear of consequence.
So yeah, Jackson deserves credit for that. A lot of credit, actually. He saw something in his backcourt that not a lot of people saw, or if they did, they wouldn’t have been ready embraced it so fully. If Mark Jackson did anything great as a coach, it was breathing a raging fire of confidence into his guys. That is not a little thing. You pair confidence, total empowerment, with the talent of a Stephen Curry, and you better get set for an explosion.
And that’s what we’ve seen happen with Curry, with Thompson, and ultimately with the game as a whole. An explosion. Thomas is right to point out that Jackson was at least one of the guys who struck the original match.