Over the course of the next week, I will be providing a review and analysis of several head coaching candidates, as well as providing my own opinion of how they would fit in Denver. You can go HERE if you missed Part 1 about Mike D'Antoni. Today's breakdown will be on Mark Jackson.
Mark Jackson had a fairly decorated 17 year career in the NBA which included a brief stint with the Nuggets in 1996-97. He has the 4th most assists and the 28th most steals in NBA history. He made one all star game (1989) and is the only non-lottery selected player to win the Rookie of the Year award.
Jackson was head coach of the Golden State Warriors for three seasons from 2011-2014, his first head coaching job in the NBA. The team’s regular season record improved every season under Jackson including a 51 win season in 2014. He helped lead the team to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons in 2013 and 2014, the first time the organization had made back-to-back playoff appearances since 1991-92. In 2013, he coached the team to an upset series win against the Nuggets and in 2014 the Warriors took the higher seeded Clippers to seven games.
Jackson was known as a player’s coach in Golden State and he had the admiration and respect of most of the roster, especially Steph Curry, the team’s biggest superstar. His team played hard night in and night out, especially on the defensive end and Jackson demonstrated an ability to connect with most of his players. He is known to be overly emotional in the huddle and in the locker room, even frequently telling his players that he loves them. He was also known for his calm demeanor, especially under pressure, and demonstrated a unique ability to maintain confidence in his players during prolonged slumps and losing streaks.
In his three seasons as head coach, the Warriors went from a bottom five defensive rating in 2011 to a top five defensive rating in 2014. While they were exceptional on defense, their offense was somewhat robust. Possessions had a tendency to get stagnant and the offense fell into isolations far too frequently, relying heavily on the creative playmaking of Curry. Statistical evidence of this can be found in their league average ranking in 2FGM off of assists. And while the team ranked 12th in offensive rating in 2014, their offense has skyrocketed to 2nd in the league this season under the revamped, high motion offense that Steve Kerr has implemented.
While Jackson created strong relationships with his players in Golden State, he butted heads with assistant coaches and members of the front office. Jackson’s feud with assistant coach Brian Scalabrine ended with a war of words in the media. Scal felt that Jackson wasn't challenging the team enough and Jackson felt like Scal was undermining him. The bizarre story of assistant coach Darren Erman secretly recording conversations seems like something out of an Aaron Sorkin movie.
The dysfunction didn't end with the coaching staff. Perhaps most worrisome of all was his feud with ownership. At a charity event earlier this season, Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob openly criticized Jackson’s professionalism saying that there were 200 people in the organization that disliked him. Jackson responded to the comments shortly after in a sermon to his church. Jackson used the pulpit, his own twitter feed, and most recently the TNT broadcast for self promotion saying "You can’t disrespect the caterpillar by only raving about the butterfly," in regards to the credit owed to him for the Warriors success this season.
Simply put, Jackson is among my least favorite candidates being discussed by Nuggets fans and media. Jackson’s successes in Golden State seem less impressive when you look at what Kerr has been able to do with nearly the same roster. Jackson certainly had the team playing well, particularly on the defensive side, but players like Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, and Marreese Speights look like entirely new players under Kerr. And while Curry has expressed strong support for Jackson, other players like Andrew Bogut were happy to see him go. Jackson even used his platform on TNT to make subtle jabs at Bogut.
Despite having an extremely talented group of offensive players, the Warriors offense was frequently stale, not too dissimilar to the Nuggets under Brian Shaw. It’s possible that Jackson merely inherited a very talented up-and-coming team and that his influence on them was mild at best. If he led an offense that featured Curry and Klay Thompson to an average offensive rating, how bad would the offense be with Ty Lawson and J.J. Hickson?
Regardless of how you feel about him as a coach, his conflict with ownership and with his assistants is reason enough for the Nuggets to stay far away. The Nuggets have an uphill battle to fight to regain their reputation as an organization and need stability and cohesion as much as anything else. Bringing in a coach who has not only burned bridges, but done so in a relatively high profile way is more risk than he is probably worth. This season the Nuggets have been given the reputation of a dysfunctional organization. Why bring in a coach with whose reputation is the same?
Ultimately, I think the Nuggets should pass on Mark Jackson.