Mike Woodson has undergone some sort of devolution this season, from master and commander of a dominant Knicks team to a wrecking ball, hurdling the Knicks towards inevitable destruction.
The above is an exaggeration, of course, but such is the view Knicks fans have had of Woodson through the course of the Knicks’ first 61 games. The truth lies somewhere in-between both radicals; Woodson began the season coaching brilliantly on both ends of the floor, and has lately been doing, quite frankly, a poor job of coaching a team with a number of problems. Some of those problems do not necessarily reflect Woodson’s coaching. Woodson, for instance, has nothing to do with Steve Novak and Jason Kidd missing wide open 3-pointers; he cannot physically force players to communicate on defense or run hard to close out on a shooters. Woodson also can’t help the fact that his team just keeps getting injured.
Or can he?
This is the topic that has had media and the Knicks’ fanbase up in arms since last night’s embarrassing 92-63 loss to the Golden State Warriors. Down double-digits in the second half, showing no real signs of fight, Woodson kept the Knicks’ two indispensable stars, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, on the floor far longer than he should have. Anthony, visibly laboring in his first game back from a knee injury and providing little effort or help on either end of the court, remained on the court, moving at half-speed, awkwardly, unable to defend David Lee, incapable of punishing smaller defenders like Klay Thompson. Chandler, though he was playing fine and providing a much-needed service for these Knicks, was kept on the floor and later brought back into the game for what reason? A comeback attempt was futile, and it seemed Woodson was simply running up the odometers of his two most important players on the opening game of a tough, important Western Conference swing.
Likewise, one has to wonder if Woodson’s increase of Amar’e Stoudemire’s minutes led to the power forward’s eventual demise. Stoudemire, who was on a very strict, 30-minutes-maximum limit played three straight games of 32 minutes, 31 minutes, and 29 in his last three games before it was announced he’d need to undergo knee debridement for the second time this season. With the increased minutes, Stoudemire played wonderfully in the three games, posting averages of 20 points per game on 53% shooting, with 7.6 rebounds per game, and 1.3 blocks per game. Now the Knicks will likely be without Stoudemire’s services for the remainder of the regular season, and perhaps the playoffs, too. Prior to the announcement that Stoudemire would need surgery, Woodson was asked about breaking the 30-minutes cap on STAT. He simply replied, “oops.”
Other key Knicks’ players are playing extended minutes, too. J.R. Smith is averaging a career-high in minutes; Tyson Chandler is above is career average in minutes per game; a soon-to-be 40-years old Jason Kidd is playing nearly 28 minutes per game. This makes Woodson’s insistence to play the likes of James White or Kurt Thomas over Pablo Prigioni and Chris Copeland puzzling, too. Woodson continually starts James White at the small forward, only to be play a designated, production-less six minutes before inserting Smith. Pablo Prigioni, though usually not a huge factor to the team’s success, has seen his minutes fall off in recent weeks, despite the relief he could bring Kidd. And Chris Copeland, though a non-factor on defense (as could be argued with most of this Knicks’ roster, really), could provide a scoring punch to the team, but Woodson refuses to play him except for in garbage time.
With Stoudemire and Rasheed Wallace out, and Marcus Camby ineffective in small minutes and likely still on the mend, Woodson will be forced to play Kenyon Martin a decent amount of minutes. This, too, will likely lead to health problems for Martin who hasn’t played NBA basketball since last May. Too many minutes, and there is a chance that Martin’s body will wear down in the same fashion as Wallace’s.
As mentioned, some of the Knicks’ problems are not directly Woodson’s fault. Though he installed a poor defensive system that allows way too much switching, Woodson cannot actually make the Knicks stop switching every time players cross paths. The regression of Smith, Felton, Kidd, and even Anthony’s shots are also not Woodson’s fault, as their high early-season percentages were bound to decrease as the season wore on.
However, it’s undeniable that Woodson needs to make adjustments to straighten out his team. As Eastern Conference teams like Miami, Indiana, and Brooklyn have begun to make surges towards the top of the standings, the Knicks’ hold on the #2 seed looks flimsier and flimsier. Heavy minutes, a questionable rotation, and increasingly ineffective game plans have the Knicks looking quite vulnerable to drop a few places in the standings.
I believe Mike Woodson has the ability to turn it around given just a bit of luck, but to do so, he must get out of his own way to help the team.