Can Woodson Make Bargnani a Better Defender?


Feb 13, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) attempts a shot over Toronto Raptors center Andrea Bargnani (7) during the second half at Madison Square Garden. The Raptors won the game 92-88. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Woodson had a reputation of being a defensive guru when he was hired by the New York Knicks. Head coach Mike D’Antoni was known for not caring at all about defense so Woodson was hired to take care of that side of the ball. Since then the Knicks have become a below average team, culminating with an 18th ranking in defense efficiency they posted last year.

The Knicks have three players on the team who most fans would agree are above average defenders when healthy, Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, and Kenyon Martin. Luckily for the Knicks three of their worst defenders, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Andrea Bargnani, also play down low. The Knicks could babysit them with Chandler or Martin to ensure the area by the rim isn’t basically an automatic points area.

What if one of those three could be turned into a good defender though? Anthony has made it abundantly clear that he enjoys being a DH of sorts so he is out and Stoudemire is just lost on defense so that leaves Bargnani.

Can he be saved?

Of Anthony, STAT and Bargnani, Bargs saw his team get worse defensively by the largest margin when he entered the game.

When Stoudemire has you beat in a defensive stat that is a troubling sign.

The Knicks usually play smaller lineups, meaning Bargnani will almost always be asked to play power foward or center. This has been a problem for Bargnani since he is notoriously soft and has seemingly no idea how to play low post defense. Players of much less stature have treated Bargnani like a dummy defender at their pro day who just needs to stand there.

As stated before, Woodson’s track record with the Knicks is hardly a good one, with his defense last year ranking below some of those D’Antoni Suns’ defenses.

Of the top ten defensive players who played at all for the Knicks last season (according to the defensive rating metric) all ten were established good defenders in basketball, with only Pablo Prigioni not showing it off in the NBA.

The players one would expect to do so, Anthony, Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, and Chris Copeland were among the players in the bottom seven.

If nothing else this suggests that Woodson relies on his better defenders to defend rather than getting his lesser defenders to defend better. This can be somewhat explained away by those players just being awful defenders and that Woodson expects his NBA players to know how to defend when they get to the NBA.

Regardless of why it happened though, it was evident last year that the lesser defensive players on the Knicks weren’t really improving. Couple that with the bad team defense despite a proven defensive anchor in Chandler, and it is odd why Woodson even has a reputation as a defensive coach.

It is unlikely that Bargnani, Anthony, or Stoudemire will improve defensively this year because that’s not how Woodson coaches. He doesn’t have a Tom Thibodeau or Greg Poppovich quality team defensive plan to mask the flaws of specific players. Though, that is not really a knock on him, those coaches are as elite as they come in the NBA.

Knicks fans should hope that Bargnani plays with the second team and plays against other bench players on a nightly basis, thus making his lack of defensive ability less impactful.