Mar 18, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson during the first quarter against the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
A little over a week ago the option on Knicks head coach Mike Woodson’s contract was picked up thus keeping him with the team through the 2014-2015 season. While his hiring as an assistant coach and defensive guru under then head coach Mike D’Antoni was universally lauded by Knicks fans, his tenure as head coach hasn’t been met with quite the same amount of praise.
When D’Antoni quit midseason, likely in part because Carmelo Anthony wasn’t trying very hard, Woodson took over and had immediate success. Outside of the Linsanity run, D’Antoni’s Knicks were underachieving all year but Woodson, as an interim coach led the team to an 18-6 record down the stretch to finish the year at 36-30 (it was a lockout shortened season).
The Knicks would go on to lose in five (and embarrassingly have confetti fall from the rafters as they staved off elimination in game four at Madison Square Garden) but Woodson was signed on for the long term.
Last year the Knicks had a very good regular season, going 54-28 and had the third ranked offense in the entire NBA. In the playoffs however, the Knicks went 6-6 and Woodson was outcoached in both rounds.
A Mike Woodson team stalling in the second round, he did it for years in Atlanta. The years of playoff mediocrity were capped with an exclamation point when the Orlando Magic beat the Hawks by an average margin of over 25 points per game in their four game sweep that led to Woodson not being brought back as coach.
Woodson was outcoached in the playoffs, especially in round two, but what is likely more responsible is JR Smith’s total lack of ability to play basketball after he elbowed Celtic Jason Terry and served a one game suspension.
Last season Woodson played Carmelo Anthony at the power forward and it was a brilliant move. Anthony thrived in the role, having one of the best seasons of his career, setting a career high in both Player Efficiency Rating and 3pt%, and flirting with doing the same in both Effective FG% and True Shooting %.
Woodson embraced the idea of small ball and it worked wonders for the Knicks. The team set the NBA record most threes in a season and as mentioned before, were the third ranked offense in the NBA only behind the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Woodson did make odd rotation moves too though, barely playing Pablo Prigioni for most of the season, even during the Raymond Felton injury really sticks out. In the playoffs when Smith was practically begging to be taken out and the Knicks were enjoying a lot of success when Prigioni played Woodson still refused to play Pablo more than his twenty minutes a night, opting to instead go down with JR Smith brick after brick.
What was also troubling the Knicks last year was the defense. Woodson was brought into to fix that side of the ball but ended him having a team defense ranked worse than some of those D’Antoni Suns teams.
The Knicks ranked 18th in the NBA in defensive efficiency last year despite Woodson’s allegedly great defensive coaching ability. It started with Raymond Felton’s total inability to guard point guards and Carmelo Anthony continuing his career long campaign to be known as a basketball version of the designated hitter.
Woodson wasn’t the first coach to be dealt a hand of some bad defenders though. Coaches like Tom Thibedau and Doc Rivers have maintained excellent defenses despite weak spots in their lineups.
The Knicks team defense had constant switches anytime a pick was set, allowing the other team to try and dictate the defensive matchup. The team defense also wasn’t very good with Tyson Chandler once again being praised by many because he had to defend multiple positions to clean up the mess made by some players in front of him.
This year Woodson has flirted with starting both JR Smith and Andrea Bargnani on separate occasions. Both moves seem questionable at best. Smith has thrived as a sixth man where he can be the top option on the second unit and starting Bargnani would slide Anthony to the small forward where he is a less effective player.
Picking up Woodson’s option for the 2014-15 season was warranted if only to keep him from being a lame duck coach this year. His decisions, track record as a head coach, and the Knicks success under him hardly justify any further commitment without seeing this year however.