Posted December 04, 2013

Mike Woodson deserves some blame for Knicks’ dreadful start, but not all of it

Mike Woodson, New York Knicks, Rob Mahoney
Mike Woodson's Knicks have limped to a 3-13 record. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Mike Woodson’s Knicks have limped to a 3-13 start this year. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

With the losses mounting for the 3-13 Knicks, it was only a matter of time before Mike Woodson’ job security came into open question. Such was inevitable after New York dropped nine straight games to claim the worst record in a historically terrible division and joint ownership of the worst record in the entire league. The dysfunction of the Knicks organization and the blinding glare of the coverage surrounding the team demand a source for immediate blame, and Woodson is both a convenient target (as all NBA coaches are) and far from inculpable in the team’s tailspin.

From that flittering doubt came the predictable trickle of replacement rumors — shots in the dark should things go even further south. With Woodson still fighting to get his team its first win since November 13th, Jeff Van Gundy has already been explicitly linked to a hypothetical opening, albeit in the least substantial way possible. Putting aside the fact that Van Gundy has said in the past that he would not replace a fired coach in-season, the occasion inspired Van Gundy to respond outright to the circulating rumor. From Peter Botte of the New York Daily News, who transcribed a portion of Van Gundy’s appearance on ESPN Radio Wednesday morning:

While the latter of Van Gundy’s comments seems a bit colored by the fact that he often goes out of his way to protect and support his coaching peers, there’s merit to the notion that Woodson’s work is among the lesser of the Knicks’ problems. It’s true that Woodson hasn’t done a particularly good job of putting his players in positions to succeed, whether through curious rotation choices or his continued reliance on odd bits of strategy. His unconditional commitment to J.R. Smith is perhaps strangest of all; Smith is unabashedly shooting 33.1 percent from the floor while impeding the Knicks’ offensive flow and efficiency, and yet he remains one of the few bulletproof members of New York’s rotation.

Ultimately, though, Woodson has done a poor job with an imperfect roster. Tyson Chandler has missed the last 12 games, Raymond Felton has been in and out of the lineup with injury and generally out of sorts, and Smith — though so vital to the Knicks last season — has been so bad as to warrant suspicion of sabotage. There are elite coaches who could make the most of those circumstances, but should Woodson be held accountable for failing to provide an exceptional remedy?

Your answer to that question likely depends on which facets of the game you believe coaches should be held accountable for in the first place. On-court effort? Woodson’s players have generally played hard (on offense, anyway), they just haven’t played particularly well or cohesively. Lineup decisions? Woodson’s oft-criticized starting lineup — in which Carmelo Anthony moved back to his customary small forward spot — has actually been among the Knicks’ better five-man units for the season. The greater problem is that most every lineup saddled with Andrea Bargnani or Amar’e Stoudemire at center has been so explosively bad that it undoes whatever the Knicks have been able to accomplish in their better moments.

For minutes at a time, New York is capable of moving the ball effectively or stringing together bits of adequate defense. But stretch this injured, ill-equipped roster out over time, and things get messy. More messy than you’d probably expect at 3-13 with one of the five worst pace-adjusted point differentials in the league, but it’s not as if New York’s travails were totally unexpected once Chandler went down. The bigs playing behind him are in no position to anchor the Knicks for consistent minutes, and in that Woodson’s team endures a now-inescapable flaw.

It’s on Woodson that he hasn’t at all been able to help his team compensate — that he continues to let Smith run amok at the expense of Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni, that he continues to rely on a baffling, switch-heavy defense despite employing defenders with a poor feel for those principles, and that he doesn’t do enough to get the offense in motion before setting up Anthony. All of that and more rests on his shoulders, and I’d suspect he grows weary under the weight. But flawed coaching is very different from fire-worthy coaching, particularly in light of all the good Woodson did for a similar roster last season. Patience surely runs thin in New York, though at the moment it seems odd to distinctly blame the foreman any more than the architect, the craftsman any more than his tools. All are to blame, even if it’s Woodson’s job that winds up as forfeit.

8 comments
fitennis
fitennis

KenKing, you're exactly right.  Woodson showed himself to be a crappy coach while in Atlanta. The Knicks organization showed complete stupidity by hiring him. Idiots!

geoAZ
geoAZ

Disagree !! comparing Bargs and Amare on defense is ridiculous. Bargs can actually play 5's and help out inside, the defense, with him in the game, falls apart when he's asked to switch to PG's outside the 3-point line, leaving the rim unprotected. Amare 's "D"- no such thing, he should be bought out and "Thanked" warmly and sincerely for his service. Woodson's rotation, "switch-all" defense, allows offenses to pick the match-ups and does not work !! It's more Woody than it is the roster !!

BryanCauthon
BryanCauthon

I don't think Wwodson can coach but this Knicks roster stinks. Without Tyson they have no one interested in playing defense. Carmelo is the second best Reggie Miller on the planet (Kobe is #1). Carmelo, Kobe and Reggie can only win you games by scoring-they don't play defense, rebound or make any else better.

P0is0nedKoolA1
P0is0nedKoolA1

As a diehard Knicks fan since '92 I have watched the NBA from the best to the worst team & Woodson is terrible. All he has ever done is give the ball to his best player and let them shoot them in or out of the game. He draws up Defenses well, but that's it. 

Knicks of last year was a mixture of vets like Kidd & Kurt Thomas setting the tone for the locker room & the ball movement that has NEVER been a part of Woodsons game plans.

Now the Knicks look like a typical Woodson offense. Isolation plays, no penetration, lots of 3s chucked & the star never getting the hook. JR Smith & Melo just shoot without impunity. 

Fire Woodson, get the 2010's Marbury , aka Carmelo Anthony out of NYC & let's rebuild. Melo is selfish anyway & is going to leave at the end of this year. He's already alluding to this in his post game interviews. 

Get a high draft pick or a young lion we can build around for Melo. Then bring in Phil Jackson to finish his career how he always wanted to & that's in NYC. Tell owner James Dolan to STFU & count his daddy's money & we'll be golden.

Thanks

DSM
DSM

Oddly, although they have done little for their new teams, the Knicks miss Steve Novak's shooting and JKidd's leadership

KenKing
KenKing

Woodson was a firing worth coach prior to this season.  That would be why he was...fired...in Atlanta. He changed nothing from his boring predictable ISO offense when he came to the Knicks. Does a team really need a coach, if the game plan - each and every time down the floor - is to give the ball to the highest plaid player then stand and watch? Can't we get Whoopi Goldberg for that? Or Jackie Moon?

Bearsclone
Bearsclone

@P0is0nedKoolA1 When your best player is Carmelo, then "give him the ball and let him shoot it" is more or less what you're required to do.    It's a players league.  If you're not running a system that accentuates your star player, then you're not going to be the coach, and the only thing that really accentuates 'Melo is if you clear the floor out and give him the ball, because the dude is not trying to pass or do anything except shoot.  If this was the late 90s or early 2000s with all the isolation ball and man to man D, Melo would be a God, but it's not, and he's not.

And by the way, Phil Jackson is not walking through that door.  He does not want to coach any more, period.  He wants to be a personnel/GM type like Pat Riley. 

Face it, the Knicks just need to tank it this season and hope to get lucky in the lottery, just like every other team in the East except Miami and Indiana (and Brooklyn, since they traded their pick to Boston...)

KenKing
KenKing

@Bearsclone @P0is0nedKoolA1 They can tank all they want. It just benefits Denver, who has their  2014 pick from the Carmelo trade.  In fact, the Knicks do not have a first round pick next year, either.