By John Schmeelk
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I was a Mike D’Antoni supporter. Anyone who reads this blog or my Twitter page knows that.
His offense, when run properly, produces beautiful and efficient basketball. The ball moves constantly and the guy with the open look is supposed to take the shot. There is little isolation and total team basketball. It’s the way the game was meant to be played. D’Antoni also cared about defense, despite popular opinion, and preached it constantly in practice. This team played ‘D’ in stretches this season, but at the end of his tenure it appeared both of those messages stopped getting through. The reasons why aren’t important and that’s why Mike Woodson is head coach.
There were things I missed while watching D’Antoni’s Knicks, starting with post play. Since he took over the job, and even more so since Jeremy Lin and Amar’e Stoudemire have been hurt, Mike Woodson has relied on Carmelo Anthony in the post. Granted, it’s a lot different than when the Knicks were running their offense through Patrick Ewing and Larry Johnson down there, but the effect is still the same.
To put it simply, good things happen when the ball starts closer to the basket.
In my opinion, the biggest reason for Anthony’s recent resurgence has been increased touches in the post. Whether because of injury or something else, his jump shot has been off the mark all season long. Getting him the ball in the post has made it a lot easier for Melo to get to the rim and draw fouls to get to the line. It’s something Anthony did a lot in Denver, and he looks as comfortable as he has all season long. You rarely saw post up opportunities in D’Antoni’s offense, a flaw in his system.
Against the Magic on Wednesday night, Anthony scored 25 points in just 26 minutes but even more impressive was his decision making. Once he got going, Orlando started to double team and Carmelo made the right decision passing nearly every time. The team created great synergy and ball movement out of his post touches. He also made his decision to pass or shoot very quickly, keeping the team from becoming stagnant. It reminded me of how the Knicks used to create their shots in the late nineties after forcing double teams.
The other thing Woodson has done? The team is focused on defense and rebounding. By all accounts he is preaching the same things D’Antoni did, but clearly his message is getting through much more effectively. The Knicks are playing with a passion and energy that has been absent for a very long time. They are truly a defense/rebounding-first team now, something I haven’t seen since the nineties. It has been refreshing.
When Woodson first took over I wondered whether this uptick in intensity was simply a honeymoon period rather than a real change. I’m pretty close to being convinced this is a legitimate change and a lasting one.
Woodson’s message is getting through. His methods, being much tougher with the players and getting in their faces, is what this group needed all along. Without Stoudemire healthy this team might not be able to compete for a title, but they are a lot of fun to watch right now.
It truly looks like Knicks basketball.
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Do you think “interim” should be lifted off Woodson’s title? Sound off in the comments below…