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Schmeelk: Mike Woodson Is An Early Candidate For Coach Of The Year

Carmelo Anthony and Mike Woodson (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Carmelo Anthony and Mike Woodson (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

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By John Schmeelk
» More Columns

Over the past month, I’ve written a number of articles dishing out credit to nearly every Knicks player for their early success.

The three-point guards have moved the ball. J.R. Smith has obviously matured. Ronnie Brewer has made Iman Shumpert’s absence much more palatable. Rasheed Wallace has backed up Tyson Chandler admirably. And, of course, Carmelo Anthony is playing a much more complete game and is a legit MVP candidate. Without Anthony the Knicks would be nowhere — the same place they would be without Mike Woodson.

The Knicks’ head coach has done a number of things this year that deserve a ton of recognition:

- He decided that the starting combination of Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd could work, and it has perfectly. This is one of the reasons that the Knicks’ ball movement has been so strong.

- After the injury to Amar’e Stoudemire, he decided to go small, and Anthony has played extremely well at the power forward position. The team has taken a hit on the boards, but it doesn’t counteracts the offensive advantages of the small lineup.

- He has managed the minutes of the older players while still giving them an opportunity to contribute. It is delicate to keep veterans happy, but at the same time do what’s best for the team. The Knicks are a very deep team, and from game to game minutes can be very limited for certain players. No one on this team has complained one iota. Keeping the locker room happy and committed is a sign of a good coach.

- He got through to Smith, clearly getting him to be more serious about the game and approach basketball as a professional. Smith is more committed to defense, rebounding and passing than I’ve seen before, and his shot selection has improved as well. He is a legit Sixth Man of the Year Award contender.

- He has gotten Anthony to play like an MVP. I’m sure much of this has to do with Anthony’s experience in the Olympics, but Woodson deserves his share of the credit, too. He is putting Anthony in positions to succeed, getting him the ball in the post often. Woodson has not fallen in love with the isolation, which Anthony loves but which he is less efficient with. Going back to April of last year, Anthony has been putting forth a better effort on defense, and he is acting like a leader in practice.

- Much like Anthony, he has gotten the entire team to commit to defense. This has been lacking in New York for quite a while, and the message seems to have gotten through. There has been some slippage lately, but the game on Thursday against the Heat will be a huge test.

- He has done all this without Shumpert, Stoudemire and Marcus Camby.

Perhaps Woodson’s greatest challenge — re-integrating Stoudemire into the team once he returns from his knee injury later this month — is yet to come.

If Woodson can pull that off then he deserves serious consideration for Coach of the Year.

Not everything is perfect. I don’t like his last-possession play calls so far this season. The team switches too much on defense, particularly Anthony, rather than fighting over screens. But he has provided a great foundation for this team to build on and perhaps embark on a serious playoff run.

Schmeelk’s Snippets

- I don’t want to see Felton or Kidd play major minutes against Charlotte on Wednesday night. They need to be saved, rested and healthy against Miami. I want to see Pablo Prigioni play a minimum of 25 minutes tonight. He is good enough to beat the Bobcats. A big lead late would be helpful to give all the Knicks some serious rest before meeting the Heat on Thursday night.

You can follow me on Twitter here for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.

Is Mike Woodson an early candidate, or is it just too early to say? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…