By John Schmeelk
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Before I unleash my frontal assault on Knicks head coach Mike Woodson, I admit the following.
The roster is flawed (though not so flawed this team could not win 54 games last year). Injuries, especially the loss of Tyson Chandler, have made it much tougher to win basketball games.
James Dolan is a mettlesome owner that makes it harder to manage a roster for any coach.
But with all that said, Mike Woodson is a walking contradiction and has said things in his post game press conferences this year that are either illogical, lies, or downright false. He has coached the Knicks to this terrible 3-8 record, and has a large role in it.
I asked a question to the Knicks fans that follow me on twitter following the Knicks loss to the Wizards, hoping to get an answer from one of the die hard and overly optimistic Knicks fans I count among my 4000 followers. I thought I might have been missing something. The question: “Is there one thing this Knicks team does well?” Other than the sarcastic (but also accurate) I didn’t get one. As Carmelo Anthony pointed out after the game, this team has no identity and Mike Woodson is still searching forone. In other words, this team is lost with no direction as to where they are going and how they are supposed to get there. That’s on the coach.
What the hell was Mike Woodson was doing for the month-plus he had this team in training camp and the preseason? I realize Amar’e Stoudemire wasn’t on the floor, nor was JR Smith, but the vast majority of the Knicks rotation was. For Mike Woodson to still have no idea who can play well together and who can’t is unforgiveable. His constantly shifting starting lineup has done nothing to help this team find any sort of continuity. All preseason, the three man front court of Tyson Chandler, Carmelo Anthony and Andrea Bargnani was an epic disaster yet he ran it out there opening night.
It has been obvious since day one that playing Anthony and Bargnani together at power forward and small forward doesn’t work, yet he continues to do. Last year, the Knicks played their best basketball going small, and often playing two point guards with Pablo Prigioni. For some reason Mike Woodson runs away from those lineups again and again. I’m not going to waste everyone’s time by breaking down all those numbers again because we’ve seen them a thousand times but they are startling and true.
So you think if Mike Woodson didn’t figure out his own personnel in the preseason, he at least installed some basic defensive principles the team could lean on during the year right? Nope.
In game eleven of the regular season, and after more than 15 including the preseason, Knicks players are still routinely looking at each other after a simple ball screen like someone just asked them to explain how the atomic bomb works.
The pick and roll is the simplest play in basketball, but the Knicks still don’t know how to guard it. The only thing they do relatively consistently is switch, which often puts something like Andrea Bargnani on John Wall. As you might have guessed, this normally doesn’t go well. The point guard either scores, or the Knicks rotate poorly when they help and give up an open three or layup. It is like clockwork. Yet, the coach continues to do it. He actually thinks it works!
It’s a problem that dates back to last year, when the Knicks were dismantled by quick and explosive point guards again and again. This leads to the first Mike Woodson paradox.
He said earlier this year that he thought the Knicks guarded the pick and roll well last year. I watched nearly every minute of every Knicks game last year, and I know for a fact the opposite is true. Stats from various outlets support my opinion.
Other far more talented and connected NBA writers have written about it too. The Knicks head coach literally believes the exact opposite. He is living in a fantasy world of his own making.
So are those people that still consider Mike Woodson a good defensive coach, and unfortunately many in the Knicks hierarchy can be counted among them. The Knicks were a mediocre defensive team last year, and worse than they were in Mike D’Antoni’s final season as head coach. They are one of the worst teams in the sport this year, and would probably be where they were last year if Tyson Chandler was healthy.
When he was in Atlanta, his teams were rarely better than average defensively. You need to be a top ten defense to win a title and there’s no reason to believe Mike Woodson can get this team there.
Eve more frustrating, Mike Woodson (despite his reputation as a defensive coach) continues to make decisions that sacrifice defense. Last night in his postgame press conference, he said he wanted to go defense in the fourth quarter. Yet he had Amar’e Stoudemire out there with Carmelo Anthony and Andrea Bargnani, three of the team’s worst defenders. Then he took out Pablo Prigioni for Beno Udrih. He also had their best perimeter defender on the bench, Iman Shumpert (despite the fact John Wall and Bradley Beal was killing them) for JR Smith. His words and actions are completely contradictory.
The other narrative is that he holds players accountable. Does he really? JR Smith had knee surgery without permission and got suspended for drug use, so naturally Mike Woodson inserts him right into the starting lineup when he returns.
There are rarely any playing time consequences for all the terrible shots he hoists up (he led the Knicks in minutes last year). Woodson never sits a player down (expect Iman Shumpert) for mental mistakes, especially on defense, no matter how bad the error is.
Saying something to a player is one thing, but accountability means a player paying for a mistake with something that matters to him: minutes. I would like to see a player, one of the Knicks best players, get yanked from a game for a defensive lapse once. ONCE! Remember when Jeff Van Gundy would yank all five starters off the floor at once because they were playing so poorly? How about that?
The Knicks actually had most of these problems last year, especially on defense, but their top three offense covered up all the flaws. Mike Woodson has managed to screw that up too, by refusing to go with a small lineup and use two point guards. Raymond Felton’s injury and poor play has hurt things on that end but the coach hasn’t helped either.
He finally found a lineup where Andrea Bargnani was effective, by playing him at center, but the last three games he has gone away from that by inserting Kenyon Martin into the starting lineup.
The Knicks defense is still awful, and now their offense is mediocre too. There’s no teamwork, ball movement or continuity. There are rarely screens set away from the ball, movement, or plays with multiples passes. This team doesn’t do one thing, not one, well right now. There’s no foundation. That’s on the coach too. That’s why this team is 3-8.
I’m not saying this Knicks team would be championship caliber with a different coach, but with the Nets struggles and Derrick Rose’s injury they could be the three seed in the Eastern Conference.
Either one of the Van Gundy’s could get them there, and maybe even someone like Lionel Hollins. Unfortunately, would any of these guys be willing to work for James Dolan? And is Dolan willing to let go Mike Woodson? It is an endless cycle for the Knicks that doesn’t look to be getting better anytime soon.
You can follow me on twitter for everything Knicks, Giants, and New York sports at twitter.com/schmeelk.