By John Schmeelk
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I know fans were not big on Mike D’Antoni when he was coaching the Knicks. I also understand that he couldn’t remain as head coach due to his frosty relationship with Carmelo Anthony. This does not mean he is not a far better coach than Mike Woodson and wouldn’t be doing much more with the Knicks talent than Woodson is right now.
D’Antoni’s Lakers are 13-16. It’s certainly nothing to write home about, but far better than the Knicks’ pathetic 9-19 record. Also keep in mind that the Lakers play in a far more difficult Western Conference and are 8-12. The Knicks are a pathetic 0-9 against the West this year. The Lakers are 5-4 against the East.
It gets better. If you think the Knicks have suffered a number of injuries this year, the Lakers’ fortunes have been just as bad if not worse. Everyone knows about Kobe Bryant’s Achilles and knee injuries. Steve Nash has only played six games this season. His backup, Steve Blake, has missed the last few weeks with a torn ligament in his elbow. Jordan Farmar, their third point guard, has missed 10 games with a hamstring injury.
Pau Gasol has been playing but has been so bad D’Antoni has called him out in the media. Gasol has gone back at him. Jordan Hill has been the team’s best big man some nights. Nick Young, the man who makes JR Smith’s shot selection look normal, is the team’s leading scorer at a little less than 16 points per game. Jodie Meeks is the team’s third leading scorer and Xavier Henry is fourth. Wesley Johnson has started 20 games for them. WESLEY JOHNSON! A lot of these players are borderline scrap heap guys and were signed on the cheap during free agency.
Yet even with that group of players, D’Antoni’s Lakers have an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) just one point lower than the Knicks. Now please hold your breath: Their defensive rating is nearly two points better than the Knicks. The teams’ net ratings are nearly identical, with the Lakers slightly ahead. With a much tougher schedule and a roster that I would consider inferior, D’Antoni is getting just as much out of his Lakers as Woodson is the Knicks.
The fact that D’Antoni is even getting his team to play better defense than the Knicks is truly perplexing. Much like Woodson, he has no rim protector, no superior defender at point guard in Nash and Blake, and very little veteran leadership on the floor. Yet somehow, he has gotten more out of his defense than Woodson has out of his. Please remember that the Knicks’ defense during D’Antoni’s final season was better than anything Woodson has done the past two seasons. Please, let’s put this narrative that Woodson is any sort of defensive coach to bed once and for all.
On Christmas Day we saw the Thunder, one of the best teams in the NBA, eviscerate the Knicks’ defense. As Tyson Chandler said after the game: “We have to get better all over the board, there are a lot of holes. If I started going over them I wouldn’t make it home to watch my kids open their gifts.” Woodson went on to question the team’s effort. Beno Udrih went on a rant suggesting that Woodson tends to hold some players accountable more than others. The wheels are coming off because Woodson is refusing to do what D’Antoni is doing in Los Angeles: putting his players in position to succeed based on their skills sets.
D’Antoni isn’t asking Young and Meeks to not shoot from deep or become defensive-oriented players. Woodson, however, wants Andrea Bargnani to a be a force on the boards against the Grizzles. He ignores the fact that Bargnani has been one of the worst rebounding big men of this era. In fairness, D’Antoni fell into this trap a bit with Anthony when he was here, but asking a player to run less isolation is far different than expecting someone like Bargnani to become Reggie Evans.
No one is expecting Woodson to have this group on pace for 50 wins with all the injuries it has had. That would be unrealistic. If the Knicks were close to the Lakers and hovering around .500, they would be in first place in the Atlantic Division and in great position to make a run at homecourt in the first round of the playoffs. Instead they have more than twice as many losses as wins and are in a complete tailspin. Their coach has done thing to stop that tailspin, and, if anything, has accelerated it.
When a team loses a lot, a lot of negative things start happening. Fingers start getting pointed. Players lose confidence. Players get frustrated. Things like consistency in lineups, treatment of players, and solid principles on defense save teams in these situations. Woodson has failed to help in any of these areas. D’Antoni has done the opposite in Los Angeles. It’s yet another example of why the Knicks need a new head coach as quickly as possible.
You can follow John on Twitter at twitter.com/Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports.
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