The reason why I haven’t blogged in a while, despite massive events going down in Knickland is that this roller-coaster of a season has left me completely exhausted. It’s not that I didn’t have an immediate reaction to Mike D’Antoni’s
firing resignation that was worth blogging about. It’s just that with this season, you never want to declare anything good or bad, because in the end that always comes back to bite me in the ass. Both me and Theo made pretty clear in the end that D’Antoni leaving was the only solution. And we were probably two of his biggest supporters, in terms of wanting him to have a fair shot at playing his style of basketball with a set group of talented players over a consistent period of time. During the short Linsanity era (with Melo sidelined) D’Antoni showed what a team that buys into his system can do.
And it seemed like everybody (minus Melo) enjoyed playing for Coach D. Maybe a little too much? If your best players hate to lose more than anything in the world – like a Kobe or a D-Rose – or if the sheer impact of their game dominance – like a Lebron or Wade – is second to none, then that usually translates into the whole team lifting their play. The best players in the world are individually superior and still make their teammates better. When you have that, like D’Antoni had in Phoenix with Nash, then a laissez-faire player’s coach can work great. But when the star players don’t have this quality, and to be honest neither Carmelo nor Stoudemire possess this natural ability to lead by example and demand 100% of their teammates, then things will eventually become too relaxed and without purpose. Hell, Carmelo even admitted himself he’s been relaxing before Woodson took over, so how the hell are his teammates supposed to be held accountable if they play defense when they feel like it and not all the time?
My point is this. Clearly this group of guys needs a lot more whip than carrot. The players that management assembled for D’Antoni to coach were never right for him. That doesn’t make D’Antoni a bad coach, although it does make him one-dimensional. He never demanded defense, that’s pretty clear. And he didn’t adapt to the personnel as much as he probably should have, sticking to his system no matter what the roster looked like. I like D’Antoni a lot, he seems like a great guy, and under the right circumstances I think he could have done great things in New York. I hope he will do that somewhere else soon, and I’m sure he will. But the time to leave had arrived, and credit D’Antoni for taking the Dolan hush-hush money (D’Antoni hasn’t uttered one word about the organization since leaving and don’t count on him ever saying a word either) before things got ugly.
And with the end of the D’Antoni era, so begins the Mike Woodson era. So far, I think that Woodson has done a graceful job in taking over, showing D’Antoni the respect he deserves as a fellow coach while carefully avoiding any journalistic traps to indirectly bash his predecessor.
I’m also seeing some refreshing things on the court in Woodson’s coaching style, which I feel is a real upgrade from D’Antoni. Obviously, the defense has become much better in the 7-1 run since Woodson took over, the stats speaks for themselves on this one. Although one could definitely argue that this could come from a rejuvenation and wake-up call in general which comes with a coaching change. But what I’m seeing (to be fair via League pass, so it’s not like I’m close enough to actually know this of course) is that Woodson gets on his players when they make sloppy plays in a way that D’Antoni never seemed to.
What’s more, I really like the time-outs that Woodson are taking during crucial points of the game. I always felt that D’Antoni mostly took time-outs when the damage was already done, the defeatist kind of time-outs that just reeked of “here we go again, this is over, may as well call a time-out and say a prayer”. Typically if the Knicks were in the lead and started to show signs of lackadaisical play, D’Antoni would just let the game progress and try to let the Knick players find their rhythm again, way too often resulting in the opposition eating up the Knicks lead completely before D’Antoni took a time-out. With Woodson, I’m seeing him actually take a time-out as soon as things seem to be going in the wrong direction and actually trying to correct it before it gets out of hand. This happened in the 4th quarter against the Bucks yesterday, with the Knicks up 84-74 with 4 minutes to go. Baron Davis had a sloppy turnover which led to a Brandon Jennings fast break lay-up. Next, Davis shot an off-balance jumper on the next possession and on the following play the Bucks reduced the lead to 6. On the next possession, JR Smith threw up a missed three. Thankfully, the Bucks missed on its next possession and the Knicks had a 6 point lead and the ball with 2:55 seconds left. Normally in a situation like this, D’Antoni would just let it play out, but here Woodson called a time-out. And this is what I personally like, try to correct what’s wrong before it’s too late, rather than just rely on the free-flowing offense to eventually result in a basket. Out of the time-out Woodson drew up a play to get the ball to Carmelo (unfortunately without result) but after the time-out the Knicks were able to slow the game down and grind out a win. This is of course just one example, but I like that Woodson is trying to actually control the tempo and organize the decision making on the court a little bit more. And you have to love that defensively, the players are actually competing hard for once. As an example of this, it was nice to see Brandon Jennings finally be marginalized against the Knicks (6-22 shooting, 15 points). And I thought his comments after the game was very interesting too (a veiled shot at D’Antoni, who was coach when the Knicks passed on him): “They did play a lot more aggressively than since I been in the NBA. They just played harder.”
I think we can all agree that it’s better to win a majority of the time by holding the opponents to a low score while sacrificing a beautiful viewing experience, than to win a minority of the time trying to outscore the opponent at an uncontrolled and hectic pace? So what does that mean for Woodson, if he can keep this up? Should he stay? Since I don’t think Phil Jackson wants to come back to coach a .500 team and since Doc Rivers and Gregg Popovich are both taken, as of right now if Woodson keeps this up, I’d back him to coach the Knicks next season too. If the defense that we’re seeing so far is here to stay and not just a temporary injection, then I’m all for it.