The most stunning development of the 2013-14 NBA regular season has been the self-destruction of the New York Knicks. New York is currently 3-13, which is a stunning development considering the Knickerbockers reached the Eastern Conference semifinals less than seven months ago.
As could only be expected for a team that’s started this poorly, everyone within shouting distance can hear the Knicks searching for answers. This has inevitably led to finger-pointing, as blame must be placed upon someone when things are this bad.
If there’s one individual who’s unfairly receiving the blame, it’s head coach Mike Woodson.
Saving the Franchise
It’s astonishing how quickly Knicks fans forget what this team was before Woodson.
From 2001-10, New York made one postseason appearance and failed to register a single winning season. In that time, seven different men were head coach, including high-profile names such as Larry Brown, Don Chaney, Mike D’Antoni and Lenny Wilkens.
None of those coaches lasted. None of those coaches found a way to turn this dreadfully run franchise around.
Woodson took over a 18-24 Knicks team in 2011-12. He proceeded to lead New York to 18 wins in its next 24 games, eventually finishing the season at 36-30. That marked the Knicks’ first postseason appearance since 2004.
Despite coaching a team that’s almost as allergic to building a contender via the draft as it is addicted to over-valuing name value and ticket sales, Woodson has helped the Knicks become relevant again. Not only has he led New York to its first postseason victory since 2001, but Woodson guided New York to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time since 2000.
Sadly, I need to say this again: that was less than seven months ago.
If the Knicks had become an offensive monster that experienced success via Carmelo Anthony‘s offensive leadership, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. No matter how well ‘Melo may play, however, the Knicks’ success is not based off offense. The Knicks are all about defense.
And that’s a stunning truth.
Who Should You Blame? The Front Office
During the 2012-13 NBA regular season, the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton, Steve Novak and J.R. Smith all averaged at least 20.0 minutes of game action. With all due respect to those high-quality NBA players, defense is far from a specialty in their repertoire. In fact, defense is a weakness when it comes to those four key players.
Somehow, Woodson turned that group and an injury-plagued Tyson Chandler into the No. 7 scoring defense in the NBA.
That feat shouldn’t go unnoticed, specifically when the Knicks are attempting to develop some form of sustainability. As Woodson has developed previous defensive liabilities into an elite unit, the front office seems to be as intent as ever to find the personnel that doesn’t fit Woodson’s system.
Due to the extraordinary coaching job that Woodson managed in 2012-13, one would be inclined to believe that the Knicks would acquire players that play well in his system. Chandler and Iman Shumpert are elite defenders, but New York needed defensive depth and more shooters to cater to its heavy reliance upon the 3-ball.
The front office swung and missed.
Kenyon Martin is a valuable defensive presence, Metta World Peace is still a strong defender and Andrea Bargnani offers an intriguing element to the offense. With that being said, Martin is 35, World Peace is 34 and Bargnani is a better on-paper fit than he is an on-court asset.
‘Melo has played the best basketball of his career at power forward, mainly due to the high-percentage looks that he receives down low. Bargnani, meanwhile, is big enough to play center, but he’s a non-factor on defense who doesn’t protect the rim or crash the boards. In turn, the Knicks sacrificed a marksman for a $10.75 million role player.
Yes, I’m talking about Steve Novak.
Say what you will about Novak’s all-around game, but he was the best shooter on a team that averaged a league-high 28.9 3-point field goal attempts per game in 2012-13. In 2013-14, the Knicks rank No. 4 in 3-point field goals attempted per contest, but are converting just 32.2 percent of their attempts.
It’s fair to look at Woodson and question why he’s still designing an offense that relies so heavily on a low-percentage look. It’s just as fair to look to the front office and question why it didn’t provide Woodson with the proper personnel with the team’s approach well-documented.
‘Melo is a career 33.2 percent shooter from beyond the arc. Bargnani’s career mark is 36.0, J.R. Smith is at 36.5, Raymond Felton checks in at 33.2 and Metta World Peace sits pretty with a mark of 34.1 percent. Those are respectable numbers, but no one on that list can be classified as an elite jump shooter.
Admittedly, Woodson isn’t entirely exempt from criticism. He needs to make tweaks to fit the personnel he has. It’d be foolish to ignore what he’s already done to defy the odds in the past, however, and that’s why the idea of firing him is nothing short of obscene.
If there’s one man in New York who deserves the benefit of the doubt, it’s coach Woodson.