When NBA legend Phil Jackson accepted the Knicks offer to become the president of the organization, he was committed to winning. In fact, when he first took the podium on March 18th, he started his speech by addressing his desire to create a winning culture in New York. He stated he wants to build a team, and that “the word ‘team’ doesn’t have the letter ‘I’ in it.” Now, just over a month into his new job, he has made his first big move by firing everyone on the coaching staff.
Woodson, who just wrapped up his second full season, third overall, as the Knicks head coach, had been on the hot seat all year. That seat got too hot, and he got burned. The Knicks finished with a subpar 37-45 record, and missed the playoffs just a year after winning 54 regular season games. It was not a single person’s fault, especially not the coach, but the move to get rid of Woodson was one that had to be done by Jackson.
The first reason for this is the poor defense that the Knicks put on display consistently throughout the season. New York was 24th last year in defensive efficiency, which measures the points allowed per 100 possessions. Out of the 16 playoff teams, only two were outside of the top 16 (Brooklyn and Dallas). The combined record of teams who finished behind the Knicks in defensive efficiency was 149-343 (.434), and not surprisingly, none of those six teams are competing for the championship.
Injuries to Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton did not help the cause, but the Knicks were struggling with the fundamentals of defense – which is absolutely inexcusable, especially at the NBA level. New York had trouble determining when to, and when not to switch on defense, and it enabled opponents to get uncontested looks at the hoop. Opponents shot 37.1% on three-pointers against the Knicks this year, the fourth highest percentage in the NBA.
Another reason for Woodson’s departure was the lack of a system. If there is anything Phil Jackson loves, it’s a good system. After all, he was the mastermind who used the triangle offense to win 11 NBA championships as a coach. However, Woodson never established a system in New York. No one can truly classify what kind of team the Knicks were this past year. In 2012-13, they were classified as a team that took, and made, a lot of threes, but this year, they lacked an identity.
One crucial mistake Woodson had continuously made, even during the successful 2012-13 season, was not utilizing all of his players. In 2012-13, it was Chris Copeland who was glued to the bench, and this past year, it was Metta World Peace and Beno Udrih. In fact, Woodson’s stubbornness to change his rotation prompted both vets to buy-out of their contracts.
Udrih is now proving to all basketball fans that he deserved minutes, especially on the faulty Knicks, with his performance in the playoffs thus far. In the Grizzlies first three playoff games, Udrih is averaging over 14 minutes per game, and has been a key player to their success. He is shooting 67% and averaging 9.7 points per game. His ability to spark Memphis’ offense has helped them take a 2-1 lead in the series. While Udrih is on the court, Memphis is outscoring the number two seed Oklahoma City Thunder by 20 points.
The next two reasons why firing Mike Woodson was a step in the right direction for the Knicks go hand-in-hand: isolation ball, and crunch time.
When the Knicks were in a position to win games, New York usually failed to finish on top. Late in games, the Knicks offense was stagnant, the player movement stopped, and it forced a player, usually Carmelo Anthony, to take a bad shot after wasting time being isolated.
Isolation was 13.42% of the offense ran by Woodson this year, according to Synergy Sports. That is way too high considering they were only 12th in points per isolation possession in the league, at 0.85.
At the end of games when the Knicks were either tied, or down by a single possession, they shot 20%. That was bad enough for third worst in the league. Anthony and the rest of the squad have the poorly run offense – err, rather, isolation, to blame for their late-game woes.
With Woodson, along with assistant coaches Jim Todd, Darrell Walker and Herb Williams all gone, the next step for Jackson & co. is to find the new guys to replace them for the 2014-15 season.