The New York Knicks overachieved in the 2012-2013 NBA regular season. Unfortunately, by most people’s standards they underachieved in the post-season. New York Knicks Head Coach Mike Woodson has a proven record of regular season production and steady improvement but has consistently hit a hard ceiling in the second round of the NBA Playoffs. Can the New York Knicks ever seriously contend for a Eastern Conference Championship with Woodson leading the way?
In Atlanta, Woodson took his team from 13 to 26 to 30 to 37 to 47 and then finally to 53 wins in 2009. What else could you ask for in terms of regular season improvement? In 2007, they lost a hard fought 7 game series to the heavily favored Boston Celtics in the first round. In 2008, they got past the Miami Heat in the first round in seven games but then ran into a LeBron James buzzsaw in round two en route to being swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers. In 2009, they ran in place. They beat the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games in round one and then were swept again in the second round, this time by Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic.
Since taking over for Mike D’Antoni in New York, Woodson has posted a 72-34 regular season record. He has done this while dealing with a collection of both injuries and roster shuffling, making it an even more impressive record. Nobody can fault Woodson for having the Knicks lose 4-1 to Miami in the playoffs last year, considering they were down to Mike Bibby at point guard and had Amare Stoudemire’s hand-gate to deal with. This past season the Knicks won 54 games, more than anybody expected, locked down a #2 seed…the highest anybody could have expected but then were bounced out in the second round by the Indiana Pacers.
Woodson’s other second round losses were to teams who were clearly better than his team. The fact that they were so uncompetitive was troubling. They were swept and the majority of games were complete blowouts. The average margin of defeat in the Cleveland series was 18.5 points and in the Orlando series was a staggering 25 points (including 43 and 30 point losses). It is one thing to lose but it is another thing to get consistently run off the court and outclassed at that level.
Indiana is a very good basketball as evidenced by their seven game series with the Miami Heat. Yet, from a talent perspective the Knicks had every reason to believe they could prevail in a competitive series. They didn’t. They lost in six games. Two of the games they lost by double digits and one of the games they won, Indiana was without their starting point guard George Hill. It was plainly apparent that Woodson was out-coached by Frank Vogel. Woodson made a foolish decision to start Kenyon Martin in Game 4. He inexplicably limited the minutes of Chris Copeland until later in the series, despite his ability to stretch the floor and keep Roy Hibbert out of the paint. Pablo Prigioni was also criminally underused despite his ability to help the Knicks offense get good looks, in a series they desperately needed them against an elite defense. The series was frustrating because it didn’t feel like the Knicks gave them their best shot and Woodson was a big part of that.
Injuries forced Woodson’s hand into small-ball this past season. He doesn’t seem to have a natural embrace of it, despite it clearly being the best approach for the Knicks to take with their current roster. Will Woodson play to his team’s strengths this upcoming season, allowing them to maximize their regular season production? Will he then navigate his roster more effectively if/when his team reaches the second round of the playoffs against a likely superior opponent?
The NBA is a player’s league. The Knicks aren’t getting out of the second round unless Carmelo Anthony’s supporting cast plays better. Yet, they need Woodson to help that cause, not be a hinderance to it. He may only have season left to prove that he can help put this team over the top.