A month ago Phil Jackson was brought into the position of President of the New York Knicks in order to revitalize a franchise under great scrutiny after a dismal 2013-2014 season. The first step to fixing this team has been taken, as head coach Mike Woodson has been fired along with the rest of his coaching staff. However, is Mike Woodson all to blame for the Knicks issues?
The Mike Woodson era is over, much to the delight of many Knicks fans, but also many view him as the scapegoat in this entire process. In order for Woodson to have had a chance to keep his job, he would have had to do the near-impossible in taking a team that was brutal to watch, and probably to coach, back into the playoffs and possibly win a series. Given the recent struggles of the Eastern Conference’s number 1 seed Indiana Pacers, many believe the Knicks would have had a chance against them in the first round. But that’s neither here nor there, because the Knicks dug themselves a hole they couldn’t climb out of and failed to make the post season after three straight years of playoff berths.
Let’s not forget, Mike Woodson was generally liked by New York fans and players from the end of 2012, when he was hired as interim head coach, until the beginning of this season when the Knicks started the season 3-12 in the first month, which included nine straight losses from November into the start of December. Upon removing the interim tag and becoming the head coach, Woodson led the Knicks the 54 wins and a division championship in 2012-2013, their first in nearly 20 years. The Knicks also won their first playoff series since the 1999-2000 season. High expectations loomed coming into the 2013-2014 season and ultimately everything came crashing back down to earth for the once beloved head coach.
Beyond the win/loss column and playoff success, Woodson was credited for revitalizing the career of J.R. Smith. Smith was scrutinized often throughout him time with the Denver Nuggets for being immature on and off the basketball court. Under Woodson, Smith had his best season finishing with a 6th man of the year award in 2012-2013. Ultimately I think we can all agree that Smith is immature and that will never change, but regardless, he has to credit Woodson for making him the player he has become on the court simply by giving him a chance to play heavy minutes.
Mike Woodson was dubbed a defensive guru upon being hired to Mike D’Antoni’s coaching staff, but ultimately that was proven false over time as the Knicks finished tied for 18th in defensive efficiency in the 2012-2013 season and 24th in defensive efficiency this past season. Of course part of this is personnel, but Woodson isn’t blameless. Woodson allowed his players to switch on defense often and that left big men defending quick slashing guards and guards defending big men in the paint. Ultimately a recipe for disaster on the defensive side of the ball. However, it wasn’t only defense, but inefficient offense at crucial times which troubled the team as well.
Mike Woodson’s offensive system was predictable and very stagnant, especially this past season. The Knicks were by far the most isolation-based offensive unit in basketball and it wasn’t just Carmelo Anthony. We had Amare Stoudemire post-isolation’s, J.R. Smith perimeter isolation’s along with high-post Anthony isolation’s. When these guys were hitting everything was well, but ultimately Smith didn’t get hot until late in the season and Stoudemire wasn’t even given consistent minutes until mid-to-late season rolled around.
The second part of the team’s struggles on offense was entirely too many perimeter jump shots; the Knicks’ guards hardly every attacked the rim (At times Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler off pick & rolls, and Amare Stoudemire gave the Knicks’ an inside presence). Players like J.R. Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr., Iman Shumpert, and even Raymond Felton (given his struggles throughout this season) had the ability to attack and finish at the rim and ultimately settled for three-pointers.
Beyond the inefficiencies on both sides of the ball, it can be argued thatWoodson lost the team. When veterans Metta World Peace and Beno Udrih both asked to be moved/released, it showed you all you need to know about Woodson as a coach. He couldn’t manage minutes properly and didn’t play the right players at the right time, veterans and rookies. Metta World Peace might have lost a step or two, but he has always been a solid defensive player and even when the Knicks could have really used some defense, Woodson left him on the bench. Beno Udrih was blamed for a lot of early season struggles because he couldn’t defend players that were younger and quicker than him, but Woodson also put him in those situations when there was a solid defensive point guard in Toure Murry rotting on the bench.
Mike Woodson’s coaching blunders resulted in some likely unkind words during the players’ exit interviews, when veteran Amare Stoudemire notably stated that players didn’t buy into Woodson’s system. Back in January Tyson Chandler also criticized the defensive gameplan of Woodson because, as he put it, the Knicks weren’t aggressive enough on defense. Although Carmelo Anthony did vouch for Mike Woodson as players left for the year, the overwhelming vibe was that most players didn’t believe in Woodon as the head coach anymore.
Ultimately, it was time for the Knicks to move on from Mike Woodson as head coach and he deserves to get a job elsewhere, whether it be as an assistant or a head coach. It isn’t entirely his fault that the team struggled throughout the season, but he was without a doubt part of the problem. When you are a coach and you lose a locker room, there is no way you can come back and have players buy back in. A new team president will want to bring his people into the front office and coaching positions, and this was step one of the rebuilding process for a team that hasn’t won a championship in 41 years. With that, let the Phil Jackson era begin in the Big Apple.