The Perfect Replacement
Why Mike Woodson’s style is a good fit for the Knicks.
by DJ Dunson / @dunsonchecksin
On Wednesday afternoon at approximately 1 p.m. EST, Mike Woodson received a knock on his office door. From there he was immediately whisked away by Secret Service (who could probably execute a solid zone defense in a crowded arena) into a black Cadillac and later sworn in as New York Knicks head coach by James Dolan aboard a private jet. In the background, the ear-piercing screams of Mike D’Antoni echoed in the background as he was ejected from the emergency exit by Donald Trump sans a golden parachute.
There was always a latent skepticism about whether D’Antoni’s NBA version of the Run & Shoot could actually produce an NBA Championship. Despite Tyson Chandler’s addition, the frenetic nature of D’Antoni’s offense always left the defense out of position. But there was also a widespread belief that he would survive the season. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith claimed Wednesday morning that D’Antoni would be gone by Monday. Everyone was wrong.
Mike Woodson most likely learned of D’Antoni’s shocking resignation in less dramatic fashion, but nobody has more imagination than Knicks fans who still believe Phil Jackson will ride his white horse out of retirement and into Madison Square Garden. You’d think the Knicks and their fan base would learn to stop chasing vivid pipedreams by now. Nope.
The day after, the Knicks stomped the remaining life out of the Trail Blazers by 42 points in Mike Woodson’s Knicks coaching debut. The New York Post printed a full page shot of a snarling white-haired Phil Jackson and the headline: “With D’Antoni out, Knicks may look to… Phil The Void“.
It was just the latest example of Knicks fans and the media’s addictive habit of feeding their insatiable appetite for a savior at every corner like a degenerative gambler on payday. In 2010 Amar’e Stoudemire earned top-savior billing and last February it was Carmelo Anthony. Before Linsanity swept the nation, Baron Davis was the last hope. In the 39 years since their last NBA Championship, the Knicks have created more franchise saviors than a Buddhist monastery.
Meanwhile, D’Antoni was against the decision to trade for Anthony from the beginning. D’Antoni may have been stubborn, but he wasn’t stupid. He knew Carmelo’s style wouldn’t flourish in his offense. But the lure of bringing Anthony to Madison Square Garden and creating instant excitement in New York was too much to pass up.
Alas, Carmelo Anthony faltered as the point forward in D’Antoni’s offense just as Anthony Mason did in the same role in Don Nelson’s 16 years ago. Before he resigned D’Antoni reportedly requested the team trade Anthony for Deron Williams.
D’Antoni’s offense requires ball movement and quick sound decision-making by the point guard. No other player has more responsibility in any offense besides Kobe Bryant or Peyton Manning than a point god has in D’Antoni’s religion/offense. Lin has been a surprise and has been extremely marketable but he’s no Williams. Stoudemire has been inconsistent since Carmelo arrived last February but in Phoenix he and Steve Nash earned their PhDs in the pick-and-roll.
Deron Williams and Stoudemire could have run a clinic on opposing defenses. Williams would have been a better fit in D’Antoni’s offensive equation but Phil Jackson has seemingly been the Knick’s target since he won his first title in Chicago.
Nothing ever changes. Immediately after Van Gundy replaced offensive genius Don Nelson in ’96, speculation began revolving around the Knicks potential targets including Georgetown’s John Thompson, the Pacers’ Larry Brown, Kentucky’s Rick Pitino or Phil Jackson, who was in the final season of his Bulls contract.
The highest seat on the Knicks bench seems to work best when hungry coaches with something to prove occupy it. Not 67-year-olds with bad hips who are averse to freezing temps and who are enjoying retirement in the sparsely populated Montana wilderness. Peek at how the Knicks tarnished the legacies of Lenny Wilkens, Larry Brown and D’Antoni. Some of the most revered head coaches weren’t billed as saviors upon their arrival. Phil Jackson was an assistant under Doug Collins in Chicago. Pat Riley was a Lakers assistant and Van Gundy was an assistant coach under Riley and Nelson.
Woodson’s blue-collar pedigree may be the perfect antidote to the prima donna style that plagues the Knicks. Oddly enough, Woodson and Jackson were both drafted by Knicks legendary head coach Red Holzman 13 years apart.
Woodson was an assistant under Larry Brown with the 2004 Detroit Pistons team that shocked Jackson’s Lakers in the NBA Finals. How’d they do it? Courtesy of lockdown defense.
In 2004, Atlanta was openly underwhelmed by the lack of excitement Woodson’s low-key hiring failed to elicit.
Woodson responded by improving the Hawks’ record every season he was head coach. Given a top-notch roster there is no telling what he could do. The 2012 Knicks have gone through enough emotional ups and downs. They need stability and a more boring atmosphere than the circus they’ve performed in this season.
Like Van Gundy and Pat Riley who both led the Knicks to NBA Finals appearances, defense will be the staple of Woodson’s duller Knicks.
“Absolutely. I’ve seen it at a high level some years ago in Detroit where we probably weren’t as gifted and talented as this team offensively so we did everything defensive-first and won an NBA title doing it that way,” Woodson said after his first Knicks practice as head coach Thursday.
“I think when you get in a Playoff run and deep into the Playoffs, it’s the teams that really defend and rebound that normally come out a championship run as champions.”
Unfortunately, Woodson’s arrival may also mark the end of Linsanity. Even at the height of Linsanity, Lin was a walking endorsement for baby rattles on defense because anyone could shake him. In addition, the-pick and-roll opportunities will decrease and Lin will no longer have license to pound the rock into the lane while Anthony wanders aimlessly on the perimeter.
In Atlanta, Woodson gave All-Star Joe Johnson the ball in isolation so often it was dubbed the Iso-Joe offense. In Lin’s first game of the Woodson era, he submitted an unholy 6 points, 6 assists and 6 turnovers. Woodson will take the ball out of the point guard’s hands and has said the Knicks will put Anthony and Stoudemire in position to score.
Over the course of his 24-game audition, Woodson’s Knicks will more closely resemble the pace and style of Thibodeau’s Bulls than D’Antoni’s Suns, and Knicks fans should come to terms with that. If they went all-Lin into Linsanity throughout February, they can calm down and buy into Mike Woodson’s philosophy too.