The news of Mike D'Antoni's resignation as head coach of the New York Knicks came part and parcel with rumors of his replacement. Even before D'Antoni had officially left his post, the names of Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan and John Calipari were already swirling overhead.
But in reality, Jackson, Sloan and Calipari aren't walking through that door—not this season, anyway. Knicks assistant and functional defensive coordinator Mike Woodson will step into the gig for the time being, and try to take on all of the responsibility, glory and endless criticism that comes with being a head coach in the greatest—or at least the most fickle—city on Earth.
Woodson is no stranger. In a six-year stint with the Atlanta Hawks, we were able to see him manage several different types of teams—some talented and some less so, but all indisputably Hawksish. The man does have something of a signature style, and while he doesn't have a reputation for producing the most entertaining basketball product, there is certainly some value to his conservative preachings.
Woodson was never the villain he was made out to be with the Hawks, but neither is he the savior that the Knicks apparently need. He's just Mike Woodson, and for better or for worse, he's tasked with untangling New York's twisted dynamic.
For the sake of understanding both the man and how he might deal with this mess he's stumbled into, now is a more appropriate time than ever to take stock of Woodson's coaching profile via empirical truisms. Here is a glimpse of who Woodson is and isn't, with a focus on a few dimensions of his career thus far.
Mike Woodson Is Not the Answer
Let's get this one out of the way upfront. Woodson is a solid basketball coach who could find a lot of success in the right situation, but this does not at all appear to be the right situation.
Creating order out of this particular bout of Knickerbocker chaos may realistically take a coach of a different stylistic approach, or at least one with a greater tilt toward coaching ingenuity.
The Knicks may well play better under Woodson than they did under D'Antoni, but it's hard to imagine Woodson being the coach that fully maximizes this roster's potential, however muddled it may be.
Mike Woodson Is a Qualified Defensive Architect
The dirty little secret of New York's season: even through Linsanity, the Knicks were winning with defense. Even after some drop-off, the Knicks still rank as the ninth best defense in the entire league, and are really just a whisper away from a top-six slot. Tyson Chandler deserves a lot of credit for that considerable shift, but great defensive players are only as good as the system that guides them.
There's no question that Woodson had done an admirable job with New York's defense to date, and though he couldn't have transformed the Knicks without help from Chandler (and Jared Jeffries, for that matter), his defensive designs give him a respectable pedigree.
All of that said, the Knicks have struggled immensely on defense since Carmelo Anthony's return to the lineup, a reality too self-evident to ignore. Maybe Anthony really is mucking up the works on an individual basis. Perhaps he just doesn't yet have good defensive synergy with his teammates. The specific reason matters little next to Woodson's ability or inability to diagnose and solve the problem, which could come to be the understated subplot of his head coaching stint in New York.
Mike Woodson Is Not an Offensive Problem Solver
We don't want to count out the possibility for coaching growth, but with most factors remaining similar to Woodson's Atlanta tenure, there's little reason to view him as an offensive mastermind.
The act of balancing Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin into an efficient basketball product is one of particular precision. Though Woodson has been able to put together some fairly decent offensive teams, his approach has always relied on simplicity as its primary mechanism. There's a reason, after all, why the Hawks—even in their better statistical seasons—often struggled to score in the playoffs. It wasn't a jumper-happy approach that doomed Atlanta, but an overly simplistic scheme that was entirely too easy to defend when broken down over the course of a playoff series.
Right now the Knicks might settle for even making it to a playoff series to begin with, but the restraint of Woodson's designs surely wouldn't help the Knicks' hypothetical postseason efforts.
Mike Woodson Is a Disciple of Conservative Basketball
Say what you will about Woodson's style and propensity for isolation sets, but his offensive structure could help the Knicks in an area of particular weakness: turnovers.
New York currently ranks 29th in the league in turnover rate, and while some of that is a systemic byproduct of D'Antoni's offense, those squandered possessions nonetheless hinder offensive productivity in the most absolute way possible.
There is no more damaging result to a possession than a turnover. Even a forced shot or a heave at the shot-clock buzzer brings a greater probability for success, if only because something is always better than nothing.
We can admire the process, and we can praise D'Antoni's offense for all of its strengths, but turnovers are still turnovers, and New York—through faults of its system and its players alike—have given the ball away more times than just about every other team in the league.
Furthermore, for all the criticism Woodson received for isolating Joe Johnson into infinity, Anthony is easily the superior iso talent. That doesn't mean that a bogged-down, Carmelo-centric offense is necessarily an optimal solution to New York's problems, but it could at the very least create a more prolific offense than anything we saw out of Woodson's Hawks squads.
Mike Woodson Is, Historically, Not a Coach Who Empowers Point Guards
It's almost too convenient. As Linsanity fades, Jeremy Lin's stifled production will finally match the downward trajectory of his muted narrative. Many have lost interest in Lin's story, and now Woodson's system—which has never been kind to point guards—may very well come in to bring the benchwarmer-turned-idol fully back to earth.
The evidence, as outlined by Marc Berman of the New York Post, is fairly persuasive of this possibility.
Yet even with the iso-heavy offense and increased reliance on Anthony and Stoudemire, I think we may be getting a little ahead of ourselves in proclaiming Lin's demise. If nothing else, the last few weeks have highlighted just how resourceful a player Lin can be.
When he was criticized for his right-hand-dominant driving, he found ways to be effective going to his left. When opposing defenses began keying in on him specifically, he found ways to circumvent their pressure. And although he's become a less focal part of the Knicks' offense since Anthony's return, he's nonetheless had some fairly impressive performances.
Things will certainly be more difficult for Lin going forward, but Woodson's historical marginalization of point guards is no death knell. Lin could very well be the best point guard that Woodson has ever coached. Though there's no question that Lin's function will be different under his new coach than it was under D'Antoni, but we are doing Lin a disservice to suggest that he might fold so easily.