Melo is the star, but Mike Woodson is running the show.
He was extremely successful in closing out the regular season with the team on a roll, but they flamed out in the playoffs, managing just one win against the eventual champions. Granted, that was the Knicks' first playoff win in 11 years and they were besieged by injuries, but many fans were hoping for more.
This season, the Knicks have an even deeper roster following a series of offseason acquisitions. The point guard position has been completely overhauled with three skilled veterans in Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni.
GM Glen Grunwald re-signed the team's mercurial sixth man, J.R. Smith, and added another starting-caliber shooting guard who can play the 2 or the 3 in Ronnie Brewer.
Grunwald also brought in a familiar face around Madison Square Garden—Marcus Camby. He gives the Knicks great depth at center next to Tyson Chandler, and constitutes an elite defender and rebounder off the bench.
Carmelo Anthony looked great during the London Olympics and Amar'e Stoudemire has been working hard on his offensive game.
But the question remains: What strategy will Woodson employ with this talented troop of veterans?
Let's first take a look at Woodson's track record as a head coach, and then predict what he seems likely to draw up on both sides of the ball.
'See, the real problem is that you guys aren't very good.'
The Hawks lost 69 games in Woodson's first season, finishing with the league's worst record.
But they acquired Joe Johnson in the 2005 offseason and proceed to double their win total. The team steadily improved and made the playoffs every year from 2008 to 2010, winning 53 games in Woodson's last season.
Moreover, the offense went from averaging 92.7 points per game in 2004-05 to 97.2 in 2005-06 and 101.7 in 2009-10. The defense went from yielding 102.5 PPG in 2004-05 to 97.0 in 2009-10.
And the offense primarily ran through Joe Johnson. He averaged at least 20 PPG in each season under Woodson, and his usage rate was routinely in the top 20 in the NBA.
Now, Woodson has Carmelo Anthony to run his isolation offense through. But Melo recently stated: “I’m done trying to score 30, 35, 40 points for us to win a basketball game. I don’t want that role anymore” (per NY Daily News). So, perhaps Woodson will spread the love for a change.
'What you want to do is get the W.'
On March 14, Mike D'Antoni resigned as the head coach of the Knicks. The team had lost six straight games and owned an 18-24 record. Mike Woodson took the reins, and the team magically started playing defense.
That could have been because the squad had more energy from not sprinting up and down the court in D'Antoni's "seven seconds or less" offense. It could also be because the players responded better to Woodson and were happy to have a new face at the helm.
The Knicks won 18 of their final 24 games in the regular season. They held opponents to 80 or fewer points in seven of those games, including a 103-65 drubbing of Washington.
And Carmelo Anthony was the undisputed offensive star. He averaged 22.8 shots per game and 29.8 PPG in the month of April. Even if he is done trying to score 30 or 40 points a night, he still figures to be Woodson's offensive workhorse this season.
Melo and Bosh reenact a scene from the Temple of Doom.
The isolation offense is pretty simple. You pass the ball to your best scorer between the wing and the elbow, give him space and let him decide what to do with the ball. He can shoot, drive the lane or pass.
The Miami Heat put on a defensive clinic in the playoffs against the Knicks. They fronted Anthony and denied him the ball. If it was lobbed in, they had backside help to trap him. After five games of that, the Knicks' season was over.
Woodson's offensive scheme has always been focused on isolation, but he may be spicing things up this season. Through two preseason games, the Knicks have featured a considerable amount of pick-and-rolls and some post plays.
Woodson has also never had as much talent at the point guard position as he does this season.
Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni have all been playing professional basketball for quite some time, so Woodson will allow them to do more than just dump the ball off on the wing.
As Woodson told Jared Zwerling of ESPN New York about his PGs: "These guys know how to run a team, so I can kind of lay back and call a play or two here and there, and let them run the team." With such veteran experience, Woodson won't have to keep his point guards on such a short leash.
They ran an 'unguardable' pick-and-roll before. They'll do it again.
Before the Knicks' first preseason game against Washington, Mike Woodson wrote out some offensive objectives on the white board in the locker room. What topped the list? "MOVE THE BALL" (per New York Times).
That is somewhat antithetical to the iso game, but the Knicks have a skilled trio of point guards to facilitate ball movement. Raymond Felton showed in 2010 that he can run an effective pick-and-roll with Amar'e Stoudemire, and he has looked good running it with Tyson Chandler thus far in the preseason.
Passing to Chandler was a slam dunk last year, both proverbially and literally. He led the NBA in field goal percentage (67.9 percent). No one in league history had ever posted a higher mark, except for Wilt Chamberlain's two best seasons (per New York Times).
This is how you play in the low post.
Moreover, Woodson has been keen to diversify Stoudemire's offensive game. STAT's offseason tutoring sessions with Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon will have him doing his impression of the Dream Shake in the low post. Olajuwon also worked with Carmelo and Chandler.
With Stoudemire returning to the practice court this week after suffering a bruised knee, Woodson told Nate Taylor of the New York Times that he's ready to work some low-post plays into the offensive scheme, saying, “I’m going to start adding some things as we go along starting tomorrow. We’ll start scrimmaging more now.”
The ability to play with your back to the basket can transform a player's offensive game. For example, just look at how much more dangerous it made LeBron James this past season. It would also allow the Knicks to play a high-low game with Carmelo Anthony operating from mid-range and the high post and Stoudemire down low.
Woodson's offense will likely look more diverse than it ever has before, especially because he now has so much talent to work with at each position.
The first Defensive Player of the Year in Knicks history.
Mike Woodson has always been known as a defensive specialist. The Knicks' D certainly improved during Woodson's 29 games as head coach. Even players not known as good defenders showed much more energy. Carmelo was suddenly more active and frenetic on the defensive end, as was Amar'e.
Quality defense is as much about effort and will as it is about skill. The Knicks appeared to ramp up their D late last season and sound determined coming into this campaign. They also added some skilled defenders in Jason Kidd, Ronnie Brewer and Marcus Camby.
Camby gives the Knicks a second player who has won Defensive Player of the Year honors, as Tyson Chandler earned the nod last season. They are also two of the best rebounders in the NBA.
And with Iman Shumpert returning around January, the Knicks will be adding one of the league's premier perimeter defenders for the latter half of the season.
There are some areas that the Knicks will have to work on, however. They should seek to firm up their transition defense, as faster teams could outrun the veteran squad.
But this is both a factor of strategy and chemistry, and should firm up as the year progresses. And the Knicks now have the personnel to better avoid mismatches.
Defense is not a problem for Woodson's teams, and with a diverse strategy on offense, they could find themselves playing deep into the playoffs.