In a recent article by Will Leitch of New York magazine, New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson is portrayed as the potential savior of the team. Titled "The Anti-D'Antoni," Leitch's article paints Woodson as just what the Knicks need: a humble coach committed to winning and a tough effort on defense—nothing more.
Woodson credits much of his success to Bob Knight, who coached him at Indiana University, and if the Knicks are to really make an impact this year, their coach needs to instill the same on-court values to his players that Knight instilled in him.
Look at it this way: When Knight was coaching at Indiana, what defined those teams (besides Knight's infamous temper, of course)? The Hoosiers were the definition of toughness, playing hard man-to-man defense and having an offense that moved like a well-oiled machine. This system resulted in three national championships and two finishes in the Final Four and cemented Knight's status as an elite coach.
Though he has yet to coach a full season in New York, it's clear that Woodson has already taken a page from his college coach's book. For the first time in what seems like eons, the Knicks are playing like a team and not like a group of egos all fighting for the spotlight in a small, dark room. As Leitch mentions in his article, practice is actually practice and not an absolute free-for-all, as it was under D'Antoni.
It is not like this anymore. At a practice last week, the Knicks clicked with military precision. Other than the recently signed Rasheed Wallace—who was still working his way into shape and therefore mostly running “sprints” on his own—the Knicks were as one, on the same court, participating in the same drills and the same scrimmages at the same time.
Carmelo was running a pick-and-roll play, spinning off Chris Copeland as Raymond Felton tried to hit him with the pass; Tyson Chandler ran over to try to block his path to the basket; Steve Novak ran under the basket and then back out to sneak open for the corner three. The rest of the team stood around them, watching, commiserating, laughing … but definitely not missing anything. No one seemed anywhere close to asleep.
That said, there's only one piece of advice to give Woodson at this point: Keep it up. Knight is a Hall of Fame coach for a reason, and Woodson needs to use his model for success throughout his first full season as coach of the Knicks. That means making sure that every player knows their role and doesn't stray from the plan. Even if it means pulling rank against a player every now and again, the man can't back down.
The fact of the matter is that the Knicks have always been a team defined by solid defense and a balanced offensive attack. Think of the teams from the mid-to-late '90s. Patrick Ewing was a solid presence under the basket on both sides of the floor, and guys like John Starks and, in later years, Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell, would handle most of the scoring outside the paint.
This approach had the Knicks in the playoffs year after year and twice took them to the NBA Finals, where they lost both times. Once Isiah Thomas took over, however, it all went out the window. He instead brought in offense-first players who were more streetballers and seemed to just want to play the game rather than actually come together and win for the sake of bringing home a championship.
What makes the Knicks' collapse under Thomas especially ironic is that the man actually played under Bob Knight at Indiana and was a teammate of Woodson. In fact, the two made up the backcourt of the 1979-80 Hoosiers team that won the Big Ten tournament and made it to the Sweet 16 the same season. Thus, seeing as how Thomas knew that Knight's system worked, the fact that he instilled an opposite system in New York is puzzling.
Fortunately for Knicks fans, Thomas is out and Woodson is in, which means that the old-school fans can look forward to something of a trip down memory lane. Woodson's isolation game is the key to the Knicks' success, but it's not going to do anything unless he maintains discipline.
Simply put, he has to constantly drive home that basketball is a team game and that everyone has to do their part to win games. At the same time, he has to keep everyone happy and not coddle the superstars. If someone's actions—be it those of Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire or even Jason Kidd—are detrimental to the team, Woodson has to make sure that they take responsibility and not back down until they do just that.
These are the values that Knight lived by during his coaching days, and based on his making the Hall of Fame in 1991, plus his 902-371 career record, it's safe to say that they are a recipe for success. So long as Woodson sticks to his guns and uses what Knight taught him, the Knicks are destined to do well for years to come.
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