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What NBA Players Love About New York Knicks Coach Mike Woodson

John DornCorrespondent IIIJanuary 9, 2017

What NBA Players Love About New York Knicks Coach Mike Woodson

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    Mike Woodson of the New York Knicks has established an honorable reputation among players in his seven-year coaching career.

    For starters, every team he's coached has played to an improved record over the season prior. He stresses accountability from every player on the roster from top to bottom, and seems to get the most out of his guys, regardless of their reputation.

    The following includes a myriad of quotes from various NBAers that have played under Woodson at some point in their careers. Judging by their words, Woodson is one of the more respected coaches in the entire league.

    Let's run through why his players view him as being among the best.

No-Nonsense Attitude

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    One glance at Mike Woodson's intimidating, partially goatee-hidden face, and even the most cold-blooded criminal would be scared straight.

    Woody's been dealt a hand of certain players through his coaching career that may have driven less capable coaches to the point of resignation.

    Dating back to his days coaching the Atlanta Hawks, forward Josh Smith was known to butt heads with Woodson on occasion. But even the rough-around-the-edges Smith couldn't find grounds for criticism when asked about Woodson's job with the Knicks last March.

    Speaking to Newsday, Smith said, "He's a great coach . . . I know that he's policing those guys and not taking any mess from them. I know that those guys respect him, and as long as you have your players' respect, the sky is definitely the limit."

    In New York, Woodson has inherited players with less than desirable reputations as well. Carmelo Anthony has been a constant scapegoat in Mike D'Antoni's firing last season. J.R. Smith hasn't been known around the league as the most mature player, either. Both Knicks have sung Woodson's praise since the conclusion of last season.

    After learning of the coach's decision to use him as a reserve this season, Smith responded with a refreshing surprise. "You have to understand this is a team game and you have to put individual goals aside," he told Newsday.

    When management faced the decision of whether to bring back Woodson following last season, Anthony spoke up. "I'm a big supporter of what coach Woodson has done," he said, according to ESPN New York. "His approach to the game, and what he gets out of all his players, even me."

    Mike Woodson seems to have the backs of his players, and they certainly have his in return.

Always Shows Improvement

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    The numbers tell the tale here. Mike Woodson's teams have improved each and every season he's been at the helm.

    In 2004-05, Woodson's first season as a head coach in Atlanta, the Hawks won a league-worst 13 games. Just three seasons later, Atlanta was a playoff club, taking the eventual champion Celtics to a gut-wrenching seven-game series in the first round.

    He worked the Hawks up to a 53-win team by his final season in the Peach State. After getting swept two consecutive years in the Eastern Conference semifinals, however, management decided Woodson's stay in Atlanta was over.

    "We grew up as a team and as players. He helped a lot of players get better," Hawks forward Zaza Pachulia told the AP (via ESPN) upon learning that Woodson had lost his job.

    Woodson was a finalist for the Detroit Pistons head coaching position in the summer of 2011, but ultimately lost out to Lawrence Frank for the job. During the interview process, Ben Wallace, who was entering another season with Detroit, sounded like he strongly backed Woodson, citing his steady jumps in success.

    "I think Mike would do a great job," Wallace told ESPN. "I think he did a great job with Atlanta. I think he took those guys as far as they were ready to go. I think he'd be a great fit for us."

    Even the great Larry Brown had Woodson's back when he was named interim coach of New York in March of last season. According to Newsday, Brown said, "I think he did a great job in Atlanta. They got better and better every year, and when he left, they went a minus-nine."

    And—go figure—Woodson's winning percentage last season was higher than in his previous year coaching, when he led the Hawks to a .646 clip in 2009-10. In 24 games as Knicks head coach, the team went on an 18-6 run, equating to a percentage of .750.

Accountability

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    Mike Woodson's theme as a head coach is accountability. From day one as a Knicks assistant, he stressed that each player on the roster is equally responsible and will be held accountable—something that Mike D'Antoni may not have done the best job of enforcing.

    His message rings through to his squad. Mike Bibby, who played for Woodson in Atlanta and last season with the Knicks, had high praise for the coach. 

    "I've seen a lot of coaches in my day, and certain people make an impact on you," he said to Newsday. "His holding everybody accountable makes you want to make sure everybody plays hard. You want to do it for yourself, but you want to do it for him."

    Center Tyson Chandler's sentiment was nearly identical to Bibby's.

    “I think he just stays on top of guys—throughout the game, in shootaround, in practices, before the game, here in halftime,” Tyson Chandler said to The New York Times. “He just kind of keeps you on your toes.”

    Woodson even has his star, Carmelo Anthony, fully on board. If you're wondering just how impressive this feat is, ask Mike D'Antoni.

    “When he got the job, I told him, ‘Hold me accountable,’ ” Anthony said of Mike Woodson last March (via The LoHud Kicks Blog). “I don’t have a problem with criticism. If I can do something to help better this team, let me know. And he’s been doing that.”

    His players seem to be buying into Woodson's ideology, which can turn a so-so coach into a good coach, and a good coach into a great one.

Defensive Focus

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    What had been holding the Knicks back ever since the wane of the 20th century was the lack of any sort of defense whatsoever. Even after the acquisition of Amar'e Stoudemire in the summer of 2010, Mike D'Antoni's Knicks were back in the postseason—and scoring the ball a ton—but among the league's worst in points allowed.

    All of that changed the instant Mike Woodson was hired to assist D'Antoni's staff on the defensive side a year ago.

    Carmelo Anthony noticed this from the get-go. Before the start of last season, Anthony told the Daily News

    He’s been great. The focus day in and day out is talking on defense every day in practice and in film sessions. That’s our focus coming into practice. That’s what we work on for the most part of practice. It seems that’s our focus. We’re enjoying right now just listening to Coach Woodson. He’s open to a lot of things we have to say.

    'Melo continued, according to The New York Times, to say:

    He’s able to motivate us. He’s able to get the best out of everybody. We can lock in defensively, not have to worry about offense because now we’re relying on our defense to get our offense.

    Getting this sort of defensive focus out of Anthony isn't an easy task, and something D'Antoni was never able to do. Under Woodson, Carmelo was demonstrating the best defense we've seen him play as a Knick, and maybe in his career.

    This defensive emphasis wasn't a sudden epiphany for Woodson. He possessed the mentality as a player throughout his 11-year career (he averaged over a steal per game in eight of those seasons), and while coaching the Atlanta Hawks as well.

    During Atlanta's playoff years under Woodson, the Hawks had a star offensive player who, much like Anthony, wasn't known for his defensive prowess. This player was Joe Johnson.

    "To be a good team in this league, you've got to be pretty good defensively," Johnson said to SI.com in November of 2008.

    "We're helping one another, talking, communicating on defense, keeping guys in the right spots and every play down court staying vocal. That's the main thing. We talk and communicate," Johnson said.

    It's been Woodson's focal point as a coach from the beginning, and his players buy in. Especially his Knicks team, which is eager to change the culture in the Garden.

Offense That Fits Knicks' Personnel

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    What ultimately did Mike D'Antoni in as New York Knicks head coach last season was his stubbornness regarding his "Seven Seconds or Less" offensive system.

    The style of play that brought him close to a championship in Phoenix didn't deliver him the same type of success in Gotham, essentially because the personnel didn't fit from the very beginning. 

    Whether it was Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph, or Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, the Knicks didn't want to run for D'Antoni.

    When Mike Woodson took control of the reigns last March, it was clear that changes needed to be implemented. In Atlanta, Woodson became infamous for his "Iso-Joe" offense, composed primarily of sets designed for Joe Johnson to hold the ball for seconds at a time, and eventually find his own shot while isolated with his defender.

    Just imagine the butterflies Carmelo Anthony, a similar type of scorer to Johnson, felt in his stomach the second he learned of D'Antoni's canning. 

    In theory, Woodson's type of style fit the older, more half-court style of Knicks players like Anthony, Stoudemire and Baron Davis.

    "I just think he's going to utilize his leading scorers, myself and Carmelo," Stoudemire said of Woodson shortly after his promotion, according to ESPN.

    "He's going to utilize us and take advantage of every opportunity out there on the court. We've been profound scorers all our careers, so he's going to make sure he takes advantage of that," he said.

    Woodson confirmed that philosophy soon after.

    "Those guys have been around the block a number of times and they've done it, so they'll be the go-to guys down stretch," he said to ESPN.

    This implementation, along with stellar defensive play, is what propelled the Knicks to an 18-6 finish under Woodson's watch. 

Knows How to Inspire Stars

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    A common complaint regarding the NBA is how star players receive preferential treatment by coaches and around the practice facility. It's not at all surprising to hear of a big-money baller coasting in practice, slacking on the defensive end or watching a within-reach loose ball slowly roll out of bounds.

    Under Mike Woodson, none of that is the case.

    "It definitely fires everybody up to see your star player out there sacrificing his body and playing defense and doing all the little things, the intangible things, rebounding and blocking shots," point guard Baron Davis said to Newsday last March. "It's definitely an inspiration from the guys who have the energy and have the spunk to do it."

    Of course, Davis was speaking of Carmelo Anthony.

    "I think in the last three games, my focus was to have an energy that I haven't had so far this season, especially on the defensive end," Anthony said to Newsday, speaking of his first three games after Mike D'Antoni's departure.

    The fact that 'Melo admitted that he wasn't giving maximum effort and energy prior to the coaching change is a bit unsettling. Nonetheless, credit Woodson for lighting a fire under Anthony and bringing out his full potential. 

    Anthony had more to share after that game. "It could be anybody's night," he said. "The ball is being shared, everybody is having fun out there. But most importantly, everybody is having fun on the defensive end."

    Sounds like a different Carmelo Anthony. And the Knicks have Mike Woodson to thank.

Level-Headed Personality

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    Mike Woodson's fatherly approach to handling his players is another reason his guys are quick to embrace him as a leader.

    Throughout the years, there have been a number of unruly players that found their way onto Woodson's rosters, the most notable of which was Rasheed Wallace.

    Woodson was a member of the Detroit Pistons coaching staff in their championship 2003-04 season, and Wallace was a catalyst on that year's team. By then, 'Sheed had a reputation as a player with a loud personality. 

    “You know how coach Woody talks ... it's the laid back demeanor, his whole calmness." Wallace told Newsday.

    Rasheed cites Woodson as the key reason he chose to end his two-year retirement and join the Knicks for a title run in 2012-13. 

    "Him and I, we went and traveled that long road when we were in Detroit,” Wallace said to Newsday. “With that, his overall demeanor, his respect for his players, his respect for the game—it makes it easy," Wallace said.

    "He makes it easy for me to come back. I didn't have to fight with myself like, ‘OK, should I do this, or should I do that?’ I didn't have to fight with myself."

    In that same conversation, Wallace was asked what exactly it was that Coach Woodson did to guide him through that season—his only year on Larry Brown's staff.

    “A lot of things," Wallace answered. "Just working out with Coach Woody. Taking the time to get the extra shots up. Just trying to keep everybody level headed because there were times that we were all frustrated, even when I got there."

    “You know with myself being a hothead and with Ben Wallace, the way he was, Coach Woodson kept us calm,” Wallace said to The New York Times. “He was the one that quieted the storm.”

    That Times piece by Nate Taylor suggests J.R. Smith as a similar type of personality to the 2003 version of 'Sheed. 

    The Knicks are taking a gamble that Wallace will stay healthy, not be the volatile player who led the league in technical fouls and not disrupt the team's chemistry (the Knicks already have J. R. Smith, who is also known as being unpredictable and temperamental).

    Wallace insists his trouble-making days are over, telling Yahoo! Sports, "''I'm too old for that,'' Wallace said. ''My kids are older now, so I'm too old for that.''

    Smith seems content with his role in New York, but if Smith—who has a history of run-ins with losing control—acts up this season, you can bet Coach Woody will have it under control.

     

    Follow John Dorn on Twitter at @JSDorn6, even though it won't be as entertaining as following J.R. Smith.

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