5 Adjustments NY Knicks Coach Mike Woodson Still Needs to Make
Head coach Mike Woodson has the New York Knicks off to a 6-0 start to begin the season. They've taken down the defending champion Miami Heat, as well as the San Antonio Spurs, and stand alone as the only undefeated team left in the NBA.
Despite the team's sizzling start, there are still a few adjustments Woodson needs to make before we can put the Knicks in the elite category. The coach has proven that he's able to get through to this Knicks team exponentially better than Mike D'Antoni ever could. However, with a handful of tweaks, Woody can take this team farther than any critic could've imagined just two weeks ago.
Let's look into some modifications that could catapult the Knicks from good to great in 2012.
Handling the Rotation
One challenge Mike Woodson faces as Knicks coach is handling one of the deepest rosters in the league. From top to bottom, every Knicks' player is capable of playing NBA minutes. It's Woodson's job to determine which capable player will inevitably be left out of the rotation.
Most recently on Thursday against San Antonio, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas rode the pine for 48 minutes, sporting the dreaded DNP-CD.
Earlier in the season, Thomas was playing significant (ineffective) minutes, while Rasheed Wallace was relegated to his "Brian Scalabrine role." Since the opening two games, 'Sheed has played regular minutes, and performed well.
Camby was at an immediate disadvantage as the season began. He was unavailable in either of the team's first three games due to a calf strain. He made his season debut against Dallas, playing eight minutes and logging two points and four rebounds.
The following game at Orlando, Camby played just four minutes. Against San Antonio Thursday, he didn't see the court at all.
This situation will only become more interesting once Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert return from injury. Woodson may be forced to expand his rotation from the nine players he's currently shuffling, or there could be various odd men out once the injured Knicks return.
Not Playing Down to the Competition
To begin the season, the Knicks blew the Miami Heat out of the water in the season opener, and handily defeated the weakened Philadelphia 76ers twice. Their next challenge was a tough Dallas Mavericks team, which they defeated 104-94.
Then, the Knicks traveled south to take on the Orlando Magic, in what everybody presumed would be a tune-up for their back-to-backs in San Antonio and Memphis. It proved to be much more dangerous than that.
The Knicks' largest first half lead was seven, but even that lasted only a few possessions. It was a constant back-and-forth between the two teams. The Knicks led 77-76 going into the fourth quarter, until they outscored Orlando 22-13 in the final frame to secure their fifth straight win.
If Mike Woodson and the Knicks are aiming for the East's top spot, they cannot afford slip-ups against the conference's weak foes. With Hedo Turkoglu, Al Harrington and Jameer Nelson all missing due to injuries, the Magic had no business hanging in with the explosive Knicks, but New York allowed them to.
Ultimately, the Knicks turned it on in the final quarter and beat the Magic by double figures. Letting lesser teams stay in games, however, is a horrible habit to get into, and Woodson will need to nip that in the bud immediately.
Regular Season Success Translating to Playoff Success
As great a regular season coach Mike Woodson has been through his coaching career, the postseason has never treated him nearly as kindly.
As leader of the Atlanta Hawks, Woodson built the team up from a 13-win club to a yearly playoff contender. Unfortunately, that was the extent of his good fortune in A-Town. In three postseason appearances, Woody's Hawks went 11-21, including two consecutive second round sweeps in the 2009 and 2010 playoffs. The team never advanced past the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Last season in New York was more of the same. He led the Knicks to an 18-6 record after taking control of the reigns following Mike D'Antoni's resignation. Against the Miami Heat in the playoffs, however, the Knicks never stood a chance.
With Jeremy Lin, Iman Shumpert and Baron Davis all injured, Miami's powerhouse of a basketball team ran right over the depleted Knicks, encountering only a minor speed bump in Game 4.
This year, especially after a spotlight-attracting 6-0 beginning, all eyes are on Woodson's Knicks. If the Knickerbockers flounder in the playoffs for a third straight season—it would be Woodson's fifth straight season of playoff disappointment—you can expect an offseason full of speculation calling for a replacement.
But based on the way the Knicks look thus far, I'm confident it won't get to that point.
How to Handle Steve Novak
Steve Novak has shot an underwhelming 39 percent from beyond the arc this season, after leading the NBA in three-point shooting a year ago. The shooter's struggles aren't entirely on him, however.
Aside from Novak's 6-for-10 shooting performance against Miami to open the season, he has had trouble finding open looks for the majority of the campaign. In Philadelphia, Novak managed to fire off only two attempts from long range, draining none. Two games later against Orlando, he sank one of just two.
Novak's shot has seemingly been off this year—he has made just five threes since sinking six against Miami on Nov. 2—but cleaner looks from downtown in the team's next few games will help escalate his modest stats.
Woodson may have to start utilizing more off-ball screens to free up looks for his sniper, so we all can vast in the glory of the Discount Triple Check once again.
Getting Amar'e and Melo to Work Together in the Offense
It's the burning question on every NBA fan's mind: What should the Knicks do with Amar'e Stoudemire?
Without STAT, the team's offense is looking as strong as it has in decades. It's a system based around ball movement and sharing, mainly featuring Carmelo Anthony. What's most important is that Anthony appears to be playing the best basketball of his career.
Rarely does he hold the ball and kill the offense's momentum, but instead he flings the ball to a teammate when no shot is available to him, triggering a sequence of crisp Knicks' passes usually ending in an open look.
'Melo is utilizing post-ups more than he ever has, and it's working. His 26.8 points per game lead the NBA. Anthony has displayed a vastly improved sense of awareness down low this year. When doubled, Carmelo knows exactly how and where to pass out of the post. When being guarded by a single defender, he's taking the ball to the hole with incredible efficiency.
Anthony is great at what he does—score the basketball. 'Melo's methods, however, usually require an entire side of the halfcourt, which leads to the question begging to be asked: Where does Amar'e fit in?
With the way the offense is clicking, it would be unwise to implant Stoudemire into the starting five immediately upon recovery. A more reasonable strategy would be to let Amar'e work with the second team—where his talents would be much better suited.
Amar'e would be working with premier passers and pick-and-roll aficionados, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni. He would be a primary scoring option, similar to his role on the 2010-11 Knicks, when the city was ready to crown him MVP that January. He could even play the 5 and have the entire post to himself, if need be.
Anthony and the rest of the first team would still be able to run their sets, and most importantly let 'Melo be 'Melo.
The one dilemma Mike Woodson would face is: How would he manage fourth quarters? Clearly, Anthony and the first team would be the group to finish close games, but you'd certainly want Stoudemire on the floor in crunch time as well.
Woody will need to ensure Anthony and Stoudemire can coexist in the same offense, and in one game together this preseason, we've some plays that should work to perfection.
Woodson's management of the Melo-STAT situation will have a direct impact on their chances this season.