There is no denying that Mike Woodson has been a huge success since taking over as the Knicks' head coach back in mid-March. He has compiled a 30-10 regular-season record, including a sparkling 18-1 mark at Madison Square Garden.
The only blemish on his Knickerbocker resume is the first-round loss in the playoffs last season to the Miami Heat. Even this negative is not so bad, though, considering it came against the eventual NBA champions and included the first postseason victory for New York since 2001.
What has Woodson done to turn the Knicks into a dominant regular-season team after over a decade of losing with a sprinkling of mediocrity? His commitment to defense and his ability to get buy-in from Carmelo Anthony are the two more popular reasons cited by the media and fans alike for the team's success during his tenure. There are other reasons, however, that are rarely mentioned yet have been equally critical in turning the Knicks around.
For starters, Woodson has made it a point to hold each and every player accountable. He called out J.R. Smith last April for his lack of professionalism in the way he carries himself on and off the court. Smith has responded by admitting he didn't take his job seriously last season and being more consistent and less of a one-on-one ball hog this season.
Woodson also went after Anthony last May, challenging his superstar player to get in better shape and raise his game. It is never easy going after a player of Anthony's stature, especially when you've only been his head coach for a few months. It seems that Woodson's gutsy move has paid off, though, as Anthony showed up in great shape for training camp. He has also put together a strong first month of the season that is worthy of early MVP consideration.
The Knicks have also been tremendous against bad teams since Woodson became the head man. New York frequently lost against opponents they should have beaten, especially at home, during the last one-and-a-half years of the Mike D'Antoni era.
Since Woody has taken over, however, they are 15-3 against teams that were below .500 at the time they faced the Knicks, with all three losses coming on the road. In the top-heavy NBA, beating the team's you are supposed to win against is a recipe for a 50-plus win season. Woodson appears to have hammered this point home, which is why New York is a good bet to win more than 50 games this season.
Finally, with all the talk of how Amar'e Stoudemire and Anthony struggle when they play together, Woodson has managed this problem well even though the sample size is limited. The Knicks are 8-2 in the regular season under Woodson when Anthony and Stoudemire are both in the lineup. This record will be challenged in less than a month when Amar'e likely makes his season debut, but Woodson's track record so far suggests that he'll be able to manage the situation successfully.
The Knicks still have a long way to go before they can be considered one of the elite teams in the NBA. They need to secure a top-four seed and win a playoff round or two before they can be even mentioned in the same breath as the Heat, Thunder and Spurs. If Woodson sticks to his current head-coaching formula, however, New York has an excellent chance of joining NBA royalty.
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