George Karl, the head coach of the Denver Nuggets, was crowned as the NBA’s Coach of the Year on Wednesday. Although Karl is a tremendous coach and made history this season by leading Denver to a franchise-best 57 wins, there was a more deserving candidate for the award: Mike Woodson of the New York Knicks.
Last season the Knicks finished with a record of 36-30. Woodson took over for Mike D’Antoni with 24 games left on the schedule, and the team went 18-6 during that span (they were 18-24 when he took over). This season New York finished at 54-26, the team’s best record since 1996-97, and won the Atlantic Division for the first time since the 1993-94 season (via New York Daily News).
The Nuggets have the third youngest team in the NBA, but lack a traditional superstar. Ty Lawson was 31st in the league with 16.7 points per game, and led the team in scoring. The fact that Denver had a great season despite their lack of star-power is the main reason that Karl won the award.
Again, Karl is an outstanding coach, but Woodson was simply more deserving of the award.
The Knicks came into this season with the oldest roster in NBA history, and no one expected much from the team. Carmelo Anthony was coming off of shooting a career-low percentage from the field (44.3 percent) in 2011-12 as the struggle for dominance with Amar’e Stoudemire continued. Woodson solved that problem—when Stoudemire missed a huge chunk of the season after requiring a knee debridement surgery prior to the regular season, he played him off the bench and eliminated all controversy surrounding the duo.
Woodson also changed the culture of New York basketball by preaching something that had not been a factor in the D’Antoni-era: defense. Woodson even got Anthony and J.R. Smith to commit on the defensive end, which has spread throughout the rest of the locker room.
Smith has been one of Woodson’s projects since day-one, and the confidence that the coach instilled in the often out-of-control guard paid tremendous dividends.
Smith won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award, and in his speech credited his coach.
"Coach Woodson told me from the get-go it would be a better situation for my teammates and me coming off the bench," said Smith, who came into training camp hoping to become a starter. "Once I put in perspective, it really was and has been all year. He told me the first day of training camp, and I've embraced it since then" (via USA Today).
"I've got to credit my success to my teammates and coaches,” Smith added. “If we didn't win, I wouldn't be in this situation. Coach Woodson has been unbelievable."
Is it fair to discount Woodson for serious contention for the award because he has a superstar in Anthony? Karl has several good players (Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler), but the fact that the Nuggets didn’t even have an all-star on the team and still finished third in the Western Conference puts Woodson at a disadvantage.
In his first full season under Woodson, Anthony improved in all of the following: scoring (he won the NBA scoring title with 28.7 points per game), shooting percentage, rebounding (offensive and defensive), three-point percentage, free throw percentage, blocks and minutes per game (via Basketball Reference).
It isn’t fair to not give Woodson a fair shot at the award just because he has the superstar that happens to be a former Nugget, because under the head coach Anthony has raised his game to near-MVP level.
Karl is a great coach, class act and is without a doubt one of the best basketball minds in the game today. However, in 2012-13, Woodson deserved to win the NBA’s Coach of the Year Award for job he did with the Knicks.