Mike Woodson lives to fight through another sunset. But that doesn't mean he, in the words of Ian Fleming, won't die another day.
Emerging from the Philips Arena with a victory over the Atlanta Hawks was a good way to ensure the New York Knicks' head coach didn't need to check his hindquarters for smoke the next morning. Losing a game team owner James Dolan guaranteed they'd win would have been disastrous.
Still, the embarrassing loss at home to the San Antonio Spurs is fresh in everyone's minds. The Knicks, a 54-win team last season, shouldn't be hovering around .500. With the Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls off to poor starts, this is the time for the Knicks to strike.
A win here and there isn't going to propitiate an owner who expects the team to end a four-decade championship drought now and dons a utility belt outfitted with pink slips.
Some teams go through mouthpieces, towel boys, hot dog vendors and T-shirt cannons like candy; Dolan feasts on coaches.
"I have been at this thing 30 years," Woodson said previously on ESPN New York 98.7 radio, according to ESPN New York's Ohm Youngmisuk. "And the one thing I never and will never do is look over my shoulder."
For now, Woodson doesn't have to watch his six. And there are a number of things he can do do keep it that way.
Though stocking up on flame-retardant pants wouldn't hurt.
Starting Lineup Continuity...
I was never a fan of musical chairs. I always thought it a tedious, potentially violent game that promoted bad music.
Likewise, I'm not a fan of revolving starting lineups. Not for assumed contenders. Teams hoping to play for something meaningful must understand consistency is imperative. Chemistry cannot be established if the starting five is changing as frequently as Amar'e Stoudemire's hair.
Through the Knicks' first seven games, Woodson used four different starting lineups. I repeat: four. Tyson Chandler's injury complicated matters, but Woody is essentially forcing the Knicks to regroup every other game.
Playing Andrea Bargnani at center must kill a coach who prides himself on defense. Watching him try to defend Al Horford was painful, and that wasn't even his worst defensive performance.
But there's no sense fiddling with the starting five to address that issue. Bargs is a 7-footer and the biggest body New York can field without crowds chanting, "Who the hell is Cole Aldrich?"
Change is the enemy here—except when Chandler returns. When he's ready, you insert him into the lineup quicker than J.R. Smith can miss five long twos in a row. In other words, you get him in there fast.
Until then, continuity must be the goal, even if that means playing Bargs at center.
Pick five, Woody. Then, for a change, stick with those five.
...In Just a Minute
Done right, one more change isn't going to get Woody canned. Rather, it will only help save his job.
Dual-point guard lineups helped the Knicks win more than 70 percent of their games last season (38-14), and they have been more effective than the traditional big combinations to which Woody unfortunately remains loyal.
Doubling down on floor generals is over and done with, though.
Woodson also remains sold on the fact that Smith and Carmelo Anthony can coexist in the same starting five. This time, and this time only, I'm not going to argue. Starting those two together prevents Woodson from catering to his impulses and probably using Bargs and Aldrich simultaneously. And no one wants to see that.
Unless Smith fizzles out next to Anthony, gets suspended for doing naked cartwheels in the middle of Central Park or avenges his brother (via ESPN) by swapping out Brandon Jennings' moisturizer with mayonnaise, one point man will be running the show.
That point man should be (drumroll paired with NCIS-like suspense) Pablo Prigioni.
Say what? That's right, Prigioni. The Pope. Priggy Smalls. He should be starting over Raymond "I don't pass until there's almost no time left on the shot clock" Felton.
Prig is seven years Felton's senior, but he's a matchup nightmare for most opposing point guards. He employs full-court presses like he's a walking advertisement for Adam Fromal's and my podcast, and he's a general nuisance for 94 feet of hardwood.
His greatest flaw, aside from being so old he could've turned 18 twice, is that he doesn't look for his own shot. But I'll take that over the occasionally effective, mostly erratic Felton.
The numbers agree with me. And so, I imagine, does Manu Ginobili.
Since this season comprises such a small sample size, here's a look at the Knicks' plus/minus rating per 100 possessions with Prig on the court last year (regular season and playoffs) compared to that of Felton's:
This isn't meant to downplay Felton's abilities; he's just better suited for the second unit, where there's no a longer a bona fide scorer with healthy knees.
Anthony, Smith, Bargnani and to a lesser extent, Shumpert, call all create their own offense. The Knicks don't need another ball-dominating scorer to round out the starting five. What they need is a guy like Prig, who's basically allergic to shooting unless his defender is on holiday. Who passes like he's playing hot potato. Who understands the concept of defense.
What they need is Prig.
Now, About Carmelo
Don't do it, Woody. I know you're thinking about it, because that's how you think. You're longing for the opportunity to put 'Melo at the 3 and go big. At some point, I imagine Chandler's return will be used to fuel that fire.
Before you indulge your puzzling desires, let me offer you a piece of advice: Don't.
Anthony is better at the 4; that's a fact. He had the best season of his career as a power forward in 2012-13, posting a career high in PER (24.8), win shares (9.5) and three-point percentage (37.9).
The Knicks themselves won 54 games and the Atlantic Division running predominantly small, and there's no sense turning back now. Woodson's big lineups are 0-3 on the season.
Staying small all starts with 'Melo. When he's at the 4, he has a tactical advantage over almost every defender. Even the new-age stretch 4s have difficulty keeping up with his nimble footwork and bruising drives.
Yes, 2012-13 was just one season in a stream of many. But it was the best season of Anthony's career. That's something you cannot ignore.
Something Woodson, if he values his job, cannot ignore.
Stay Strong, Woody
It wasn't long ago that Woodson was the darling of New York, someone Mr. Dolan was happy to call his puppet.
Most likely, that hasn't changed. The season is still young and the Knicks have the opportunity to turn things around. Woodson isn't done yet.
That doesn't mean he won't be.
This is no time for dawdling or inexcusable stubbornness. Worry about Twitter beefs later; focus on the big picture now.
Forget about big lineups, Woody. Stay small. And play Prig. And keep 'Melo at the 4. Stop pussyfooting when it comes to minutes, too. Work your roster—Kenyon Martin and, if you see fit, STAT included—like you work Anthony. Put them in position to succeed first, then demand more out of them.
"It happens," Melo said, via Youngmisuk. "Woody’s not out there playing. We’re out there playing. You can’t blame Woody."
Dolan will blame Woody if he sees fit. He won't think twice before showing him the door.
But it doesn't have to be like that. The Knicks can be better. Woodson can be better.
Woodson, if he understands what's best for the team, can feel safe.
*All stats compiled from Basketball-Reference and are accurate as of Nov. 14 unless otherwise noted.