The Knicks should be in for some change to bring in the new year.
There's never a better time for change than the new year, and there aren't many teams more desperate for change than the New York Knicks.
Like many of us, the Knickerbockers have fallen into quite a few bad habits in 2013—many of which were covered up last season by veteran leadership and potent shooting. The Knicks still hope to be a playoff team this year, but will only achieve that goal with a few tweaks.
Some of the following resolutions may be more attainable than others, but all would be vital to a new-year postseason push in the coming months.
Few teams have weathered a greater roller-coaster 2013 than New York—between a 54-win campaign in the former portion and a putrid 9-18 start in the latter, the Knicks have been through it all.
Perhaps 2014 can be brighter for the Knicks than this past year. But only under certain circumstances.
Heading into the new year, New York will be battling a slew of injuries to players imperative to the team's success.
Already this season, Tyson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Amar'e Stoudemire, Kenyon Martin, Metta World Peace, Toure' Murry and now Carmelo Anthony have been bitten by the injury bug. Every member of the already deep point guard rotation aside from Beno Udrih has been affected, and Andrea Bargnani is the lone frontcourt Knick to avoid missing time.
In order to make up ground in the easily attainable Eastern Conference playoff competition, New York needs its key contributors healthy. Entering the season, the team was renowned as one of the conference's deeper squads, but that mantra only rang true while the preseason depth chart was constructed.
Udrih, for example, was an astounding piece as a third point man. Forced to be a starter? Different situation. World Peace was thought to be a sound addition for spot minutes at both forward spots, but a few factors have weighed against any MWP impact thus far.
If Bargnani was slated for, say, 20 to 25 minutes as a reserve power forward, he would have a chance to positively impact games. Instead, as starting center, he's hurt the Knicks on a nightly basis. He's posted the Knicks' third-worst net-rating this season, according to NBA.com, as the team's defense improves by a whopping 15 points per 100 possessions while he's sitting.
Anthony, after spraining his ankle Monday night against the Orlando Magic, is questionable for Wednesday's Christmas Day matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He's the latest Knick to be hampered, and by far the one player the Knicks wouldn't be able to stand a chance without.
Over his last 11 games, Anthony has shot 49 percent from the field, 50 percent from three and 89 percent from the stripe. He's grabbed seven boards on average over that span while scoring more than 26 and dishing three assists. He's gotten to the line 6.5 times and swatted a shot per game since then as well. Simply put, if 'Melo misses significant time, the Knicks are toast.
But if the Knicks get their full slate of depth back any time soon—including Martin's defense and Stoudemire's offense backing up Chandler at the 5, and a full point rotation of Felton, Prigioni and Udrih—the team's chances in the East suddenly spike from grim to bright.
The 9-18 Knicks have had several factors to blame their depressing start on thus far. To this point, seldom has any member of the organization owned up to what truthfully haunts the team.
Through the early 3-13 skid, it was a lack of intensity—not getting up to play, not coming out strong, however they wanted to put it. The coach and various players swore the putrid start was a direct result of not playing hard—an easy copout when asked to pinpoint weaknesses. Weaknesses, in the Knicks' case, that were maybe too plentiful to completely cover in a single interview session.
The team's "lack of identity" has also been brought up as a scapegoat, which is another simple way of saying the Knicks haven't done anything consistently well enough to label their calling card. As recently as before Monday's game against Orlando, Mike Woodson was heard on MSG television broadcasts and radio airwaves blaming training camp injuries, J.R. Smith's five-game suspension and Tyson Chandler's injury for the team's extended brutal beginning.
No Knick seems to be comfortable addressing the issue head on, which would entail attributing losses to offensive stagnancy, mindlessly constructed lineups and no apparent interest in defending.
As soon as the Knicks come to terms with what makes them such a bad basketball team, they'll be able to build on their flaws and improve on the miserable record they've dug themselves through the season's first two months. Until then, expect more of the same posturing and denial, and the subsequent status quo of mediocrity.
Isolations and post-ups are the Knicks' second- and fourth-most run play types this season, according to Synergy. They've shot just 40 percent from the field on such shots combined, going 213-for-530.
This was a predictable outcome heading into the year, under notoriously iso-heavy coach Mike Woodson, and the top three offensive weapons being Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Andrea Bargnani—three one-on-one style scorers.
Smith has gone one-on-one on 20 percent of his offensive plays, and ranks 83rd in isolation efficiency, shooting a miserable 29 percent from the field and just 1-of-8 on threes. Though Smith ranks top-20 in catch-and-shoot points per game, according to NBA.com, his over-dribbling tendencies have sporadically plagued him throughout the season.
Isos and post-ups make up 47 percent of Anthony's offensive output this year, per Synergy, and he ranks 34th and 11th in those categories, respectively. He's a 41.4 percent catch-and-shoot three shooter this season, according to NBA.com, and has thrived under Woodson in the past in a system comprised of ball-movement and actual sets.
Smith has said himself that the team isn't well equipped to run efficiently in the halfcourt, via KnicksNow: "Whenever we don't run and try to make ourselves a halfcourt team, we struggle."
Keep in mind the Knicks are ranked 29th of 30 teams in pace—they're the textbook definition of a "halfcourt team."
But he does bring up a valid point. It would behoove New York to get moving in transition or even run a few halfcourt sets. Anything to avoid stagnancy, which has killed most inklings of offensive flow this year.
I'm not usually one to consciously call for a man to lose his job, but there's enough evidence to reach the conclusion that Mike Woodson and the Knicks are a pair no longer fit for success.
Despite what its record would lead you to believe, the 54-win Knicks of last season—though immensely successful and supremely talented in streaks—were a tremendously flawed team with nasty habits. Those habits—undisciplined switching and doubling on defense, and failing to play adequate lineups or run logical plays in crunch time are a few—fall squarely on Woodson.
It is hard to pinpoint if and when the 55-year-old's coaching instincts—which favor a traditional, punishing style over the small-ball lineups with which the Knicks have thrived—were ever the reason for the Knicks' success. The team suffered in last season's playoffs against Indiana when he panicked by going away from the team's two point-guard lineup, an alignment he's used only sparingly this season even though it produced a 40-16 record over the past two seasons.
For all the roster's flaws, it is talented enough to win when it launches three-pointers and forces turnovers. But Woodson, citing bigger, stronger opponents this season, has said smaller lineups are a last resort, as if the team isn't already fighting to stay relevant. And he's continued the Knicks' costly switching strategy on defense, even though it doesn't fit the team's slow-footed personnel.
In summation, Woodson was hardly responsible for the things that made the 2012-13 Knicks great. Starting dual-point lineups was a scheme that was almost forced upon him due to preseason injuries, and that team's defense was ranked in the bottom half in efficiency.
In just one year's time, the offense has morphed from a beautiful display of screening and off-ball movement to a collection of four bystanders simply watching Anthony or Smith dribble almost aimlessly.
This year, he's continuously adjusted to opponents' size, rather than assert his own team's strengths, when constructing lineups. Many will point to Woodson's mental error earlier in December, when he failed to call timeout after a made Washington Wizards bucket with just seconds left.
More worrisome than the non-timeout, however, was what happened in the moments leading up to it. Bradley Beal, after burning past Beno Udrih, pranced through a wide open lane to the rack, thanks to a non-existent Knicks help D.
Postgame, Iman Shumpert spoke on what was discussed before the play: "We thought we'd make the stop," he said, according to KnicksNow, implying that Woodson never even bothered exploring a post-bucket plan.
After accepting blame at one point after the game, Woodson deflected it a bit, per Kenny Ducey, when he said the loss "had nothing to do with the timeout. We knew we had a foul to give ... that's where the breakdown occurred."
Deflecting blame is something Woodson is not stranger to in this season alone. Already he's placed blame on Shumpert for fouling Paul George in a game against the Indiana Pacers. According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, he said that Shumpert "lazily" defended George despite holding him to mediocre numbers all night long.
His tendency to relieve Shumpert and rookie Tim Hardaway Jr., among other younger players, of burn at the drop of a hat is yet another example of the coach having no pulse on what makes his team function. For more on this, here's a bit from Joe Flynn, who wrote a deep piece on SB Nation's Posting and Toasting, linking Woodson's methods and B.F. Skinner's Reinforcement Theory.
Here is how a responsible coach should punish his players.
Every player has to shoot on occasion—even the most offensively inept big shouldn't pass up an uncontested two-footer. The trick for coaches is to find each player's optimal shot output and adjust punishments accordingly.
On defense, the math is much simpler—fewer mistakes, fewer punishments; more mistakes, more punishments.
Now here is the Woodson method.
You can see why this method might not be optimal for coaching basketball...or anything, really. For the players on the red line, their playing style will inevitably devolve into a halting, hesitating mess.
By now, there really aren't any clear benefits that stem from Woodson coaching the Knicks anymore.
The once fruitful relationship has soured, and although there may be no clear replacement candidate in the short-term, Woodson's style—barring any major revelations in the coming days—is no longer conducive to Knicks victories. Or maybe it never was in the first place.