Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports
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.
Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal compiled a list of the coach's mishaps over the last calendar year. Here's an excerpt, though the entire piece is must-read, eye-opening material.
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.