One man is not responsible for their downfall. Everyone involved has a hand in making these Knicks what they are: mopish and indolent, inconsistent and lost, beyond recall.
These Knicks are flawed. From top to bottom and back to the top. One night, they're worth watching. The next, they're hopelessly unsightly. Uneven efforts have pinned them 12 games under .500 and outside the Eastern Conference's playoff picture.
Our first inclination is to blame the coach. This is his team after all. He's responsible for what happens, good or bad, outstanding or awful.
But that doesn't mean everyone else isn't.
What Is Woodson's Fault?
Absolving Woodson of all blame is impossible. Much of this fiasco is his fault.
Porous defense, above all else, is on him. The Knicks switch on almost everything, a well-documented strategy that has them ranked 27th in defensive efficiency. A deeper, visual-aid-heavy dive into their defensive deficiencies can be found here. Just know their switch-heavy style has proved costly.
Then, understand Woodson is at fault.
Although the numbers tell us otherwise, The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring noted that Woodson rattled off irrelevant stats of his own before New York's Wednesday night loss to the tanking Philadelphia 76ers:
Woodson called last year's defense "solid," and said that switching then didn't hurt them. Said they're allowing 99 PPG this season.— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) January 22, 2014
Allowing under 100 points per game seems good enough—admirable, even. However, as Bleacher Report's Joe Flynn points out, we don't live in the stone age anymore:
Now, the Knicks did, in fact, give up 95.7 opponent points per game—seventh in the league. And their 2013-14 mark of 99.1 opponent's points per game is ranked 10th. These defensive numbers might have been deemed impressive...in the 80's. But in the year 2014, even casual NBA fans know about pace-adjusted defensive efficiency. New York was the fourth-slowest team in the league last season, so their defensive efficiency number ballooned to a thoroughly mediocre 18th. This year's Knicks squad came into Wednesday ranked an abysmal 27th in defensive efficiency.
Does Woodson not have a throng of assistants at his disposal who can explain this to him? Does he not have access to a computer or a library card that would give him access to a computer, plus the ability to check out NBA Defense For Dummies?
Don't let Woodson's apparent ignorance fool you. He's spouted off advanced statistics before, when it was convenient for him:
Woodson often talked with us about how the Knicks ranked 3rd in NBA in offense last year, even tho they only ranked 11th in PPG that season.— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) January 22, 2014
This is what we call "selective blindness," where Woodson will only see and acknowledge things that support his beliefs, however outlandish or flat-out wrong they are.
Blame incongruous rotations on him too. More than halfway through the season, he shouldn't still be experimenting. Blame him for (some) lack of energy as well. It's his job to keep players motivated and engaged.
Chemistry isn't built amid chaos. Wins aren't amassed in disorder. Stability is crucial. Woodson has done little to promote a lasting and reliable environment and system.
Woeful Cast of Characters
Imperfect though Woodson may be, he's not the one playing.
Players must be held equally accountable for New York's demise. They're the ones on the court, blowing these defensive rotations, switches and leads. They're the ones plunging into states of inertia for long periods of time.
They're the ones losing.
With the exception of Carmelo Anthony—who has been far from perfect himself—no other Knick has been up to snuff. Not a single one.
Andrea Bargnani is New York's second-leading scorer and he registers under 14 points a night. Only four Knicks are averaging double-digit points and just two of those four are shooting better than 40 percent from the field.
Woodson cannot suddenly fix J.R. Smith, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, who has been equal parts erratic, grisly and infuriating. He cannot miraculously instill a sense of defensive purpose, offensive aptitude and general stamina into Raymond Felton. He cannot blow up an underwhelming, bottom-of-the-barrel supporting cast on his own.
The #Knicks are broken. Not all on Mike Woodson & certainly not on Carmelo Anthony. “Supporting cast” & front office are biggest failures.— Ethan Norof (@Mr_Norof) January 23, 2014
Too much of what's wrong with the Knicks also coincides with effort, which is why their half-season showing is so disturbing.
Chasing loose balls, grabbing rebounds, protecting the ball and things of that nature come down to will and execution. The Knicks were minus-15 on the glass against Philly. They allowed 50 points in the paint. They gave up 16 points in transition.
They weren't all there.
J.R. Smith sticks up for Woody: "It comes down to the players. I don't think it's the coach's fault or scheme's fault." #Knicks— Barbara Barker (@meanbarb) January 23, 2014
"You work so hard to build a lead, or get a lead, and then within a snap of a finger, you’re back at it," Anthony told The New York Times' Zach Schonbrun after the loss to Philly. "It’s like a reoccurring story that’s happening."
Woodson can no sooner protect the Knicks' leads than he can turn them from listless, distant and essentially careless into a team that collectively gives a damn.
Starts at the Top
Ultimate blame isn't on Woodson or Knicks players. It's on the mindless and impulsive front office members who are responsible for putting this team together.
Owner James Dolan must be shamed more than anyone else, for without his iron fist and twisted sense of proprietorship, the Knicks wouldn't be here failing. Miserably.
The micromanaging Dolan has spent and prodded this once-fine organization in the direction of ruin, repeatedly botching transactions and sanctioning inexplicable hires and departures.
Cap-managing, roster-configuring sage Donnie Walsh was chased out in favor of someone who would allow Dolan to run amok and devalue in-house assets. And that someone, Glen Grunwald, was shown the door for a recognized face in Steve Mills, who is both distinguished and unopposed to making Dolan's will reality.
Who is more at fault for the Knicks' demise?
Assembling on-court personnel has been just as harrowing an experience. When the Knicks aren't mortgaging the farm on Anthony, they're forking over three draft picks—one of which is a first-rounder—for Bargs, a player the Toronto Raptors didn't want.
Constant meddling has been an issue too. According to the New York Daily News' Frank Isola, Dolan and friends have urged Woodson to exert his authority over players and even intervened in decisions regarding the starting lineup.
The list unfortunately goes on, and it's exactly why the Knicks are in disarray.
It's why they likely won't even entertain the thought of trading Anthony—even if it becomes clear that's the smartest thing to do. The front office cannot be trusted to net a justifiable return and commence a productive rebuild. It's why there is no end to this inbred turbulence in sight.
It's why the Knicks are where they are, on the brink of implosion, failing collectively, not because of one person.
"It is what it is at this point, so we gotta continue taking it one game at a time and keep fighting," Anthony told ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley.
Strings of uphill battles await the Knicks if they wish to save their season, fights that will be won and lost together, by players, coaches and executives, and not Woodson alone.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.