Despite denials, Phase I of NY’s off-season appears to be underway. Rumors abound that Mike Woodson is the favorite to coach the Knicks next season. Reportedly at James Dolan’s request, Woodson replaced his agent, who also represents former Knicks, Pistons, Sixers, Pacers, et al. coach, Larry Brown, with an eye toward getting an extension done.
Bringing Woody back seems like the logical, let’s-not-overthink-it play. For all the justifiable hand-wringing and kvetching about the savage playoff beatdown, the Knicks improved significantly this season. The 2011-12 Knicks improved their win percentage over 2010-11 (55%, up from 51%), against a tougher schedule (11th in SRS, up from 15th). NY’s 41 expected wins were 8th best in the league, up from 15th. In truth, NY was a bit unlucky to end a game behind Orlando for the 6th seed. A late season blowout-lead-turned-loss to Indiana and head-scratching losses to Cleveland sure do stick in my craw, considering that we match up with Indiana about as well as we don’t with Miami.
Sure, take the standard “grain of salt” with NY’s expected wins in this weirdo season, but 66 games is enough to make some meaningful inferences. And in this case, the Pythagorean record squares fairly well with the hairy eyeball. The Knicks were by any measure a pretty fine defensive team, over-switching all. Among Eastern Conference playoff teams, only Miami and Chicago won their season series. NY finished the season rated fifth overall in defensive efficiency. Defensive improvement (it should be noted) was evident under D’Antoni but it jumped under Woodson, even as the schedule got tougher. The improvements appear sustainable. Chandler had his standard season, which may not win defensive POY without the media narrative about his locker room presence, yadda, yadda. But more importantly, this kind of season seems–knock wood–repeatable. Carmelo, for all the righteous grief he’s taken, evolved from a turnstile into a reasonable defender. What used to be Marbury-like indifference is now mostly occasional ball-watching. We’ll have to see if he can build on those improvements.
HOW-EVAH! If I may get my Stephen A. on for a sec, the Knicks were just a mess offensively. Not even a hot mess, as they rated 17th in offensive efficiency. Obviously the injuries and transitions were a major culprit, but, as the old saying goes, “Excuses are tools that build bridges to nowhere and monuments to nothingness.” Injuries wrecked continuity for sure, yet we saw a sound scheme on defense that didn’t fall apart without Chandler unless Jeffries was also missing. We didn’t get the same soundness of scheme on offense, which far too often seemed aimless. Melo may exemplify this flaw, and his shortcomings are well-documented, bordering on legend, but it was a structural flaw. It wasn’t just about Melo. Flaws were also evident under D’Antoni. I might note a personal a pet peeve. The aptly named “pick-and-roll,” a staple of the fabled D’Antoni offense, has both “pick” and “roll” components. A “V-cut,” Amare, is NOT a pick. A “pick” requires the “pick-setter” to actually impede an oncoming defender’s movement while remaining stationary. Now I’m not one to gossip, but the touches STAT so desperately craves would be far more plentiful if he set actual picks on the pick-and-roll.
If Woodson can claim credit for the #5 defensive rating–and he can–then he must also own the dreadful offense. His inability to get Novak double-digit shots over five games is pretty troubling. It goes to concerns about whether this is destined to be Atlanta redux; a 50-55 win squad that can’t get a top three seed.
So, what say you Knickerbloggeristas? To Wood, or not to Wood? That is the question. If no, what’s your plan? Not really interested in any Phil Jackson tripe. Let’s keep it to the question of the coach. I’m sure the other guys will get to the roster in the coming days.