Mike Woodson’s coup of the head coaching job in New York last year was similar to Jeff Van Gundy’s ascension after mad offensive genius Don Nelson was fired in March of 1995.
Woodson is now 71-33 since taking over an underachieving 18-24 squad, and last night, they clinched the No. 2 seed in the East with a wrinkly lineup around Carmelo Anthony, that probably celebrated by spraying bottles of prune juice in the locker room.
Meanwhile, D’Antoni was so fixated on reliving the Nash years in New York that he squabbled with ’Melo and put his job in Lin’s turnover-prone hands.
After going 15-1 at home in the second half of last season, the Knicks brass disappointed the fan base by re-signing Mike Woodson instead of pursuing Phil Jackson. Then, they let Jeremy Lin walk.
Lin’s putrid defense was acceptable for D’Antoni, but would have become a problem for Woodson. Lin’s 34 percent three-point shooting percentage this season in Houston, would have been a team-low among Knicks guards and his 2.9 turnovers per game would have been a team-high.
If there’s any further indictment of Mike D’Antoni, it’s Mike Woodson and Anthony. D’Antoni is an offensive guru who couldn’t figure out how to get Anthony flowing in the offense. Don’t look now, but Anthony is about to earn his first league scoring title after leading the league in field goal attempts per game.
However, that’s secondary to Woodson’s other accomplishment. There’s a running joke that Woodson resembles Mr. Potatohead. It’s a fitting comparison, because in contrast to D’Antoni’s stubbornness, Woodson’s malleability as a coach has been integral to New York’s success.
He found success with Anthony in the post during the second half of last season. This season, he's shot nearly twice as many three-pointers as he had in any full season prior.
Woodson has been flexible enough to shift his offensive philosophy by molding it to fit his roster.
They don’t have a go-to interior scorer, so they formed a death squad from deep that slowed down the pace, committed fewer turnovers than any team in the league (after finishing 29th last season), went to a smaller lineup, and made more three-pointers than any team in NBA history.
Woodson’s Knicks can also throw more looks at playoff opponents than Zoolander. Without Lin, Woodson has leaned on starting two point guards in the starting lineup.
Raymond Felton had a career year under D’Antoni before getting traded in 2010, but he’s been a constant at point guard since returning to the Knicks. When 40-year-old Jason Kidd began showing his AARP card, Woodson went to 35-year-old Pablo Prigioni. Since March 18th, the offense is averaging 104 points a game and they have lost one game since.
In March, Amar’e Stoudemire’s knee injury was supposed to be the split atom that blew up the Knicks’ resurgent season. Instead, the oldest team in NBA history resurrected their season by thrusting Kenyon Martin, another power forward with Frankenstein knees, into the rotation.
With Woodson on the sideline, the Knicks have had their most regular-season victories since Van Gundy’s second season during the 1996-97 campaign. That year, they lost in seven games to the Miami Heat in the second round.
This May, the Heat may be all that separates the Knicks from an NBA Finals. It’s a long-shot, but if there’s a coach you want to put money on, Mike Woodson is the guy. Though few people are giving anyone outside the Heat and Thunder a chance to make it to the NBA Finals, Woodson may not be out of tricks just yet.