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Profiles in Coaching: Taking Woodson To The Woodshed

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

The fates of NBA head coaches are hopelessly intertwined with the abilities and personalities of their players. For that reason they usually only get attention for performance on the extreme ends of the spectrum – utter disaster and chest-beating success. But that perspective ignores a creatively rich middle class of coaches grinding away in relative anonymity. Here at Hickory-High we fancy ourselves as the bane of relative anonymity and so for the next few days we’ll be looking at these leaders, both lauded and ignored, for our Profiles in Coaching series.

The majority of the pieces done this week in this series have outlined the positives of NBA head coaches.

This will not be one of those pieces.

Mike Woodson is the worst coach in the NBA, and I don’t even think there’s a particularly close second. All the teams at the bottom of the standings have woefully overmatched rosters. Even the disappointing Nets, who seemingly have suffered from poor coaching, could also easily blame their disappointing start on one of the oldest, slowest rosters in recent memory.

The Knicks can’t really hide behind those excuses. They will (and do), but none of them really apply.

Yes, Tyson Chandler’s injury threw the roster into a great deal of havoc. But even with Chandler out of the lineup, Woodson re-arranged his rotations with a wanton disregard for everything that made the team successful a year ago. It’s like he wasn’t even around while the team won 54 games and played competitively with the Pacers in the second round.

Last year, according to lineup data at 82games.com, Carmelo Anthony played 48% of the Knicks’ available minutes at power forward, and just 8% of their small forward minutes. For Anthony himself, that breaks down to roughly 76% of his minutes at power forward, just 12% of his minutes at small forward. This season, Anthony has still played 47% of the Knicks’ power forward minutes, but has also played 33% of their small forward minutes, which means he’s played just 57% of his minutes at power forward, and 40.5% of his minutes at small forward.

It’s those small forward minutes that kill the Knicks – with Chandler out, it means Carmelo is sharing the floor with Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani, a three-man group that has played 103 minutes together…. and gets outscored by 32.3 points per 36 minutes. That’s not a typo.

Making things even worse is Woodson’s completely and totally inexplicable trust in J.R. Smith. Smith has played 622 minutes this season, and uses roughly 21.2% of the Knicks’ possessions while he’s on the floor. This wouldn’t be a huge issue if not for the whole part where he’s shooting 33.3% from the floor. This is his shot chart.

It would be one thing if the Knicks just didn’t have any other options on the perimeter. After all, Smith was the Sixth Man of The Year last year, and is still working his way back into form after off-season knee surgery. But Smith isn’t the Knicks’ only option. They spent their first-round pick this past summer on Tim Hardaway Jr., an athletic two-guard with size and a sweet shooting stroke. He’s shooting 47% from the floor, 42.7% from three. This is his shot chart. Notice the extensive shades of green and yellow, as opposed to the expanse of red on Smith’s.

Naturally, Hardaway has played just 417 minutes this season, 14 minutes per game less than Smith.

What, exactly, is Smith bringing to the table that Hardaway cannot? I have no idea. I really don’t. There isn’t a single basketball-related reason for it (I say “basketball-related” because I’m willing to entertain the suggestion that J.R. Smith has his hands on compromising photos of Woodson and is blackmailing his way into playing time – I wouldn’t rule it out).

But Woodson’s problems go beyond just which players are on the court – he’s shockingly and inexcusably unprepared for basic in-game situations. The most obvious example is from Monday’s loss to Washington. Leading 101-100 with 24 seconds remaining, Washington had the ball. Following a comical defensive breakdown in which Beno Udrih, completely overmatched against Bradley Beal, actually pointed to the spot where he was expecting help to come from, and when none came, Beal beat him to that exact spot for a go-ahead baseline layup (here’s a helpful Vine from ESPN’s Amin Elhassan).

This is where it gets hilarious.

The Knicks have three timeouts left. There were six seconds remaining in the game, more than enough time to draw up and run a play after advancing the ball to half-court.

Did Woodson call timeout? Nope.

Did he instruct his players to do so? Nope.

Did the Knicks inbound the ball to Carmelo, who WALKED the ball upcourt as if he had all day, only to realize he didn’t before unleashing a running one-handed three? Of course.

Following the game, Iman Shumpert said that during the timeout with 24 seconds left (which Washington called to set up their game-winning play), they never discussed calling a timeout in the event of a made basket. They just assumed they would make a stop and secure the rebound. That’s rich, considering the Knicks rank 27th in the league in defensive efficiency, and Bradley Beal spent most of the fourth quarter lighting fire to everything he touched.

The series of events was just mind-blowing. Leaving a weak defensive player in the game against a great scorer. A complete breakdown defensively when nobody knew who was responsible for helping the aforementioned weak defender. Not having any plan for what to do in the event that the team’s bottom-five ranked defense couldn’t get a stop. Still not calling timeout after it was clear that the player holding the ball clearly had no awareness of the clock situation. The number of things that had to go completely wrong in a row for the Knicks to lose is staggering. They all did.

Yes, this is an extreme example, but stuff like this is happening all the time for the Knicks. There are basic game situations that a high school JV coach would be able to navigate with ease that Woodson, for whatever reason, can’t comprehend. He ends up staring at the court with his mouth slightly agape hoping a stroke of genius will give him the answer.

It hasn’t yet.

The Knicks keep finding more and more ridiculous ways to lose. They nearly topped Monday’s loss on Wednesday night, when Andrea Bargnani launched a three while the Knicks were up two with the shot clock turned off in overtime. They ended up winning in double overtime, and yes, it was a mistake by a single player, but it’s indicative of the complete and total lack of awareness and discipline that seems to hang over the entire roster save for Pablo Prigioni and Tyson Chandler.

I’m generally not the type of person who would advocate someone to be fired, mostly because I’ve been fired before and it’s generally not a positive experience (even when you know it’s coming). But Woodson’s performance so far this year has effectively been basketball malpractice. The piss-poor game management, compounded by the complete disregard of everything that made the team successful last season has the Knicks scraping near the bottom of the conference table despite a roster that by all rights should be a competitive team. Unfortunately for the Knicks, a win on Wednesday, plus the return of Tyson Chandler will buy Woodson some undeserved time on the bench to turn things around.

It would be very weird to root for a team you like to lose, especially when there’s no tanking involved as the team doesn’t possess their own draft pick, but Knicks fans should at least be able to see the silver lining in the ‘Bockers’ futility this season – every loss is one game closer to Mike Woodson being out of a job.

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