The Knicks are the only remaining unbeaten team in the league at 5-0. They’ve received their fair share of credit for their winning ways, with the lion’s share of the glory going to guys like Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Tyson Chandler, and even Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd. However, the man behind it all, Mike Woodson, deserves credit where credit is due.
Though they’ve played the fewest number of games among any team in the NBA, the Knicks still sit atop the league in many of the biggest categories. They own the best record, they’re second in the league in points per game, first in offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions), first in three-point percentage, first in opponents points allowed, first in defensive efficiency, and first in the league in turnover rate. Truly, the Knicks look like an elite team to begin the season, and while players deserve credit for the execution, Mike Woodson deserves credit for the preparation.
Woodson has had his fair share of detractors. In Atlanta, he was labelled as a regular-season coach – a guy who coaches a successful regular season, but falters in the postseason. His Atlanta teams were accused as being perennial second-round playoff teams who could not take the next step, in part because of average coaching. When he received his extension as head coach of the Knicks, many people expressed disapproval of the front office not seeking out bigger names like Phil Jackson. Before he ever even coached last year, fans fretted his move to iso-ball offense; the same happened this summer.
And while some of these criticisms are fair – Woodson was unimpressive in the playoffs last season, as well as in Atlanta, and he does favor a high number of isolations from scoring-minded players – Woodson also deserves a lot more credit. Thus far, the Knicks have looked well-prepared, well-coached in many aspects. The defense is perhaps even stingier than people imagined, having yet to yield more than 94 points to an opponent. The offense has been fluid, creative, focusing on lots of Carmelo Anthony post-ups, picking and rolling amongst point guards and big men, and perhaps the most pleasing aspect of all: rapid, unselfish ball movement, inside and outside, around the perimeter.
The players haven’t been shy about giving Woodson his fair share of praise. Last year, after Woodson took over, Anthony admitted to playing with a new energy and praising Woodson for holding him accountable. J.R. Smith, whose frequent run-ins with trouble have been well-documented, has grown up and gives the coaching staff credit. From Marc Berman of the New York Post:
“Smith said Thursday, ‘Being around the coaching staff, they’re very professional. They’ve been on me for being professional. They’ve been on me about being professional since Day 1 I got here.'”
Of course, more work still has to be done for Woodson. As head coach of the Knicks, he has a 23-6 record in the regular season, but some truly testing games still lie ahead, beginning tonight against the San Antonio Spurs and tomorrow night against the Memphis Grizzlies. When the playoffs roll around, that will be another story altogether.
In the meantime, Woodson and the Knicks need to take it a game at a time and build upon a solid core of basketball that’s been seen through the first five games.