No one can argue with Mike Woodson’s tenure as the New York Knicks head coach. They just had their most successful season in over a decade, won 54 games, the Atlantic Division, and advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in a decade. And perhaps his greatest feat has been managing the assortment of personalities that now reside in the Knicks locker room. From a superstar of Carmelo Anthony’s power to a group of aged veterans less-than-interested in the regular season to historical goofballs like J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin, and now Metta World Peace — Woodson has kept it all under control for the most part.
However, with his deserved praise of player and personality management also comes his recently strange treatment of Iman Shumpert. Shumpert, by all means, appears to be a hard-worker, a talented player, a young man with a good head on his shoulders. Whereas Woodson tends to turn a blind eye to Smith’s shot-happy ways, regardless of team detriment, or certain players’ defensive lapses, he’s keeping a strangely tight leash on Shumpert. And for what, exactly?
Despite perhaps the best postseason of any player clad in the orange and blue, Woodson has yet to give Shumpert the starting job over Smith, who is not only rehabbing from ill-timed knee surgery, but will miss time serving a suspension for violating the NBA’s drug policy. Now, most recently, Woodson seems to act as if Shumpert’s mostly good preseason play has been for naught. Via the New York Post:
“Iman plays hard: That’s the thing that’s kept him on the floor. He’s just got to figure out — [what] we’ve got to help him figure out — is his game that coincides with what we want to do,’’ Woodson said. “He’s got to be able to play pick-and-roll offense, he’s got to be able to run the team with the ball in his hands, because our 1s, 2s and 3s handle the basketball.
“There are a number of things. Defensively, he’s got to start being more solid and not so overaggressive that he gets beat. So there are some things he’s got to clean up, too. He’s still a young player. There’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve got to help him get there quickly.
Shumpert seems to take it all in stride. In the past, he’s said he thrived coming off the bench in his rookie season; he’s claimed he doesn’t care where he plays, he just wants to win; in the above article he says he’s been pushed at all levels because coaches recognize what he’s capable of doing. If there’s a player on this Knicks squad who wouldn’t let it be known publicly that he’s upset about his handling, it would be Shumpert.
And perhaps Mike Woodson has a reason for all of this — it could be part of his personality management. Whereas certain guys like Smith or World Peace or even Anthony need stern, but gentle handling with a longer leash for mistakes, perhaps Woodson recognizes Shumpert’s potential and sees pushing against him as a motivational technique. And he could be right; certainly Woodson’s judgment and knowledge of the team situation outweighs any of ours’.
However, it also could be a dangerous game Woodson’s playing. By most accounts, this has been called the do-or-die season for the Knicks, and Shumpert is one of the few players on this team that still has room to grow and develop. The meshing of talents is the Knicks’ hope to Eastern Conference contention — by and large, most of the players on this roster are established players with established styles of play. Shumpert remains mold-able.
Furthermore, if this is the Knicks’ do-or-die season, Woodson, who just had his option picked up, is also running the risk of pushing one of the Knicks’ youngest, potential building-block players away. Shumpert feeds off doubt and has an endless supply of motivation, so Woodson may just be summoning that inner-hunger. However, Shumpert still is a young player, yet to play an entire season in the NBA, and there could certainly be a limit to how much pushing he gets before he needs to be rewarded. The whole starter-versus-bench thing could be overblown, but it’d be a shame to upset team chemistry already, especially with a crucial player like Shumpert.
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