After an underwhelming 2-4 start to the season and the stench of Sunday’s lopsided loss against the Spurs still seeping in the air, it’s no surprise that Mike Woodson has suddenly found himself on a really hot seat.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Woodson, but it’s difficult to dismiss his accomplishments. As the fastest Knick coach to 50 wins (in just 72 games) and 74 total regular season wins in just 111 games, there is no denying his efficacy. At one point, though it doesn’t mean much now, he was even cited as the sole coach to “reach” JR Smith, and has gained a reputation for being a loyal Dolan employee. Woodson hasn’t always been accustomed to receiving such accolades as a coach though. Before he came on as an Assistant Coach for the Knicks back when Mike D’Antoni was forced to procure defensive help, Woodson’s vacant stare was a long-time familiar sight for Atlanta Hawk fans.
Woodson’s tenure in Atlanta is pretty forgettable by the numbers. In six full seasons he mounted 323 losses and a .464 winning percentage (.391 in the post-season). Towards the end of his Hawks career he did manage to reach the second round of the playoffs, but his infamous “Iso-Joe” offense and lack of player development ultimately wasn’t enough to gain any real success. Still, I thought it would be interesting to see what Atlanta Hawks fans actually thought of Woodson and if they even miss now that they have had two different coaches since he left. After all, it gives Knicks fans a deeper perspective on how they should feel about Woodson now that he is within range of Dolan’s rage.
These days the most passionate fans are the ones that lament on message boards, so I asked the Hawks board on RealGM and Reddit for their thoughts on Woodson. Here are the most common refrains:
Woodson is a regular season coach, not a playoff one:
“He’s a solid Regular Season coach but just REFUSES to make adjustments in the playoffs. We lived and died by the iso-Joe offense, and in the playoffs we lived in the first round but died brutally in round 2.” –ATL Boy of RealGM
“Regular season he is solid. But is one of the worst postseason tacticians I’ve ever seen. He’ll get you to the playoffs every year, but he cannot (will not?) make the adjustments necessary to out strategize anyone.” – Jamaaliver of RealGM
Woodson has an okay defensive strategy but a horrible offensive one:
“Glad he’s gone. Awful coach while he was in Atlanta. Zero offensive strategy, and terrible with playing time decisions and in-game adjustments.” –Shadowman_09 of Reddit
“Offense always left a lot to be desired but team defense always felt good. To be fair though, he was here as we got on track. So, I have a love-hate relationship with him. Glad to see him successful, Glad for what he did for the Hawks, glad he’s gone.” -_xaq of Reddit
Knicks fans may choose to argue this point. In his first full season in New York, Woodson led the Knicks to the top three in offensive efficiency while the team slid down to the lower-half of the league in defensive efficiency. Furthermore, his insistence on constant switching infuriates fans as it leads to constant mismatches.
Woodson doesn’t care about developing young players:
“He is too quick to pull a young player and habitually stays with a veteran for much,
much longer. The young player he sits until the player learns. If he doesn’t, too bad.
It’s not his fault.” –Graymule of RealGM
“If you are a young guy you better be able to provide the very specific role that he pigeonholes you into be it spacing the floor, defending, rebounding, never making a mistake, etc. or you can place your butt firmly on the bench. He wasn’t interested in developing well rounded prospects and allowed vets the leeway and minutes to figure out **** for themselves.” –MaceCase of RealGM
The bottom line on Woodson:
“Woody favors iso-based players over systems players even if the systems player is younger and more skilled than said iso-player so I can see why the favoritism for JR Smith. Iso players require zero coaching or offensive system in place so you set them loose and sit back and watch. Before Iso-Joe, we had Iso-Lue and Iso-Flip Murray and iso-Antoine Walker. He is completely a short-term coach who only cares about regular season wins and will not bother developing depth or young players. In fact, he is the reason that we traded a 1st round pick and Jordan Crawford (who was actually a decent prospect at the time) for a broken-down Kirk Hinrich since he spent no effort developing Jeff Teague as a PG. It was not until Hinrich went down in the playoffs that he was forced to play Teague who then went on to average 20 points in the series against the Bulls, which shows how big of a stubborn fool Woody had been. He will absolutely get outcoached in the playoffs by anyone with half a brain” –Grammer Nazi of RealGM
As we can see, these Hawk fans sound a hell of a lot like Knicks fans when airing their grievances against Woodson, and it’s telling that he doesn’t seem to be missed. It’s hard to disagree with those that know Woodson best, and those aren’t Knick fans — they’re Hawks fans since they had to deal with him over 600 games. As the statements suggest, Woodson seems to be a slightly above average regular season coach, but in the playoffs, when it counts, his lack of offensive imagination and refusal to make significant adjustments has always plagued him. We saw this last year against Indiana and the fact that he’s so desperate to have his favorite gunner in J.R. Smith back also reveals a failure to devise any offensive strategy devoid of iso-[insert hired gun’s name here]
If Woodson gets fired there certainly is no shortage of options, including last year’s Coach of the Year, George Karl (oh wait, we have Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith on this team) but mid-season coaching adjustments rarely are final. More likely to happen is Herb Williams, Jim Todd, or Darrell Walker finishing the year. It’s impossible to gauge what is going on in Dolan’s head but he clearly is irked about the Knicks’ stumble out of the gate. With Tyson Chandler out for significant time and a difficult schedule ahead, I can’t imagine the Knicks faring well over the rest of the month. The Knicks are in dangerous territory and one that Woodson may be ill-equipped to handle.