COMMENTARY | In his first full season as the New York Knicks' head coach, Mike Woodson has, in a variety of ways, legitimately put himself in NBA Coach of the Year discussions.
Holding His Players Accountable From the Start, While Remaining Flexible
Anyone around the Knicks this season has constantly heard players automatically regurgitate the preachings of their head coach since training camp: share the ball offensively, communicate on defense, and commit to defensive assignments. While getting his players to follow through on those principles has been an inconsistent endeavor at times, Woodson has successfully changed the team's culture while adapting his own innate instincts.
Woodson accepted that his club can be one that hoists the most 3-pointers (while making the most) in the league, as long as his players get good looks at one end, and continue to be solid enough defensively at the other.
Ensuring Veteran Roster Help That Has Paid Off Significantly
Early in the year, the Knicks were mocked for being the oldest team in the league. At the behest of Woodson, general manager Glen Grunwald brought in as many wise and savvy -- albeit aging -- role players as he could.
Despite a myriad of injuries to those players throughout the season, few are laughing now as the strategy has largely paid off for New York.
Although Rasheed Wallace missed most of the year and ended up back in retirement, he was a key component in helping the Knicks get off to the dominant 18-5 start that they desperately needed before they went 20-21 thereafter.
Kurt Thomas was brought back for a second tour of duty with New York, and although he too missed considerable time, many Knicks players credit his gutty effort on a bad foot March 18 in Utah with inspiring New York's 16-2 surge to the regular-season finish line.
Another former retiree, Kenyon Martin, played a major role in that big finish after joining the team in late February, and Martin paid huge dividends in the Knicks' first two playoff wins against Boston -- as did 40-year-old Jason Kidd, who prior to that was a key contributor over the season.
Even New York's rookies (35-year-old Pablo Prigioni, the NBA's oldest rookie ever, and 28-year-old Chris Copeland) are very old for being first-year players. But, because they are, they're already seasoned and have significantly and positively impacted the Knicks' season.
Helping His Overly Scrutinized Superstar Become a Team Leader
While many unappreciative Knicks fans still seem to criticize their best player, Woodson challenged Carmelo Anthony, who responded by winning his first league scoring title. But, for those who still think of Anthony as a selfish ball hog, he didn't win 54 regular-season games and a division title or set the single season NBA record season for most 3-pointers by a team all by himself. Much of that had to do with Woodson successfully demanding more of his superstar.
Turning J.R. Smith into the NBA's Sixth Man and Tyson Chandler into an All-Star
Then there's the erratic J.R. Smith, who nine years into his professional basketball career managed to change his game drastically under Woodson's very close tutelage, after initially wanting to be a starter. The transformation of Smith into a far more aggressive player with vastly improved shot-selection skills, and an increased ability to get to the foul line, resulted in Smith becoming the league's Sixth Man of the Year -- and, more important, the Knicks' second most reliable scoring option behind Anthony.
Pushing the Right Buttons
Through all of the injuries, Woodson often found the right combinations for New York, whether it was among several other instances, going with a smaller, two-point guard lineup in which Prigioni began to flourish as a starter down the stretch of the season, or playing Kidd and Martin over Iman Shumpert and Tyson Chandler (who made his first All-Star team this season) in the fourth quarters of the Knicks' Game 1 and Game 2 victories over the Boston Celtics in this year's Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Despite his very solid credentials, Woodson faces some stiff opposition in the race for this year's Coach of the Year Award.
Behind head coach Erik Spoelstra, the defending NBA champion Miami Heat were the only team to win over 60 games during the regular season, while winning half a dozen more than the next closest team (Oklahoma City). The Heat reeling off the second-longest win streak in league history (27 games) and losing just twice (one of those losses to Woodson's Knicks) since the Super Bowl, could make Spoelstra a Coach of the Year Award frontrunner.
Lacking a single All-Star, head coach George Karl has had his Denver Nuggets playing an exciting brand of basketball, which has been fun to watch. He's also guided Denver to the league's best home record (38-3) and the three-seed in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
San Antonio Spurs mastermind Gregg Popovich won the award last year. Another Southwest Division title and a two-seed with the same veteran-laden core that's now a year older have instantly earned Popovich some serious consideration again.
While Woodson may not win the award, his very solid resume this season speaks for itself.
Jonathan Wagner is a New York Knicks beat writer for New York Sports Day and a weekly featured guest discussing the Knicks and other sports topics on the New York Sports Geeks internet radio show (powered by Sportsideo). Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanJWagner.
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