Death by one thousand cuts. To no one’s surprise, the New York Knicks fired head coach Mike Woodson. One year after making the playoffs as the second seed with a record of 54-28, the Knicks fell back out of the playoff picture. Even with the very low-bar for the NBA’s Eastern Conference their 37-45 didn’t make the cut.
What happened to the Knicks to make dismissing Woodson the answer? Other than Phil Jackson being brought in to run the show near the end of the season that is. First of all, the Knicks took almost 300 less threes this season than they did last year. Now, I recognize my own biases, one of which is what I see as the most efficient ways to shoot the ball.1 I don’t mean to bring up the threes as some sort of magic bean fix, the way the team was shooting early in the season2 was likely the reason they started to pull back from taking threes, probably the correct decision. But the point is, they weren’t as effective from their most prolific scoring spot last year: behind the arc.
A year after being named an All-Star, center Tyson Chandler played just 55 games and saw his field goal percentage drop below 60%. That may seem like a high bar, but when your shot chart looks like this…
It becomes almost necessary to be close to the tops in the league in field goal percentage.3
J.R. Smith actually shot better from beyond the arc than the previous season but his overall field goal percentage went down. The loss of sharp(ish) shooters Chris Copeland and Jason Kidd, the drop-off in effectiveness of Ray Felton and the addition of a 27% three-point shooting Andrea Bargnani all contributed to the slow start of the Knicks from downtown.
Woodson may not be known for his offensive acumen, but his team took even less effective shots, particularly much less from the corners and at the basket, than in 2012-13.
The Knicks got worse, demonstrably, on both ends of the court, but they weren’t drastically different. But they were enough worse that they went from a positive net team to a negative net team.
With Amar’e Stoudemire out for much of last season, Woodson wasn’t saddled with fitting him into lineups until the postseason. But, in 2013-14, the $100 million man had to find a spot. The most common lineup for the Knicks featured Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Chandler; making Anthony a small forward. In 2012-13, Woodson was able to play Anthony at the power forward, a strong mismatch, for much of the season.
The Knicks were the second slowest team in the league on offense according to NBA.com’s Pace stat. When a team is so focused on half-court sets and slowing the game down, it’s a bad sign when the team’s also the fourth-lowest in team assist percentage4
Woodson was fired for a multitude of reasons, none of which were particularly compelling all on their own, but when put together, were more than enough reason to end the Knicks employment of Mike Woodson. Just to illustrate this point further, another little jab to part with: A defensive guru whose team allows the opposing team to shoot 37.1% from deep5 implies you can’t convince your players to close out on the most efficient shots. Not a good thing.