Articles by Danielle Wolfe

A listing of all the articles written by Danielle Wolfe for the RotoWire Blog.

Mike Woodson: Coach of the Year

Disclaimer: To reiterate, I’m a New Yorker and thus, inherently biased. However, I remain steadfast in my beliefs that my opinions are consistently the correct ones.

I’m just going to say what everyone else has been thinking: Mike Woodson is a magical stern-faced Buddha sent down by the coaching gods to save the drowning New York Knicks. Woodson came at a critical time when NYK fans were just about ready to jump the sinking Manhattan ship and head towards the seemingly safer waters with the omnipotent Jay-Z in Brooklyn. Mike Woodson, a former Knick himself, was unexpectedly thrust into the head coaching position last season when the Mike D’Antoni system [inevitably] fell apart (… sorry Laker fans). For a long time Woodson was given the “interim” tag, implying that he was just sticking around until the organization could find someone to take his place. However, it didn’t take long for Woodson’s powers to take hold and drastically improve a struggling New York squad. Under D’Antoni, the Knicks were 18-24. After his departure, in contrast, the team went 18-6 and even snuck into the playoffs. Woodson deserves the most credit for transforming the Knicks from a single-win playoff team into a championship contender. He has had the best start to a season in Knicks history. Regardless to how this season unfolds, Mike Woodson needs to be named Coach of the Year.

After Woodson’s impressive showing in half a season, fans were anxious to see what would happen during the offseason. Well, Linsanity ended, and in Jeremy Lin‘s place the Knicks added a seemingly broken Raymond Felton and a “veteran” (A.K.A. past-his-time), recently DUI-convicted, 39-year-old Jason Kidd. Needless to say, there was work to be done.

However, the “trade” has worked out. Kidd, despite his age, has been of statistical value this season. He is averaging 7.4 points, 1.8 3-point shots, 3.6 assists, 4 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game. However, Kidd’s impact goes far beyond the scoreboard. As the saying goes, “the older, the wiser” and Jason Kidd is damning evidence of that. In critical moments of games Kidd is there making intelligent plays for his teammates. He has been a calming influence on the floor in times of panic. He is one of the primary reasons why the Knicks are one of best fourth quarter teams in the league. Kidd leads the Knicks in steals per game and provides a late-game spark when it’s needed most. It also isn’t uncommon to find Kidd coaching from the sidelines, or in a huddle, and Woodson does not mind Kidd taking charge. “He’s been the glue,” Woodson has said of Kidd. From a fantasy perspective, Kidd isn’t one of the elite. However, Woodson has allowed him to play the role an assistant coach who also happens to be a playmaker late in games. Kidd has been steady, but Felton has also had an incredible season under Woodson. Felton is one of the few players on the roster who is able to consistently penetrate and get to the basket. He’s also one of the only Knicks who can reliably set up Chandler and Stoudemire for alley-oops and other easy baskets. Felton currently leads the Knicks in assists, averaging 6.3 per game. While giving up Lin might have been an unpleasant pill for some to swallow, it was the right medication.

One of the primary reasons Woodson has been so successful this season has been his ability to get his players to trust his opinions regardless of whether or not they want to hear it. The first example of this can be seen with Amar’e Stoudemire. While STAT was on the bench, it was uncertain as to how he would fit into the rhythm that the Knicks had developed. Stoudemire is set to make approximately 100 million dollars over five years. Needless to say, the Knicks organization has shelled out a pretty penny in order to ensure he stays in New York. For the majority of coaches, it wouldn’t even be a question as to whether Stoudemire would get his starting spot back. He has an indisputable resume, and is set to make more than nearly all his teammates. Typically, this is more than enough to earn a starting role. However, Woodson had other ideas. Woodson instead decided to bring Stoudemire off the bench, and his decision ultimately has silenced critics who stated that Stoudemire’s return would be more of a hindrance than a help to a dominating Knicks team. Off the bench, Stoudedmire has shot 55.9 percent from the field while averaging 13.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and only 1.5 turnovers (the second lowest in his career!). Stoudemire has still been able to score consistently despite recovering from his knee injury AND playing approximately 10 minutes less than he has in the past. In addition, the former All-Star and Olympic gold medalist claims that Woodson is the first coach to ever teach him how to play defense (hint hint, Mr. D’Antoni). It looks like that decision is working out just fine.

The next example of Woodson’s superior coaching is seen with J.R. Smith. Coming into this season, Smith was sure he had done everything possible to earn himself a starting role. In the beginning, Smith made it clear that he was upset with his coach’s decision to play him off the bench. However, Woodson would have none of that, “I told everybody they had to leave their egos at the door. If we’re talking about trying to win our division and win a title, you have to leave your ego. I’m not going to deal with guys who have bad egos.” Smith soon realized (or was obligated to realize) that his team needed him off the bench and that he had to do whatever he could to help his team. Smith has been forced to learn to love his role as the sixth man. He has been making more plays through steals, continues to have a strong offensive presence by taking less wild shots, and has greatly improved on defense. In addition, Woodson has helped Smith clean up his act off the court. Since the beginning of the year, Smith has stopped Tweeting wildly, has shown up to press conferences dressing sharp, and has kept his partying to a minimum. It should come as little surprise that Smith has posted career bests in points (16.2 per game) and rebounds (5.0 per game) this season.

Not only has he gotten J.R. Smith to play the smartest basketball of his career, but Woodson also has the rest of the team playing intelligently with their newfound ability to minimize turnovers. The Knicks have led the NBA since the beginning of the season with the fewest turnovers per game. Woodson has a bag full of coaching tricks and not all of them are exactly traditional. So what is his mysterious key to success when it comes to minimizing turnovers? Anytime the Knicks have less than 10 turnovers in a game, the players get a day off from sprints while Woodson and the rest of the coaching staff pick up the load instead. The teammates enjoy watching the staff (especially Woodson, who is not quite in the same shape as he was when he was a Knick himself?) struggle as they try to run the amount that they force their young athletes to. This technique, although undeniably uncharacteristic for a coach to employ, has proven successful. In 2011, the Knicks averaged a league-worst 16.2 turnovers per game. Under Woodson, the Knicks average a league-best 11.6 turnovers per game. Coincidence? I think not.

Mike Woodson deserves to be Coach of the Year. You’ll be hard pressed to find another team that battled through the myriad of injuries and nightly lineup changes the Knicks have had to endure. Despite those obstacles, Woodson has put a successful product on the court more nights than not. Woodson has earned the respect of his players, which has made him capable of keeping all of their egos in check. Woodson has been able to keep an All-Star content while coming off the bench, has a party boy directly following orders, and an entire team doing a 360-degree turnaround in terms of ball security. Needless to say, when it comes to coaching, Mike Woodson knows what he is doing. Despite being on my couch miles away from Madison Square Garden when watching Knicks games, even I’m terrified of the wrath of Woodson when the Knicks aren’t playing up to par. Woodson has been a consistent calm in a city of chaos, and the team’s results show the impact he has had.

A Look at the Lakers

I’m going to just say it now because I know it’s going to slip out eventually: I hate the Lakers. That’s right, I said it. Hate them. Most of the time, there’s really no rhyme or reason to which teams I chose to have a deep, passionate hatred for; there are some teams I just hate. When forced into giving my reasoning behind the hate, I chalk most of it up to being born and raised in New York City. As a New Yorker, it is my civic duty to hate on all other major cities trying to claim any share of the limelight. I remember reading a study that asked people from New York City to draw a map of the United States; all of them drew New York City about the size of Florida while the rest of the United States was drawn at a considerably smaller scale. So, yeah, I’m a New Yorker. We are the greatest city in the world and people from other ‘big cities’ are evil, especially folks from Los Angeles. Don’t worry Lakers fans; at least you’re not from Miami. We will always hate the Heat more than we hate you.

All that being said, I am an NBA fan first and foremost. As much as my hatred for the Lakers increased two-fold this offseason when Dwight Howard and Steve Nash joined the gang, I was still excited for the basketball greatness that my eyes were to behold once the season began. If you are reading this and thinking to yourself that you knew that the Lakers? season was going to play out the way it has thus far, quit your day job immediately and open up shop as a fortuneteller. You have a very special gift.

When my fantasy hoops draft began, as much as it pained me, I knew I couldn’t completely ignore Lakers players. Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard (FT|PERCENT| notwithstanding) have proven to be steady fantasy contributors through the years, and each would have been tough to pass up if they dropped to me. Bryant and Metta World Peace have been the only consistent fantasy producers on the team, and both have really exceeded expectations this season. Nash and Gasol have seen their values drop due to injuries, while Howard has been so atrocious from the charity stripe that he’s been tough to own in nine-category leagues. We’ve seen flashes of value from guys like Antawn Jamison or Jodie Meeks, but none of the depth players have really stepped up to provide consistent production.

Many people have been (understandably) making excuses for the way the Lakers are playing right now. Everyone is trying to find the reason that explains what the heck is going on. At the very start of the season, after finishing the preseason whatever the opposite of undefeated is, the struggles were Mike Brown’s doing. Other excuses have included, “the season is still early,” “Dwight is not making his free throws,” “we need Gasol and Nash on the floor at the same time.” All of these excuses are true, but none are good enough alone to fully explain what currently ails the Lakers.

The season is still early, and some of their key players are injured. The Lakers have been without Steve Nash for the majority of the season. Nash being hurt is definitely an issue, but the fact that no one has been able to step up in his absence is an even bigger concern. Chris Duhon and Darius Morris just aren’t cutting it.

Gasol has also missed extended action. Well, Laker fans, regardless of if you were crying for him to be traded or crying for his return (let’s be honest, in most cases you were doing both), Gasol is back now. If you didn’t realize that he returned for that one-point victory over the Bobcats, don’t feel bad, I probably wouldn’t have either had I not been actively watching for his (unimpressive) contributions. Gasol, when healthy, has been playing at a considerably lower level than in years past, and he still has yet to prove himself in the up-tempo offense under new coach Mike D’Antoni. Even though Gasol has been disappointing thus far, he’s still a player that would add value to your fantasy team. However, I wouldn’t put him at the top of your Christmas list since there are numerous other options at a much lower cost. He still has to fully prove he can fit in D’Antoni’s system and play alongside Howard, neither of which can be fully determined until Nash returns. It’s possible Gasol will revert back to the top-20 player he has been in years past once Nash is back in the lineup, but for now that’s just speculation. My opinion? Create a nice trade package and ship him off to an unsuspecting owner. The way I see it, Gasol’s name value will surpass his numbers this season, and two lesser-known players will be of more value than Gasol alone. Even when Nash re-enters the picture, I think it’s going to take at least a full season before all the different dynamics of the team successfully flow together. I’m also not sold that Mike D’Antoni is the right answer to make each component as prosperous as it can be.

Now, looking past the Nash/Gasol fiasco, this is a team that still has Kobe Bryant. Did you hear me? I said Kobe Bryant. This man is one of the greatest basketball players of all time, and in his age-34 season, he doesn’t appear to be declining at all. He’s the undisputed leader of the Lakers. Unfortunately, he’s also the same player who at the end of games is making comments about teammates needing to put on “big boy pants,” and hoping for a game against the “Washington Generals” to get a win. I understand the frustration, Kobe. Really, I do. You shouldn’t have to feel like you need to score 40+ points to win a game (though I’m sure it’s a welcome surprise from your fantasy owners). You should be able to trust that the rest of your team can, and will, step up. But from another perspective, it must be intimidating to be on the same team as Kobe. The quotes Bryant feeds to reporters after games aren’t the type of comments that boost morale (unless you?re Metta World Peace, who has statistically improved since Kobe remarked on him needing to ‘step up’). I would suspect that these are the type of comments that could possibly, say, make an All-Star player miss an inexplicable amount of free throws? Those comments are not the type of thoughts that should be running through your head when you step up to the line. Even if Bryant’s harsh leadership skills are getting to Howard, his free-throw percentage is still unacceptable. If a player is earning almost $20 million, he should be able to make unguarded shots that most middle school children can make with at least some consistency.

Despite all the struggles, I do believe that at some point these Lakers will be a successful team. I would be naive (and very hopeful/delusional/biased) to believe anything different. This is a team that was cherry-picked, handcrafted, computer-generated to win. But like we’ve seen from numerous NBA teams throughout the years, teams need time to develop chemistry before reaching their full potential. Even The Big Three in Miami struggled out the gate in their first season together. It wasn’t until Year 2 that Miami fully meshed and won a championship. In my opinion, it couldn’t hurt for the Lakers to spend a significant amount of time doing un-basketball related things together. Grabbing a beer. Team field trip to a strip club. I don’t care. Hopefully then there can be some kind of continuity, comfort, and understanding amongst this squad. The Lakers, despite the way it sometimes looks, aren’t so far away from where they need to be. Eventually, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with. As a New Yorker, it may be engrained in my soul to hate the Lakers, but as a basketball fan, I hope the Lakers right the ship and provide us with the quality hoops we were expecting when this team was constructed in the offseason.