Mike Woodson and The New York Knicks: Old Formula, New Team

The New York Knicks are on some kind of roll this year.


J.R. Smith (left) and Steve Novak are lighting it up for the Knicks.
Photo Credit: Boston Herald/ AP

They’ve started the season off by flipping a lot of last season’s norms. To this point, New York boasts a surprising Eastern Conference topping record at 14-4. They’re still scoring at an impressive clip, averaging 103.2 points per game, good for 4th in the league. But they’re also getting stops, at a rate that’s limiting opponents to 94.7 points per game.


The defense is surprising. The Knicks are ranked 8th in the league in points allowed. What’s even more surprising is that they also rank 27th in the league in blocks per game. At 3.3 rejections per contest, the Knicks are bested in this category by the Dwight-less Magic, the New Orleans Pelicans Hornets, and the Washington Wizards. In fact, 2 of the 3 teams that New York is outranking are Cleveland and Golden State.


So what is it that’s propelling the defensive uptick on a team averaging so few blocks per game? Steals. The Knicks are swiping 9.1 steals per game, good for 4th in the league.


Though uncharacteristic, the defense isn’t nearly as surprising as the Knicks’ offense.


Woodson and Iso-magic:


One of the developments in the Knicks’ yet young season is how well they are taking care of the ball. So far, they’re turning it over just 10.8 times per game, topping the league. Teams are also flustering the Knicks’ offense a lot less. Opponents are averaging a paltry 5.4 steals against New York, with the Knicks topping the league in that stat as well.


When you consider the Knicks’ success at keeping the ball- and that they’re the league’s most efficient offense- it comes as a bit of a shock to learn that they’re among the NBA’s bottom 5 with just 20.3 assists per game.


Then again, when you reconsider that statistic and account for head coaching, it makes sense. In fact, it adheres almost religiously to a formula that Mike Woodson has been applying for quite some time now.


In his tenure coaching the Atlanta Hawks, Woodson held a competitive advantage in one of the league’s best one-on-one players in Joe Johnson. Even before Johnson signed his mega deal, Woodson made sure to get him the ball on nearly half of all Hawks possessions. In short, he’s a iso-friendly coach.


Hell, he’s iso-infatuated.


In 6 years as the Hawks’ head coach, Woodson oversaw a team fall outside of the top 15 in assists in 4 separate years (they placed 12th in the other 2 seasons). Out of those 4 seasons, 3 of them had the Knicks rank outside of the top 20 in the same category.


with so few turnovers, it’s not like the lack of assists is hurting their offense. Again, they are the league’s most efficient offense. And here they are, with every other player taking his man off the dribble.


Maybe all those isolation plays are getting guys to the free throw line? Nope, the Knicks are ranked 26th in the league so far, attempting just under 21 shots per game at the charity stripe.


What is happening, as an ironic result of Woodson’s system, is the Knicks are just burning up from three point land. They’re hitting an impressive 40% of their shots. Now, that figure alone puts the Knicks behind Oklahoma City and Miami in three point percentage. But, consider this: they’re attempting 29.7 three’s per contest, topping the league, and have already gone for 40+ attempts from deep in 2 games. The Knicks are just chucking them up and knocking them down.


Long seen as one of the symptoms of an ailing team, The Knicks’ liberal trigger fingers from deep have them looking less feverish and more nuclear on offense.


Carmelo Anthony is averaging just under 27 points per game, the Knicks are playing a unique (if not altogether unorthodox) brand of defense, and Stoudemire might actually mean it when he says he’s okay with a bench role. At 14-4, things are looking good for the Knicks. Really, really good.


Mohamed is also a contributor over at The Hoop Doctors Twitter handle: @Abdi_hakim for news, notes, and analysis.

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