Basketball is a game filled with adjustments. Whether they occur in a split second, throughout the game, or midseason, just about every team attempts to adapt to its surroundings in the ever-changing NBA.
A lockout shortened season created a difficult challenge for newly formed squads such as the group in New York. Carmelo Anthony was acquired last year after the All-Star break, Tyson Chandler was thrown into the mix right before a truncated training camp, and J.R. Smith made his debut in a Knicks uniform two months into the season. Not to mention the expansion and creation of the new-look bench featuring Steve Novak, Baron Davis, rookie Iman Shumpert, and veteran Jared Jeffries.
This year’s New York squad has also dealt with a roller coaster of emotions, ranging from injuries to Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire early in the season to an unexpected rising star in Jeremy Lin and a seven-game winning streak. On Wednesday, Mike D’Antoni and the Knicks mutually agreed to part ways, marking another quick turn on the windy road in 2011-12.
Despite the constant moving parts, the team has found solace in a voice that now graces the sidelines as the interim head coach. Mike Woodson has been consistent with his approach whether it’s with the title of head or assistant and the familiarity has eased the transition.
“We established a certain relationship with him throughout the season. It makes it that much easier for us to understand his strategy, his mindset, and for us to go out there and execute that, so it’s been good so far,” Stoudemire explained.
When a new coach takes the reins, wholesale changes could dramatically alter the look and direction of the team. However, in this particular case, Woodson has tweaked a few rotation patterns, took full advantage of New York’s depth, and preached the concept of defense fueling offense.
Woodson explains the alternate substitution alignment with up to 10 Knicks hitting the floor in the first quarter, “When Melo was playing the whole first quarter, I will be playing him 8-9 minutes in the first quarter. Amar’e was probably playing the first 7-8 minutes and I think I extended him to about nine minutes.”
The slight difference in minutes and rotations has paid off for New York in the last three games. By averaging 55 points per game in the three-game winning streak, the bench is living up to the expectations while transforming the Knicks into an extremely deep and dangerous team.
“I feel good about our bench,” Woodson stated. “I’ve said it, since I took over this job, our bench is just as important as the guys that start the game and we need them.
The second unit and New York’s suffocating defense have produced staggering numbers. During the recent stretch of three wins, the Knicks forced a combined 60 turnovers (resulting in 82 points), only allowed an average of 89 points, 39.1 percent shooting from the floor, and outscored their opponents 112-89.
“He’s able to motivate us. He’s able to get the best out of everybody. We can lock-in defensively, not have to worry about offense because now we rely on our defense to get our offense, which is always a good thing,” Anthony emphasized.
The myriad of changes will challenge the fortitude of the Knicks as they search for a postseason berth and playoff success. It seems this collection of players are thriving at the moment under the interim head coach, generating a rejuvenated sense of optimism while adjusting on the fly.