The player-coach relationship differs in every situation. One way to truly gauge the effect of a leader is to directly ask his crew.
“He’s our guy,” Carmelo Anthony simply stated.
Last season, Mike Woodson took the reins as interim head coach, igniting the team to an 18-6 finish to the regular season, the second-best record in the NBA over the final 24 games of the year. The bond developed early between Woodson and his players, especially during a lockout season that tested the fortitude of a team with a myriad of key injuries.
Now with the head coach title and a full training camp, Woodson has time to implement his style heading into the 2012-13 season. J.R. Smith enjoyed a successful first campaign under Woodson last year and instantly felt a connection to the Knicks leader.
“He's everything that I've ever dreamt of having a coach. He really wants to see his players do well, win, lose or draw, he just wants the best for his players,” Smith smiled.
Woodson is attempting to squeeze all the talent out of every player on the roster. Smith is one of the rare players in the league with explosive abilities that sometimes need to be harnessed over the course of the year. Woodson has certainly received the highest respect from his pupil.
“Playing for him has been such an honor and a privilege,” Smith added.
The 1980 draft pick of the Knicks understands the importance of the franchise inside New York City. His mantra all offseason: Make Madison Square Garden a nightmare for the opposition, win the division, and fight for a championship. Recognized as a defensive-minded coach, Woodson directs his squad to turn miscues from the opposing team into easy scoring opportunities. He also allows for offensive freedom. Under Woodson’s watch, Anthony averaged 29.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in the month of April. Smith was a big contributor off the bench and Steve Novak registered the highest 3-point shooting percentage in the league.
Iman Shumpert also posted impressive numbers on the both sides of the floor by averaging 9.5 points and 1.71 steals per game. Last year’s rookie still gets the “Rook” label from the head man but Shumpert believes in Woodson’s vision.
“Woody's just a perfect coach, he's a guy that loves guys that play hard on both ends of the court. It's perfect for me because he appreciates me, that's the way I want to play anyway. So, I walked into a perfect situation,” Shumpert explained.
One of the new faces on the team this year is point guard Raymond Felton. Woodson and the point man must be on the same page, considering he is the coach on the floor, orchestrating the offense for this Knicks squad.
Through training camp and the preseason, Felton has already established chemistry with his teammates and new head coach. “A guy you can talk to, have fun with, but when it's time to play it's about business, he's serious about his job so I love that about him.”
The Knicks are entering a season in pursuit of the ultimate prize. In his first full year at the helm, Woodson knows his squad is ready to face the challenge under his direction. Just like Melo said, “He’s our guy.”