NBA PM: Can Woodson Save D’Antoni?
Knicks fans and beat writers don’t think much of coach Mike D’Antoni’s ability to teach defense.
The offense soared to fifth in the NBA in efficiency last season, but the Knicks have yet to finish higher than 20th in defensive efficiency (see below) since D’Antoni became head coach before the 2008-2009 season.
Forget that the team was worse defensively from an efficiency standpoint before D’Antoni arrived. The New York media has had no shortage of ammunition with which to criticize the Knicks defense: There’s no true center, there’s no stopper and there’s even been some talk that the team rarely practices defensive strategy in practice.
Well that last complaint might be rectified soon. Monday former Hawks coach and defensive guru Mike Woodson met with D’Antoni in New York, Marc Berman of the New York Post reported. Woodson is a candidate for the Minnesota Timberwolves job, but if he doesn’t land that position, it’s totally conceivable that he could end up with the Knicks in a sort of “defensive coordinator” role. D’Antoni would keep the “head” coaching title, but he’d get to focus on his offensive forte while Woodson preps the players for the other end of the floor.
Of course, paying an assistant coach during the lockout is like renting an air conditioner in November, so don’t expect any deal to be made soon.
Woodson was actually drafted 12th overall by the Knicks out of Indiana in 1980 (ironically, five spots ahead of Larry Drew, his replacement in Atlanta), and had a relatively productive career as a player, averaging 14.0 PPG on 46.6% field goal shooting.
Perhaps most important to Knicks fans, Woodson learned defense from legendary coach Larry Brown. Brown obviously struggled with New York’s defense during his years at Madison Square Garden, but he didn’t really have the pieces to make it work, either.
Now that the roster is undoubtedly better, the Knicks have a chance to improve defensively given the right coaching. Maybe D’Antoni is primarily concerned with the offense, but that won’t matter if the team can bring someone like Woodson into the fold (Think Tom Thibodeau in Boston before he took the Bulls job).
The real question is, “Can Woodson save D’Antoni?” It’s fairly obvious that D’Antoni needs to advance far in the playoffs to get a contract extension, and as of right now, defense is the biggest obstacle to that end. If the defense gets fixed—regardless of who fixes it—D’Antoni could land another long-term deal.
A quick word on the use of “efficiency” as opposed to PPG:
I hear from a lot of fans who disagree with my use of offensive and defensive efficiency as opposed to point to points and points allowed to rank offenses and defenses. The problem with using total averages (i.e. the Knicks score X PPG and allow Y PPG), is that those figures are greatly affected by the pace with which a team plays.
It’s easy for a fast-break team to average a lot of points, but that team may be scoring on less than half of its possessions. Conversely, that same fast-break team might appear to be bad defensively, but really their opponents are just getting more chances to score (keep in mind, as one team’s possessions increases, so does the other’s, so both teams get more chances to score when the game is played at a fast pace).
A good example for this is the 2006-2007 Phoenix Suns, who happened to have been coached by D’Antoni. That season the Suns allowed 102.9 PPG (23rd in the NBA), but that figure was inflated by their breakneck pace (they averaged 112.7 possessions per game—third in the NBA). Had Phoenix averaged 100 possessions per game, they would have yielded only 89.8 PPG (15th in the NBA), and that’s essentially what efficiency is: points scored or points allowed per 100 possessions.
So the mid-2000s Suns had a reputation as a bad defensive team, when, in actuality, they were an average defensive team. Conversely, the Spurs scored only 98.5 PPG that season (14th in the NBA), but ranked fifth in offensive efficiency because they played slow, methodical possessions but usually found a way to get some points within 24 seconds. They weren’t known as an offensive juggernaut (Gregg Popovich always gets credit for his teams’ defenses), but when push came to shove, the Spurs could score almost at will.
So remember, it’s not about scoring totals. It’s about making the most out of each and every offensive and defensive possession, no matter how fast or slow they may be.
Sam Mitchell vs. Larry Brown: Winner Takes the Timberwolves
Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune is reporting that the Timberwolves have narrowed their coaching candidates down to Nets assistant coach Sam Mitchell and former (insert team here) coach Larry Brown.
Mitchell obviously has some history in Minnesota, playing with the Timberwolves from 1989 until 1992 and again from 1995 to 2002, and still ranks among the all-time scoring leaders in franchise history. Mitchell also served as an assistant in Minnesota for three years before taking the Raptors job and was 156-189 in four-plus seasons in Toronto, winning Coach of the Year in 2006-2007. However, the Chris Bosh-led Raptors struggled to get out of the gate in 2008-2009 and Mitchell was promptly fired.
Brown, meanwhile, has been coaching since the early 70s, and has an NBA record of 1098-904. He was a three-time ABA coach of the Year and won the NBA’s version of the award in 2000-2001.
Farmar to Israel
Nets backup point guard Jordan Farmar will play for Maccabi Tel Aviv of the Israeli Premier League, joining the throngs of NBA players who are crossing the Atlantic during the lockout.
“I’m very excited to play in Tel Aviv,” Farmar told Colin Stephenson of The Star-Ledger. “I went there as a little kid. My stepdad is from Tel Aviv. I watched Tel Aviv play basketball and football—soccer.”
Farmar, who is Jewish, said he will apply for Israeli citizenship “to give [the team] more flexibility” because there is a rule that limits Israeli teams to four foreign players.
Check Out: David Steele
AOL FanHouse Columnist David Steele took a grim look at the NBA’s legal actions against the players union. The first was a filing with the National Labor Relations Board that states the players have “Failed to bargain in good faith by virtue of its unlawful threats to commence a sham ‘decertification’ and an antitrust lawsuit challenging the NBA’s lockout,” while the other was a legal move to prevent any decertification by the union.
Anyway, Steele writes that NBA fans shouldn’t be optimistic about next season—a sentiment that is pervasive here at HOOPSWORLD as well—but then he takes it a step further. Steele suggests that the NBA is out of touch with NBA fans:
“Then again, maybe the NBA doesn’t have to care what the public thinks. The public doesn’t need any more lessons about how inconsequential it is in matters like this. It’s long past mattering which side has public opinion on its side. The NBA, for its own reasons, is going to do what it’s been planning to do for years: shut it all down and make the union give until it hurts, and then give a little more.”
Anyway, Steele doesn’t pull any punches, so he’s definitely worth a read.