Mike Woodson has revived some swagger in New York. The Knicks are undefeated since firing Mike D’Antoni and getting a new voice in the locker room.
Whatever the problems were in that locker room that led to the mutual separation of the Knicks and D’Antoni, the team has responded in a big way.
New York’s beleaguered star player Carmelo Anthony has yet to score 20 points in any of those four wins, but just judging from his mood and the face he is putting on with the press, it is hard not to say that he has been generally happy with the move. The winning helps too after the Knicks fell in the standings and continued to flirt with missing the postseason this year.
What is the strangest though is that the usually offensive-minded Anthony is talking defense and responding more on that end than he ever has in his career.
“I think in the last three games, my focus was to have an energy that I haven’t had so far this season, especially on the defensive end,” Anthony told Kimberley A. Martin of Long Island Newsday on Monday. “Everybody on this team knows, everybody in the world knows I can score the basketball. It’s not that important to me.”
In the five games since Woodson took over, the Knicks are giving up 86.6 points per game and have allowed more than 90 points just once. On the year, the Knicks are giving up 95.4 points per game and are seventh in the league in defensive rating giving up 100.8 points per 100 possessions. This was not a bad defensive team to begin with.
The difference for the Knicks now is that there is finally a focus on playing defense. What Anthony is saying, in support of his new coach, is that defense is something the team works on. It is a not-so-well-kept secret in the NBA that Mike D’Antoni’s practice have very little focus on defense. Even his successor in Phoenix, Alvin Gentry, surprised newcomers with how little defense was worked on (then again, Marcin Gortat was comparing him to Stan Van Gundy).
D’Antoni hired Woodson to be his defensive coordinator and it is clear something worked.
So now that D’Antoni is gone, has the Knicks’ defense been unleashed? Is Anthony saying something about D’Antoni and the way he ran the team in complimenting Woodson on this brief run?
That is yet to be seen. But the speculation coming from New York considering the seemingly fractured relationship between Anthony and D’Antoni (remember: D’Antoni was reportedly upset that the Knicks even acquired Anthony) and between D’Antoni and the Knicks organization is that this renewed focus and this change of tone from Anthony might have something to do with the change. After all, no coach before Woodson has gotten Anthony even really to say the “D” word.
This answer might come to another head this summer when Anthony begins trying out for the U.S. Olympic Team.
Anthony has been an integral part of Team USA during the 2006 World Championships and the 2008 Olympics. Mike Krzyzewski used Anthony as his do-everything power forward and he often led the team in scoring. He even played a little defense under Coach K’s scheme.
D’Antoni though is very much the team’s offensive coordinator and he will have a say on who makes the team and who does not — for better or worse. Ken Berger of CBS Sports reports that Anthony’s role in D’Antoni’s departure did not sit well with U.S. Basketball officials (h/t Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk). It should not affect their decision — that should be left to his play on the court — but humans rarely compartmentalize these things.
This story is not going away.
Anthony’s intent was probably not to disparage his former coach. He was probably commenting on the renewed focus of the team and how it is planning to bounce back after the team struggled. But, reading between the lines, it is clear you can see how the team was dissatisfied with its former coach and how ready it was for a fresh start.