By Chris Connolly
At the conclusion of the Pacer series I found myself in the same boat as a majority of Knicks fans. I was left asking myself questions like: Why not more Cope? Why didn’t Camby get off the bench? Why is Jason Kidd touching the floor? Where is Pablo!?!?!. After a few months to digest the loss, and further re-evaluate the situation, I realize there was a lot more to the strategies Coach Woodson utilized. I find myself backing off some, but not all of my previous criticisms. With some time to look at the big picture of things, I find myself giving Woody a pass. Here’s why:
1. Lack of Frontcourt Depth
I am a firm believer in the concept that you cannot have enough big bodies on your roster. The Knicks overall lack of frontcourt depth ultimately left Woodson in a difficult situation. The route of the problem goes back to the offseason, when the Knicks added over-the-hill guys Marcus Camby, Rasheed Wallace, and Kurt Thomas. Camby and Thomas both came into the season overweight and extremely out of shape. Neither player looked as though they had any intention of being a contributor. As for Rasheed Wallace, the only thing that didn’t lie was his nagging foot injury. What do you expect to happen when you bring in out of shape, near 40-year old big men? Injuries. At some point they will be plagued with injuries. With the ongoing injury problems of Amar’e Stoudemire, the Knicks needed to fill these open roster spots with more reliable frontcourt options. Eventually, help came in the form of Kenyon Martin. K-Mart brought a nice dimension to the roster, but asking him to play big minutes as a backup center is simply unfair. This is especially the case in a series against a frontcourt of Hibbert and West. I know most Knicks fans, including myself, were calling for Marcus Camby to get some burn, and hoping he could help on the boards. With that said, how can you blame Woody for not having confidence in Camby? Last season, Camby appeared in just 24 games, and averaged just over 10 minutes per contest. He may have been healthy come playoff time; but he was not anywhere close to being in-game shape. Woodson could have called his number, and he may have helped minimally, but to say he was going to solve all the Knicks problems on the boards is unfair. Near the end of the regular season, the Knicks were essentially holding open auditions for big men. The mere fact that they gave opportunities to guys like Earl Barron and Solomon Jones was an immediate red flag. The Knicks knew they were in trouble with depth in the frontcourt, and were willing to turn over all stones to find help.
2. A Roster Full of Specialists
I specifically remember reading tweets. by of all people, Metta World Peace, during the Knicks-Pacers series. In the tweets, Metta brought up interesting points regarding the lack of two-way players on the Knicks roster. As crazy as Metta might be, he was spot on with these points. Aside from Iman Shumpert, and at times JR Smith, who on the Knicks could be considered a two-way player? The answer is nobody; specialists are made effective by the players that surround them, having a roster full of one-dimensional players is bound to catch up with you at some point. Unfortunately for the Knicks, it all came to a head when it mattered most. Comprising a consistent rotation of such players is a very difficult task for a coach. Woodson was constantly scrambling to find the right combination of players depending on the current needs of the team. The Knicks were sacrificing on either offense or defense at all times.
3. The Injury Bug
The injury bug, and the flu bug in the case of J.R. and K-Mart, hit the Knicks at the worst time imaginable. Carmelo Anthony, the team’s best player, played through a partially torn labrum the entire series. From someone who has torn his labrum, I can give you some valuable insight into the discomfort Melo was going through. I can almost guarantee every time Melo was banging with a Pacer forward on the block, he was feeling pain in his shoulder. More importantly, every time he was hit with his shoulder exposed competing for a rebound, he was experiencing pain. The times you saw him grimacing on the court and working out his shoulder is a pretty clear sign his range of motion was not where he is normally accustomed to it being.
At the end of the season, reports began to circulate about a knee injury for J.R. Smith. A few months later J.R. is undergoing surgery to repair his knee. Smith’s notorious shooting struggles made waves throughout the entire post season. His knee injury may not be enough to give him a complete pass for his post season shooting woes, but it definitely had an effect on his game.
There was also a lot of speculation on the health of Tyson Chandler. It is my feeling that Chandler’s injuries were a result of being asked to play extended minutes. When you are short in a particular position, someone is going to have to carry the burden of increased minutes. Over the past two seasons Chandler has played just about 33 minutes per game. In his breakout season with the Mavs, Chandler was only playing 28 minutes per game.
These 3 factors are the reasons I feel Woody deserves a pass. The roster he was given was not a championship roster. I say he is only getting a pass for now because he gets paid a lot of money to make adjustments on the fly. Could he have played Copeland more? Yes, but increased minutes for Copeland was not going to change the series for the Knicks drastically. Copeland was an effective player in short stints. He is a prototypical role player, not a game-changer like some Knicks fans made him out to be. He could have given Marcus Camby a shot as well, but he was not going to change the outcome much either. With the roster he was presented, Woody decided to ride the guys who got him there. Going into next season, it will be his job to find a way to get the most out of his players. With just a few months before opening night, the Knicks roster still has some holes. Unless there are changes made, Woodson will need to find a way to work with the players he is given. Since he took over the team for Mike D’Antoni, Woody and the Knicks have taken huge strides forward. If we are sitting at home this time next season with the same questions, then we have a problem. For now, let’s cut Woody some slack.
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