Knicks' offense on fire with its three-point shooting
On the first day of Knicks training camp, it was clear that something different was happening. Coach Mike Woodson was asking his players to shoot three-pointers, lots of them. They were running more outside shooting drills than ever before, and absolutely everyone had to do them.
"Even Tyson was shooting long balls," Knicks guard J.R. Smith said, referring to 7-foot center Tyson Chandler. "It was great. From day one, there has been this green-light mentality. It has been incredibly fun."
It also has been incredibly unexpected from a defensive-minded coach who, fairly or unfairly, did not have a reputation as an offensive innovator when he replaced Mike D'Antoni last March.
The Knicks entered Saturday at 19-7, the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, and the offense under Woodson is making history. With 762 three-point attempts in their first 26 games -- 29.3 per game -- the Knicks are on pace to attempt 2,403 treys, which would shatter the NBA record for three-point attempts in a season (2,284, set by D'Antoni's Knicks in 2008-09). What's more, they are doing more than just hoisting up threes; they are making them.
The Knicks are shooting 40.0 percent from three-point range, second in the league behind the Heat's 40.9 percent (entering Saturday night). A whopping 34 percent of the Knicks' total points this season have been produced by three-pointers. The Knicks' percentage of total points produced by three-pointers for all of last season was only 24 percent.
It's hard to imagine that the Knicks will sustain this pace -- only eight teams have finished a season making more than 40 percent of their threes -- but it's equally hard not to marvel at the way they are doing it.
The Knicks have three players -- Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd and Steve Novak -- who are among the league's top 16 in three-point percentage. And they have three others -- Raymond Felton, Smith and even Rasheed Wallace -- who can have a pretty hot hand from behind the three-point arc.
"We have guys who can knock them down. Trust me, if they couldn't make threes, we wouldn't be shooting them," Woodson said. "I try to coach based on the personnel we have."
This is the same Mike Woodson whose offense in Atlanta was derisively nicknamed "Iso Joe" for running isolation plays for Joe Johnson. This is the same Mike Woodson who was the butt of "Iso Melo" jokes after the Knicks and their seemingly Anthony-centric offense were knocked out of the first round of the playoffs by the Heat last season.
So what happened?
A recent popular narrative has been that Woodson, who joined the Knicks as an assistant before the 2011-12 season, absorbed some things in three months under the offensive-oriented D'Antoni and decided to incorporate them into his offense. Woodson, however, believes he did some innovative things with his offense in Atlanta and that those who labeled him as an uncreative, isolation-loving coach were unfair.
"It was a joke, an absolute joke," Woodson said in an interview this past week. "I tell you, it was the most asinine thing that I ever heard. We shot threes in Atlanta. In our last year, we averaged 102 points a game and we were No. 1 not turning the ball over and also shot threes."
Five seasons after Woodson's 2004-05 Hawks went 13-69, his 2009-10 team was 53-29, showing improvement for the fifth straight season. He was fired, however, after the Hawks failed to get out of the second round of the playoffs, and his offense took the rap.
Woodson said he isn't looking to prove anything to anyone now that he is the architect of the No. 2 offense in the East at 102.9 points per game, but you can tell he gets a lot of satisfaction from the way his team is playing.
"Was I upset about that iso thing? Absolutely," he said, "[but] I'm not trying to show the media or anyone else anything. I'm trying to coach the team of players and personnel that we have. I'm not trying to answer or please anybody."
In losing to the Heat in the first round last season, Woodson learned more about what his offense needed than he did while coaching under D'Antoni. He came to the conclusion that the only way the Knicks were going to be able to challenge the Heat was to have a team that played more like Miami.
"They won a title shooting threes, posting up on occasion and isolating occasionally," Woodson said. "They have a lot of different guys who can make threes. Is that the way to go? That's kind of a good team to pattern yourself after. We're chasing a title and we want to go where they were a year ago."
Woodson said that when the Knicks started adding pieces to the team during the offseason, they were looking for a certain type of player.
"We tried to go out and find guys that would attempt to defend and could make a shot," he said. "Rasheed, Kurt Thomas can still make the 10- to 15-foot shot, Marcus Camby. Raymond Felton defends and makes shots, Jason Kidd defends and makes shots."
One reason the Knicks are making so many of their shots: The development of Anthony and Chandler is giving the team a lot of really good looks from the outside. It's hard to come up with a defensive plan to counter a lot of high-speed pick-and-rolls with shooters spread all over the floor.
Even D'Antoni couldn't hide his enthusiasm for it when he came into town with his new team, the Lakers, earlier this month. "They're playing the way I would like us to play," he said.
The question is whether the Knicks can continue to play this way, especially after Amar'e Stoudemire comes back from his knee injury and Woodson has to find a way to work him into the system.
Smith doesn't see it as much of a problem, saying: "The thing about Coach is that he's very versatile. He doesn't stick to one thing. He likes to try multiple things that work with the players we have. As long as we play defense, I'm not worried about our offense. He will find a way to make it work."