By now, Lin was supposed to be entombed in bubble wrap, or playing understudy to Baron Davis or studying new ways to throw the ball to . Such hasty declarations were common after Woodson replaced D’Antoni on March 14.
The New York Post creatively declared Linsanity’s end with . Indeed, Lin’s demise was predicted in nearly every local newspaper, including this one, .
Yet Lin kept his starting job and promptly strung together four more games of double-digit scoring and steady playmaking, all in Knicks victories, making a mockery of the punditry. How did so many people misread the situation so badly?
The answer is complicated, but it starts with this observation from a Woodson associate: “Because he’s a smart coach.”
Translation: Woodson wants to win and wants to keep his job, even if it means suppressing his own coaching instincts for now.
Those who know Woodson best say he prefers veterans to rookies, a controlled, halfcourt game to an up-tempo attack and an offense that caters to his superstars. Under different circumstances, those preferences might have doomed Lin, a virtual rookie who thrives at a quicker pace, needs the ball in his hands and is prone to turnovers (anathema to Woodson).
Woodson himself perpetuated those impressions. After his first practice as the head coach, he stressed the importance of Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire as go-to scorers. He said he would edit the playbook to maximize their individual talents. He harped on Lin’s inexperience and invoked Red Holzman, who, he said, “taught me that rookies were to sit and listen and learn.”
That Lin is still starting at point guard, and on most nights thriving, is a testament to Lin’s perseverance, adaptability and effectiveness, but it may also be a product of circumstance.
Woodson took over with just 24 games to play, in a compressed season with few open days to practice. He has introduced some halfcourt sets and isolation plays, but there is no time to remake the playbook in his image. In fact, the Knicks are still running D’Antoni’s offense about 80 percent of the time, according to scouts. And that offense has been at its best with Lin at the helm.
“Woody is smart enough,” said a former associate. “He wants to keep his job, and he sees they have a flow going.”
That same person, who worked with Woodson in the past, initially predicted that Woodson would move away from Lin and might even elevate Davis to the starting job. But Davis strained his right hamstring in Woodson’s second game, then missed another two games. Woodson recently conceded that Davis would not be 100 percent healthy for the rest of the season, making the point-guard debate moot.
The Knicks’ offensive style bears watching as the season unfolds.
In the N.B.A., it is standard practice for a coach — especially a coach without job security — to cater to his franchise star. So it was reasonable to assume that Woodson, who is auditioning for the permanent job, would do anything to keep Anthony happy, with more isolation plays and post-up chances. After all, it was Anthony’s grumbling about D’Antoni’s offense that created the rift between them, eventually leading to D’Antoni’s resignation.
Yet, so far, Woodson has not radically shifted the offense toward Anthony, or turned the Knicks into an isolation-heavy team in the image of his former Atlanta Hawks teams.
Oddly enough, Anthony’s role has diminished, not expanded. In seven games under Woodson, Anthony is averaging 14 points and 13.4 field-goal attempts in 29 minutes. Under D’Antoni, he averaged 21.3 points and 18.3 shots in 34.3 minutes.
Woodson said ball movement in a teamwide scoring effort “has allowed his shot production to go down a little bit, which is fine.”
“I don’t think he’s complaining about that, by any means,” he said.
In recent weeks, Anthony did complain about sacrificing his game and about being uncomfortable playing off of Lin. For whatever reason — injuries or unhappiness — Anthony is shooting a career-worst .399 from the field and averaging a career-low 20 points.
Woodson remains cognizant of Anthony’s struggles, saying, “As the coach, I got to help him.” Whether that means more isolation play remains to be seen.
Any move to feature Anthony would affect Lin, who is best with the ball in his hands, creating scoring chances through the pick-and-roll.
Although the change is not drastic, and the sample size is small, Lin’s role has diminished some as well. In his first seven games under Woodson, Lin is averaging nine shots and 13.3 points — down from 15.8 shots and 20.4 points from Feb. 4 through March 12. The decrease is partly a product of the Knicks’ adding players and partly due to Lin’s own shooting struggles.
Those who have worked with Woodson said that, given the time, he certainly would install more of his own offense. In Atlanta, that meant much less pick-and-roll action and not nearly as much freedom for the point guard.
Given the full-time job and a full training camp, “I think we would see the original Woody, the Atlanta Woody,” the former associate said.
The end of Linsanity as we know it? Perhaps. But it’s probably best to refrain from speculative declarations for now.