Tuesday, May 18, 2010
2009-10 Season Review: Mike Woodson
Mike Woodson's most successful season as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks was also his last, a circumstance that speaks both to his limitations as a head coach and those of the organization for which he worked. The 2010 Hawks won the most games since the 1997 squad and reached the second-round of the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in 13 years. The 2010 team also posted both the highest offensive efficiency and lowest defensive efficiency of Woodson's six seasons in charge. Yet Woodson's departure has been met with a response ranging from relief to celebration.
Such reaction is understandable given the miserable ending to the season. Woodson appeared to lose control of the team, and, concurrent with that, demonstrated his greatest weaknesses as a head coach. Had Woodson been able to make a better case for his importance to the team's accomplishments during the regular season, his future with the team could plausibly be in his own hands. Unfortunately for Woodson, his team finished second in the league in offensive efficiency even as he colorfully (and, I believe, honestly) proclaimed not to "give a shit about the offense."
His disinterest in the offensive half of basketball led Woodson, throughout his tenure, to rely on veteran point guards who, though they could knock down a jump shot when Joe Johnson stopped dribbling, were serious defensive liabilities. All the not turning the ball over in the world can't make up for Mike Bibby's defensive limitations and the contortions through which Woodson put his better defenders in an attempt to hide them. Nor did the indisputable success Woodson had in deploying Flip Murray and Jamal Crawford as lead guards off the bench come without the cost of failing to break into the top third of the league's defenses.
To his credit, Woodson consistently and competently prepared his team to play a certain way. Over the course of the past two 82-game seasons, that consistency and the front-line talent available to him proved successful far more often that not. However, when the certain way the Hawks intended to play was stymied (offensively) or exploited (defensively) they just as consistently lacked the ability to counter their opponents. Woodson's attempts at in-game coaching ranged from the maddening (yet largely inconsequential) deployment of Mario West as the game's first-ever end of quarter defensive specialist, to an irrational fear of potential future foul trouble*, to his final, shocking miscalculation: contriving a way to bench Al Horford for much of the first half of the first game of the Orlando series in favor of Jason Collins and Zaza Pachulia.
*The Horford Treatment became less absolute later in Woodson's tenure but it never disappeared completely.
Mike Woodson was never given a deep and talented roster with which to work but there's little evidence he could have made use of such resources had they been made available to him. A coach who find a defined (albeit ridiculous and minuscule) role for Mario West but can't manage to find regular minutes for the point guard of the future is, at best, idiosyncratic.
Perhaps the most incongruous aspect of Woodson's tenure is how it appears, in retrospect, that Woodson was miscast as head coach of this team during his first contract. Woodson never displayed an aptitude for player development. Had he followed a firmer hand, a coach who undertook the hard work of making Josh Smith the player he could be rather than player he thinks himself to be, a coach capable of making use of both Marvin Williams and Josh Childress, a coach who valued shot creation and good shot creation more evenly, then his consistent message and aversion to confrontation might be seen as an inspiring breath of fresh air rather than a calcified impediment to future success.
If Woodson is discerning about his next job and takes over a veteran team with a set roster and more than two good defensive players, I expect his success will more closely mirror that of his last two seasons in Atlanta than the futility of his first four.