We’re just about a week removed from Mike Woodson officially being named the 30th basketball coach of Indiana University. Within that week, Woodson has already had some major wins.
He retained Kenya Hunter – a coveted recruiter – on his coaching staff. Soon after the Hunter news broke, Parker Stewart pulled his name out of the transfer portal and recommitted to the Hoosiers.
His biggest win came when Trayce Jackson-Davis announced he’ll be returning for his junior season, stating very clearly that Coach Woodson was a major factor in foregoing the NBA to return to Indiana.
While the vision Coach Woodson presented to Scott Dolson surely looked at the long-term for Indiana basketball, his first week has had several wins that set Indiana up for short-term success, as well.
But as you know, this site typically focuses on the X’s and O’s of Indiana basketball. What can we expect from Mike Woodson in that regard?
When you think about somebody that is 62 years old, the first word that pops into your mind likely isn’t innovation. But Woodson is an innovator when it comes to the game of basketball. He’s not afraid to try new things if he thinks it can give his team an advantage of their opponent.
This is a stark contrast from what we saw in the Archie Miller era. I’m not trying to harp on the Archie era, but it’s just how things were. Archie had his system, Packline defense and set-oriented offense, and that’s how things were going to be at Indiana.
Woodson has shown throughout his coaching career that he doesn’t necessarily have a ‘system.’ He’s changed styles throughout his coaching career, but oftentimes the styles he’s implemented were innovative and the rest of the NBA adapted.
It’s no secret that analytics have become a major part of coaching philosophies, and the analytics show that the most efficient shots in basketball are three-pointers and layups. However, the abundance of three-pointers being shot is relatively new to the game, and guess who was an innovator when it came to that revelation? You guessed it: Mike Woodson.
In the 2012-13 season, Woodson’s Knicks team led the NBA in three-pointers attempted at 29 per game. The league average that season was 20 attempts.
His team also led the league in three-pointers made per game at 11 per contest. The league average that season was 7.
Compare that to today’s NBA game, the league averages are 35 attempts and 13 makes per game.
Woodson was ahead of the curve in that regard. What did his teams do offensively to get that many clean looks per game, while the rest of the NBA was still playing a ‘grind-it-out’ two-pointer heavy style?
This video shows a game the Knicks played against the Heat in 2012 in which Woodson’s Knickerbockers knocked down 19 threes.
The picture below is a great look into the style the NBA has since employed league-wide, and something I can see Indiana doing next season.
What does that picture show? It shows a big (Tyson Chandler) setting a ball screen to give the ball-handler room to operate, with 4 shooters properly spaced if a Heat defender comes off to help.
Seems simple, no? Basketball can be a simple game.
But compare that spacing on that pick-and-roll vs. the spacing of Indiana’s pick-and-roll in their last game against Rutgers.
If TJD set the best screen in basketball history, there’s still not many options for Franklin here minus a pull-up. On this play in particular, he forced a pass on the roll to TJD and Rutgers deflected it.
The best part of Woodson’s Knicks style in 2012-13? It was a stark contrast from his last season with the Hawks in 2010. That Hawks team averaged just over 17 three-point attempts per game.
Again, Woodson is willing to adapt his style based on where the game is going, and many times, he’s the one leading the charge.
It’s no secret that the NBA is ball-screen heavy. Coaches have been trying to get creative with how they guard them. Teams used to be able to go under the ball screen because point guards weren’t a threat to shoot it. Or they could hard hedge it and didn’t have to worry about the big popping and knocking down a shot. A ‘new’ coverage emerged in ‘Ice’ or ‘Blue’, in which teams forced the guard to reject sideline ball screens.
But obviously the game has evolved and some of those are no longer viable strategies in the NBA. So what did Coach Woodson do to combat that? He switched.
Switching screens, it’s been done probably since the invention of basketball – how is this innovative? Because Woodson was comfortable switching ball screens positions one through five. He had a roster constructed in which he felt comfortable switching guards onto bigs, and bigs onto guards.
In 2009 – when Woodson first started this tactic – it was pretty much unheard of to switch all ball screens with bigs and littles.
In the clip above, you can see Woodson’s Hawks had no problem switching Al Horford onto Dwyane Wade.
Now, let’s fast forward to the 2020 NBA Finals between the Heat and Lakers.
Notice anything in those clips? Both teams in the NBA finals were switching ball screens. The Heat had no problem switching Adebayo onto Lebron and Jimmy Butler onto Anthony Davis. This was something that Woodson started doing 11 years prior.
The man is an innovator and ahead of the curve.
Wealth of Knowledge
Mike Woodson has been around some of the most brilliant minds in the game, and I don’t say that lightly. Let’s take a look at the list and what each coach is known for.
This goes without saying for Indiana fans. Knight is famous for three NCAA championships, motion offense, hard-nosed defense, and so much more. Woodson played four years under Coach Knight and he was the first person Woodson mentioned in his introductory press conference on Monday.
Brown is the only head coach to ever win an NCAA championship and NBA title (the title was with Woodson on the bench in Detroit). Brown is also the only coach in NBA history to lead eight different teams to the NBA playoffs. Brown is known for getting the most out of his teams, having won an NBA Championship with the Pistons without having a superstar (extremely rare feat).
It has been rumored that Brown could take a consulting position with the Indiana program.
George Karl is one of nine coaches in NBA history to win 1,000 games. Karl was 1175-824 in 1,999 career games coaching in the NBA.
Woodson was on his staff in Milwaukee in 1998-99. Karl is known more as an offensive mind than defensive.
D’Antoni is a two-time NBA Coach of the Year recipient, and Woodson was his top assistant in New York before taking over the head chair midway through the 2011-12 season.
D’Antoni is best known for his fast-paced ‘7 seconds or less’ offense that originated in Phoenix and helped propel Steve Nash to consecutive MVP awards.
Doc Rivers is another former NBA Coach of The Year and won an NBA Title as head coach of the Boston Celtics in 2008. Woodson coached under Rivers for four seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Rivers – while a great basketball mind – is very well known for the cultures he’s helped build. He uses the word ‘Ubuntu’ meaning ‘I am because we are’ to aid in his teams coming together.
Fitzsimmons was another coach that Woodson name-dropped during his introductory presser and who he gave credit to for starting his coaching career. When Fitzsimmons retired from coaching in 1997, he was the NBA’s 8th all-time in wins as a head coach. He has since slipped to tenth.
As you can see, knowledge is nothing something that Woodson will lack. He’s been able to play and coach under some of the best minds in the game. He can take a little something from everyone he’s worked under and help mold it to his own style, just like he was able to do in Atlanta and New York as head coach.
Any successful leader – whether it in sports, business, etc. – will tell you that relationships are the key to success, and Woodson’s track record with players he’s coached leads me to believe that building relationships with his team, recruits, and staff will not be a problem for Woodson.
Watch this clip of former New York Knick, Raymond Felton, talking about his relationship with Mike Woodson and why he believed Woodson should still be the head coach of the Knicks.
Or former player, Jamal Crawford, tweeting his excitement when he saw Woodson got the job.
Relationships go a long way, and I have the utmost confidence in Woodson building those relationships.
The guy wins. You’ll hear people talk about him being a career .463 winning percentage in the NBA, but there’s no context added when that’s discussed. His first three years as the coach of a rebuilding Hawks franchise, he was 69 – 177, as the team went from 13 wins, to 26, to 30 each season.
His last 6 years as an NBA head coach, he went 246-188. That’s good for a .566 winning percentage, which is .008 percentage points better than – dare I say the name – Brad Stevens’ NBA winning percentage.
He’s taken franchises that have been in the NBA basement – the Hawks and Knicks – to the playoffs. The guy wins.
For a glimpse into Woodson’s coaching style, check out this 3 minute clip of him Mic’d up at a Knicks practice. I really enjoyed it.
So what are you going to get with Mike Woodson? Innovation on both sides of the floor, a wealth of knowledge, relationships, and what we all truly care about – winning.