I’ve been harping on Mike Woodson’s rotations a lot recently and wanted to give it some perspective.
From January 11th (Ronnie Brewer’s removal from the rotation) through the Blazers game (March 14th) the Knicks have played 28 games. Within that stretch, New York has two line-ups barely over 100 minutes, three between 40 and 90, 13 between 39 and 20 and 11 between 19 and ten.
Woodson makes it difficult for the Knicks to build any continuity in their five man groups because of his indecisiveness.
For context, 10 of the 16 teams in the playoffs have at least one line up with 200 plus minutes between those dates and the Spurs would have two groups crossing that mark if it wasn’t for injuries. Nine of the 10 teams’ most played line ups have a positive net ORtg-DRtg with the Nets being the only exception (P.J. Carlesimo is a brilliant). The Thunder have played Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, Kevin Durant, Thabo Sefolosha and Russell Westbrook 498 minutes and they are a net +19, while George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert have tallied 515 minutes with a +10 rating. Good teams see what works and they stick with it.
New York is the complete opposite. Woodson mixes and matches on a night-to-night basis building his rotations in a way that avoids New York playing its best statistical groups. I do need to point out because of the head coach’s inconsistent rotations the Knicks’ five man line up data can’t be taken as all encompassing.
New York’s most played group during this 28 game stretch was Ray Felton, Jason Kidd, Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler. They played 128 minutes together (8.5 per game) and tallied a -3 net rating. This group started off poorly, but started to show signs of life with only a -.5 in the last eight games they played together. By no means was this five spectacular, but it seemed like they were trending in the right direction. The above five has been scrapped from the rotation. They have only played 16 total minutes in the last 10 games and haven’t seen the court together once in the last five.
The Knicks third most played five (second had Amar’e Stoudemire skipping it) featured Felton, Kidd, J.R. Smith, Melo and Chandler. This five had a +21 net rating in 91 minutes (6.7 MPG), but it’s playing time decreased as the season moved along — in games 1-10 6.9 MPG, 11-20 6.4 MPG, 21-30 9 MPG, 41-50 5.8 MPG, 51-60 5.0 MPG, 61-70 3.0 MPG.
The next group hasn’t been successful together, but I believe if given time to play through some issues will end up being one of New York’s best line-ups. Felton, Iman Shumpert, J.R., Melo and Chandler have played 77 minutes together (4.8 MPG) to a -13 rating. This five has the potential to recreate what we saw from the Knicks earlier in the season and should be one of their better defensive units. Smith is shooting 66.8 aFG% and Shump 60,0 aFG% on unguarded catch and shoot situations according to Synergy Sports technology. They are both hitting open threes, but the issue is both players prefer to play from the wing and not the corner. Shump has shot 5-23 on corner threes compared to 20-39 from the wings. While J.R. has never shot a high volume of corner threes in his career, the percentages tend to be pretty solid when you go through his history. A solution to make this line up more functional would be to flip Smith and Shump’s roles, having Iman play more on the wing and moving J.R. to the corner.
This is where the real absurdness of what Woodson has been doing begins. The Knicks fifth most used line up during the past 28 games was Felton, Shump, James White, Melo and Tyson at 45 minutes. This is why when people say it doesn’t matter who starts they are wrong. Those minutes add up and the fact James White is apart of one New York’s most played groups with a -15 net rating is inexcusable. Over a recent five game stretch this five has averaged 6.6 MPG, which is essentially the exact same amount the Felton, Kidd, J.R., Melo and Tyson group averaged through the same time frame. THIS MAKES NO SENSE!!!!!
Some people will point to injuries for the inconsistencies, but it’s not an excuse. From 1/11 to 3/14 Melo has missed four games, Chandler one, Felton five, Kidd one, Shump two and J.R. zero.
Injuries also don’t explain the limited minutes per game. This is a problem that can easily corrected if Woodson stops being so stubborn.
The first step is to get rid of the token starter. Instead of giving five minutes at the beginning of the game to James White or Kurt Thomas, the head coach needs to pick a five he wants to play extended minutes together and stick with it. My preference would be to go with group one, three or four that I listed above. As I’ve stated before, I am fine with any combination of Kidd, Shump or J.R starting with Felton, Melo and Chandler. Getting rid of the token starter allows those minutes to get redistributed to players that deserve to be playing and make it easier to incorporate a more consistent second unit.
Step two is letting whatever five Woodson chooses to play 12-15 minutes together every game instead of between four and eight. This will be build continuity and a comfort level, which in theory should lead to more success.
My idea here promotes stability, something the Knicks haven’t had much of recently. While some of the problems are because of circumstances, most of it has been self-induced. There is still time for it to get straightened out. My hope is when Chandler and Melo return from injuries, Woodson does a better job playing line ups with consistency as New York tries to pull out the two seed in the Eastern Conference and prepares itself for the playoffs.
Credit to NBA.com for the stats used in this story.