Mike Woodson and Jeff Van Gundy share two main things in common. First of all, they both took over the Knicks during mid-season and then became the head coach the following season. Secondly, they're both defensive-minded coaches.
Now, as Woodson is about to embark on his first full season with the Knicks, Van Gundy, who currently serves as an ESPN NBA analyst, provided his thoughts on the new head coach and the team to ESPNNewYork.com. Van Gundy also reflected on the defensive makeup of his Knicks teams.
Van Gundy: I thought they played well defensively, particularly down the stretch last year. It will be interesting with [Raymond] Felton back at the point how they can pressure the ball and also with [Iman] Shumpert out due to injury. Ronnie Brewer gives them length and quickness, and Camby has had a remarkable career and he's an extremely intelligent player overall. Defensively, in combination with [Tyson] Chandler, they will always have shot-blocking and intelligence along the back line. And on occasion, those two guys will play together. I don't think that would be ideal from an offensive standpoint, but certainly in short bursts, they could play together.
Q: What impressed you about Mike Woodson's defensive approach last season after he replaced Mike D'Antoni?
Van Gundy: I don't want to make this a comparison between Mike and Coach D'Antoni, because whenever you compare people, in my way of thinking, somebody gets diminished, and I don't want to do that. But Mike Woodson has been a very good coach in our league for a very long time, so anybody who's surprised that he did a good job, just wasn't paying attention to the great job he did in Atlanta. He is no-nonsense, and he believes in playing hard and smart. You've got to give he and the best players a lot of credit for their improvement defensively, because teams are never going to defend better than its best players and how much effort they expend defensively. And it will now be interesting over an 82-game season to see if they can regenerate that same enthusiasm level on the defensive end of the floor.
Q: Like Woodson, you took over the Knicks during a season (1995-96, replacing Don Nelson) and then you were the head coach the following one. Looking back on that first full training camp, which is what Woodson has ahead, what were keys for your team jelling defensively?
Van Gundy: Well, you always start over at step one and build your base of habits defensively. You end the season at step, like, 20, but you can't start the next season at step 20. You've got to go back and rebuild the base of your habits. You also have to have that commitment level from your best players that defense is important and it's going to be a critical ingredient to long-term success. It's hard, but we're going to commit to improving in that area every day. I think you can't just leave the grunt, blue-collar work for others. The best players have to commit, and I was fortunate. I didn't have to sell that. They already knew that from their time previously with other coaches, so my job was relatively simple.
Q: What are your fondest memories of your time with the Knicks, especially about how your guys came together and finally became a championship contender in 1999?
Van Gundy: I think we had a great group and team chemistry because Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Larry Johnson, Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell, Charlie Ward, Chris Childs, all those guys, had great individual pride. But they had even greater team pride, and they believed in the same basic core values of team play, work ethic, accountability, unselfishness. So the great thing about those teams is, even though we didn't win all the time and we lost some tough playoff series in heartbreaking fashion, we rarely beat ourselves. There was an everyday commitment to the success of the group and when you have that as a coach, you're very fortunate and you don't take it for granted, because that's not the way it is with every group of players, and particularly star players. I was so very fortunate to have teams that had one agenda versus multiple agendas.
For a closer look at how the Knicks can further establish themselves defensively this season, click here.
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