New York Knicks Mike Woodson Looks Like Early Frontrunner for Coach of the Year

Ciaran Gowan@@CiaranGowanContributor IIIDecember 8, 2012

November 20, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson against the New Orleans Hornets during the second half of a game at the New Orleans Arena. The Knicks defeated the Hornets 102-80. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks are cruising to start the 2012-13 NBA season, and there are plenty of people who deserve credit for their early success.

One such man is new head coach Mike Woodson, who has completely changed the direction of the team since taking over from Mike D'Antoni back in March.

With the Knicks playing dominant basketball to start the season, Woodson is starting to turn heads around the league and has established himself as the front-runner for the Coach of the Year award.

Though there were signs over the summer that the Knicks would be better this season, that the team is sitting atop the Eastern Conference has surprised everyone.

There are plenty of factors for the Knicks' success, but really, it all comes down to what Woodson has done from a leadership standpoint.

It all started last season, when the Knicks quietly added Woodson as a defensive assistant to help out in a facet of the game they had struggled with under D'Antoni.

With the help of Tyson Chandler, Woodson was able to turn things around on that end of the floor, with the Knicks finishing fifth overall in defensive efficiency. Woodson was so good defensively, that when D'Antoni resigned, it really was a no-brainer to give him a shot as the interim head coach.

In what should have been a time of turmoil for the Knicks, Woodson steadied the ship and led the team to an 18-6 record to finish the season.

There were rumors of a potential move (via for Phil Jackson to take over in the offseason, but Woodson did more than enough to earn a chance as the full-time head coach. The players had warmed to him, and rightly so, which was enough to convince the Knicks to finally go with security and continuity rather than a headline-grabbing move.

Moving on to this season, the decision to stick with Woodson has clearly paid off, with the team continuing to make major strides under him. The most notable thing Woodson has done is to change the attitudes of his players and get the most out of the talent he has in front of him.

You don't have to look any further than Knicks frontman Carmelo Anthony to see the impact of Woodson's leadership. The forward is an early-season MVP candidate, primarily because of his improvements as a defender and as a leader.

Melo reacted well to Woodson's hiring last year and has continued to put in 110 percent for his new head coach on both ends of the floor.

Here's what he had to say about Woody back back in April (via ESPN New York):

I'm a big supporter of what coach Woodson has done. His approach to the game, and what he gets out of all his players, even me. He holds everybody accountable and that's what we need.

Much was made of 'Melo's poor relationship with D'Antoni, to the point where some believe he drove the coach out of New York (via but his relationship with Woodson is just fine, to say the least.

Woodson has also been instrumental in the resurgence of J.R. Smith.

Smith has always had elite talent, but—both on and off the court—his attitude has held him back from fulfilling his potential. Things are rapidly changing for the better under Woodson, with the guard suddenly looking like a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.

Woodson took Smith under his wing from the get-go, challenging him to be a better defender and to take smarter shots. There have been some hiccups along the way, but Smith has clearly responded to Woodson's tough love.

But those aren't the only players to benefit from Woodson's coaching style. From day one of camp, Woodson instilled a no-nonsense attitude in the team, preaching the values of effort, defense and letting go of egos. As so often happens in the NBA, the team has taken on the attitude of their coach, playing an efficient style of basketball based on defensive dominance, ball movement and taking care of the basketball.

Woody hasn't been without help, though. Veterans like Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace (whom Woodson convinced to come out of retirement) have been extensions of their coach on the floor.

With Woodson's leadership from the top, and some of the older vets also playing a role, its easy to see why the Knicks are no longer the same erratic team we used to know.

Frankly, it's nice to see Woodson finally getting the respect he deserves as a head coach. Despite doing some great work with the Atlanta Hawks, he was ultimately remembered for never being able to get out of the second round of the playoffs.

Still, his defense was fantastic, and the Hawks record improved every single season, despite them maybe not having as much talent as the rest of the East's elite.

Of course, the playoffs are where success is really measured, but who's to say that the Knicks success can't continue into the postseason if they stay healthy?

There will be competition for the NBA's Coach of the Year Award. Lionel Hollins has done an amazing job with the Memphis Grizzlies, and Avery Johnson is also leading an improved Brooklyn Nets team. And, of course, you can never count out the likes of Gregg Popovich and Tom Thibodeau.

But ultimately, Woodson has the best storyline on his side. To lead the best Knicks team in over a decade, despite having uncertainty about his job heading into the summer, is something special.

As strong as the competition may be, if the Knicks can keep up their outstanding play, it's hard not to see Woodson winning the award.