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The ultimate litmus test for Mike Woodson

Through 5 seasons, it's still tough to get a good grasp for what Mike Woodson is as a head coach.  On the one hand, the team's record has improved every year he's been a head coach, but on the other hand, when you start off with a 13 win season, it's tough not to improve.  And then again, you can't hold the 13 win season against him because that team had literally nothing-you can make the case that Tyronn Lue was the best player on the 2004-2005 Hawks.

You can also disparage his player development, but it's not as though Josh Smith and Marvin Williams haven't improved while they've been in the league.  Additionally, the players that the Hawks have severed ties with haven't lit the world on fire since leaving.  And Woodson has also done a great job of stating goals and then reaching those goals.  In 2007-2008, the goal was to reach the playoffs, and the Hawks squeaked in and played in one of the most lopsided 7 games series ever.  In 2008-09, the goal was to approach 50 wins and take home court in the first round.  The Hawks did that, used home court to their advantage in winning their first round series (even winning a playoff road game, which I felt was a doubtful proposition) before being predictably squashed by Cleveland.

Even looking at last season, there's a lot of mixed data.  All in all, the season was a success, but you still have Josh Smith continuing in his refusal to recognize what makes him a good player by attempting to do things that he can't.  Marvin Williams went from below average to legitimate league starter, but he remains under/mis-utilized.  Zaza Pachulia had a tough time earning minutes despite being among the best rebounders in the NBA (especially on the offensive end).  And then there's Maurice Evans, who was billed as a decent defensive 2 guard with a solid jumpshot, but for us he was a very poor defensive 3 who was constantly the last offensive option on the floor (let's not even acknowledge that he played about 9% of his minutes at PF last season alsol...yeah).  And so the Hawks remain a very average defensive team in spite of a coach who talks about nothing but good defense.

But then there's Flip Murray.  A Peachtree Hoops favorite, he had a career year in every meaningful way last year.  Woodson experimented with using him as the back-up PG, but then he actually recognized it wasn't working and he limited Flip's offensive role to scoring.  His overall management of RFM was nearly flawless.  Woodson even did things, on occasion, that I didn't think he was capable of, like recognizing when Flip was having a bad shooting night and pulling him early, and riding his hot streaks when he was hot Flip.  And most tellingly, Flip became a plus defensive player last year for us.

Through most of his first several seasons, Flip Murray was a below average defensive player.  He was certainly capable of playing defense, as he's proven at times, but he was never committed to it.  So here's some numbers.

Team/Year Defensive Efficiency ON Defensive Efficiency OFF
Seattle 2003-04 110.8 109.6
Seattle 2004-05 113.9 109.4
Seattle 2005-06 114.7 115.8
Cleveland 2005-06 104.7 107.4
Detroit 2006-07 105.2 104.8
Atlanta 2008-09 106.4 110.3


Stats courtesy of

I left off the 2007-08 season in which he played not a lot of minutes for two different teams (mostly because I was too lazy to do any more columns).  As you can see, he was actually a detriment to Seattle's defense in his first pair of full seasons, most especially in 2004-05.  The following season, he was actually a good defensive player for both Seattle and Cleveland-in Cleveland, he posted a net defensive efficiency of -2.7, which is pretty good.  But the following season for Detroit, he was mostly neutral.

Then there's last season with the Hawks.  He was -5.9 in net defensive efficiency, which is extremely significant.  It can't be ignored that he spent a significant about of time substituting for Mike Bibby, who was simply atrocious defensively.  But he also played nearly half his minutes alongside Bibby, which would help to skew his numbers the other way.  Even considering that, it's another feather for Mike Woodson's cap.  There's a career defensive year for a veteran player who's been with a lot of different teams.

Which brings us to Jamal Crawford.  The comparisons between Flip circia 2008-09 and Jamal Crawford have already been made.  But defensively, my initial thought was that Flip was a superior defensive player to Jamal Crawford, who's been disinterested in defense for a long time.  But there's evidence that, in his past, he's at least been capable of playing defense.  Here's another nice, shiny table:


Team/Year Defensive Efficiency ON Defensive Efficiency OFF
Chicago 2002-03 97.4 103.4
Chicago 2003-04 105.8 106.4
New York 2004-05 111.6 107.3
New York 2005-06 112.9 111.0
New York 2006-07 111.2 107.9
New York 2007-08 113.4 112.4
Golden State 2008-09 117.1 110.9


Stats again courtesy of

As you can see, when he played for the Bulls, he was actually a solid defensive player.  He was uneven in his time with the Knicks, having some years that were bad, and some that were not so bad.  Then, last season for Golden State, he was atrocious.  You could try to blame in on playing for a coach who doesn't care about defense at all, but the fact is that they gave up far fewer points per 100 possessions when Jamal Crawford was out of the game.  In short, he simply didn't play defense at all.

This is Woodson's litmus test.  Jamal Crawford is certainly capable of being a good-or at least average-defensive player.  That is, he has been in his past, and he's certainly  not at the point where guards begin to lose their first step quickness and become less effective.  Flip Murray had a season that was an outlier in so many respects that Mike Woodson can't begin to take credit for it, but he might be able to take credit for the defensive improvement we saw in RFM.  If we see the same kind of defensive improvement from Jamal Crawford this season, he will likely provide more value than the man he's essentially replacing (albeit, at much greater cost).  And I'll be forced to acknowledge that Mike Woodson does at least one thing well.