By John Schmeelk
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“The Knicks are back.”
Amar’e Stoudemire, July 2010
It was a bold statement when Amar’e Stoudemire signed with the Knicks, considering their recent futility. But it turned out to be true. The Knicks made the playoffs for the first time in a long time.
Since then, Stoudemire has been beset by injuries and almost pushed aside by the arrival of Carmelo Anthony — an even brighter star on the NBA stage. With back and knee issues, there was worry whether Stoudemire would play again, let alone how good he would be. There was also great concern over how well Stoudemire would be able to handle playing in the shadow of Anthony.
That can all be swept away. Stoudemire has done something Carmelo wouldn’t be capable of.
He’s happy riding in the passenger’s seat.
He proclaimed “This is Carmelo’s team” only a couple weeks ago, and hasn’t complained for a moment despite his limited minutes. Due to those restrictions (part injury related, part coach’s decision), he has been unable to put up the eye-popping numbers. He’s scored 20 or more points only once. Since his return the Knicks are just 7-6.
With all that said, I’m very comfortable in proclaiming “Amar’e Stoudemire is back!”
Stoudemire’s numbers over the past six games have been excellent, if not gaudy. The basics: Stoudemire is averaging 16.5 points and just 24 minutes in that span. He is shooting 67 percent from the field, and 81 percent from the free-throw line. He’s doing that on just 8.5 shots per game, and just over six free throws per game. On average he has a plus-minus of 3.2 in those games. The efficiency has been astounding and he is getting most of his points without being the focal point of the offense.
It gets even more impressive when looking at some advanced stats. In the past six games, the team has a better offensive rating when Stoudemire is on the floor. The team has a significantly better defensive rating when Stoudemire is on the floor, as compared to when he is off. Since returning from injury, Stoudemire has a 20.2 PER, good for 27th in the league, ahead of All-Stars like David Lee. Stoudemire has a better points per possession numbers than Carmelo Anthony, according to Synergy Sports.
According to Synergy, Stoudemire has also been one of the most efficient players in the NBA in the post, where he is getting the majority of his touches at about 30 percent. He is shooting 62 percent in those situations, and averaging 1.04 points per possession, sixth-best in the league. With Tyson Chandler the primary roll man on high screens, Stoudemire has had more opportunities in the post than he has diving to the basket off of screens.
Stoudemire bragged about becoming a better post player in the offseason when he took lessons from Hakeem Olajuwon, and in the early going it has paid off. His footwork is much improved, and he has a lot more touch on his hook shot around the basket. I’d like to see Mike Woodson isolate him more in the post, and let him go to work against opposing big men. If he can draw some double teams it could open up the rest of the floor.
Unfortunately, Stoudemire and Anthony still struggle when they are together on the floor. Of the Knicks’ 45 most frequently used two-man lineup combinations, Stoudemire and Melo have the worst defensive rating. Their offensive rating of 107.2 is respectable, but the net number is not acceptable. As they play more minutes with each other, it is becoming obvious that they can play together on offense, but defensively it might just be a lost cause. Both players have shown improvement in spurts this year, but neither Anthony nor Stoudemire are defensive-oriented.
As much as Stoudemire might try, he’s never going to become a great help defender. Carmelo will never be Bruce Bowen.
Stoudemire and Chandler, on the other hand, have worked great together. Despite the fact that two big men can clog the lane, the Knicks are a better offensive and defensive team with those two guys on the floor at the same time. The team’s rebounding also improves significantly when they play together. It only happens for about 10 minutes per game at this point, but as Stoudemire continues to play more and more minutes, their minutes together will inevitably go up. Stoudemire and Ray Felton’s numbers together are also very good, and those two will start getting more time on the floor at the same time.
Early in the season, the biggest question for Woodson was how he would re-introduce Stoudemire to the Knicks. So far he has passed that test with flying colors, in large part because Stoudemire has been so willing to accept his new role. Now with Stoudemire showing signs of his old dominant self, it’s time for the second stage of the process to begin.
Stoudemire needs to start playing 30 minutes per game. The Knicks are simply better with him on the floor. How Woodson runs the offense and who he pairs with Stoudemire will be very important to this stage. Stoudemire standing around while Anthony plays isolation basketball wouldn’t help anyone.
It is a good problem to have. Despite how well the Knicks opened the season, they weren’t going to challenge the Heat for the Eastern Conference title unless Stoudemire got back to being at minimum a very good offensive player. He has reached that level, and if he stays healthy he provides yet another weapon for the Knicks to use against Miami’s weakness in the paint.
Amar’e Stoudemire is back. And the Knicks are better for it.
You can follow John on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.
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