Chances are, when talking to a New York Knicks fan, the first topic that will come into play is the future of Carmelo Anthony, the superstar small forward the team brought in a year and a half ago in a much-ballyhooed blockbuster trade that saw almost all of their young assets shipped to Denver.
Some think Anthony is the kind of transcendent player that can lead the team to a title. Other consider him an all-offense “black hole” who should be dealt at the soonest opportunity. Either way, now that Jeremy Lin is officially a Houston Rocket, all eyes in New York have shifted squarely onto Carmelo.
However, while the debate about their All-Star 3-man rages, the elephant in the room that is Amar’e Stoudemire goes unaddressed. Stoudemire is entering the third year of his five-year, $100 million deal, and is still owed $65 million through 2015.
Stoudemire’s struggles were evident last season. Although he tacked on muscle in the offseason, he was hampered by a myriad of injuries, primarily a bulging disk in his back, and lacked the explosiveness that made him such a difficult cover in the past.
He is still an above-average midrange jump shooter, but Stoudemire was less capable of attacking off the dribble and finishing at the rim, which was blatantly evident in his stat line.
In a 2010-2011 campaign that had many considering him a dark horse MVP candidate, Stoudemire averaged 25.3 points on 50.2 percent shooting while chipping in 8.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.9 blocks per contest.
He ran the floor extremely well, was the undisputed first option on offense and excelled in Mike D’Antoni’s free-wheeling system.
Although he was not as dominant when Anthony joined the roster in February, 2011, fans still believed that with some time the two could find a way to work off of each other and maximize their potential as a lethal frontcourt scoring tandem.
However, in their first full season together, Stoudemire had one of the worst seasons of his career, averaging 17.5 points on 48.3 percent shooting, with 7.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists and just one block per contest.
While his injury issues obviously contributed to his decline in production, Stoudemire seemed unwilling to adjust his game, also refusing to be aggressive offensively.
He took less than 14 shots per game last season, down from a career-high 19 attempts the year prior. In the playoffs, he took just nine shots in the four contests he appeared in.
Stoudemire is a talented passer, but he relies too heavily on the kind of isolation offense that Anthony excels at.
For a player with his size and athletic ability, he should be making more of an impact on the boards and defensively. There is no reason that he couldn’t average a double-double, and with a less featured role on offense, should be looking to impact the game in multiple ways.
Is Stoudemire's refusal to make adjustments detrimental to the team?
The Knicks have all the talent to contend for a title, but what has held the team back over the past couple seasons is their lack of cohesion.
New York needs its leaders to play with a team-oriented mindset and to do things like attack the glass, play defense and rebound when their shots aren’t falling. Too often, Amar’e would simply disappear for stretches of a game, which is unacceptable for a franchise-type player.
Anthony is far from a stalwart defender, but if his stats from last April, when the team went 9-4 under coach Mike Woodson while besting Boston, Chicago, Atlanta and the Los Angeles Clippers, are to be believed, then he is simply too invaluable on the offensive end to forsake at this point.
On top of that, this team has now firmly carved out an identity centered around Anthony. The team allowed Jeremy Lin to walk and has brought in a number of veteran, defensive-minded players, giving ‘Melo essentially free rein on offense.
Had the Knicks opted to keep Lin, they could have tried to create an offense that evenly mixed isolation plays, transition attacks and pick-and-roll plays, but with Felton and Kidd it seems the offense is going to be half-court dominated.
Raymond Felton had great chemistry with Stoudemire when the two played together, but that was in Mike D’Antoni’s pick-and-roll heavy system, and it just seems difficult to picture an ideological overhaul when this team is so clearly constructed to build off of the Knicks’ late-season success.
Another area of concern for Stoudemire is his age and mileage. He turns 30 this November and has logged a dozen NBA seasons. In that time, he has had such severe knee troubles that his current contract was uninsurable.
The idea of building a veteran unit is sound when a team has multiple young stars, like the Miami Heat, but with a number of older players on the roster already, counting on the injury-prone Stoudemire to produce at a high level as Anthony’s sidekick may come back to haunt the Knicks.
The 2012-2013 New York Knicks are far from perfect, but the way they have set up their team for the future, any further changes should be aimed at addressing the issues caused by Amar’e Stoudemire, not Carmelo Anthony.