After one of the most tumultuous years of his life, Amar'e Stoudemire enters the 2012-13 season with his superstar status under heavy scrutiny.
Stoudemire posted his lowest shooting percentage since his sophomore season, his fewest points per game since his rookie year and his fewest rebounds per game ever. Even so, the stat line was the least of STAT's concerns.
Nagging injuries kept Amar'e off the court for 19 games in the regular season, and the sudden death of his brother left him reeling. Following a playoff loss, Stoudemire infamously and unceremoniously punched a fire extinguisher in the Knicks' locker room. His season did not end that night, but it was an unfortunately fitting way to cap off a season of downs and more downs.
Though Amar'e is sure to bounce back, his tough year and New York's limited window for a championship have left fans uncertain what to expect from him. Here's five things Stoudemire must do to show Knicks fans that he is still Standing Tall and Talented.
Amar'e cannot redeem himself if he does not play.
Though Stoudemire has retained the athleticism to play at a high level, his body has been betraying him for years.
In 2005, he underwent microfracture surgery to repair knee cartilage damage. He missed 70 of 82 games that season, raising concerns that he might be damaged goods. Stoudemire dispelled those rumors by stringing together two superb seasons, only to miss 29 games in 2009 after suffering a detached retina.
That about sums up Stoudemire's injury history. Prior to last season, he was hurt sporadically, and the injury-prone label has stuck. Remember that the massive contract the Knicks gave him was deemed uninsurable due to his medical history.
Knicks fans don't want to root for 47 games of a banged-up Amar'e; they want a full season at full strength. If he can get on the floor for 70 games at the very least, he will be able to remind fans what he is capable of.
One thing STAT must show Knicks fans is something he has rarely displayed: sound defensive play.
According to 82games, New York allowed 104.7 points per 100 possessions while Stoudemire was on the court last season, compared to 99.7 when he was off it.
To put that in perspective, look at the NBA team rankings in defensive efficiency last season. As a team, the Knicks ranked fifth in the league, allowing 98.4 points per 100 possessions. On the other hand, the 104.7 points allowed when Amar'e was in would have ranked right behind Detroit at 26th.
The defensive renaissance in New York will only continue next season. With Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas back in town, Tyson Chandler is no longer the only competent post defender on the roster.
Given Stoudemire's porous defense, he'll be on the bench when the Knicks have a close lead in crunch time. Superstars can't sit down the stretch, and neither can STAT. In order to stay on the court, he must step it up on D.
Much has been made of STAT's two-week master class with Hakeem Olajuwon, which left his new mentor raving to the New York Times about his progress:
Stoudemire has proved a quick study, assimilating moves and countermoves as fast as Olajuwon can demonstrate them.
“It’s night and day,” Olajuwon said. “What’s so nice is he wants it; he likes the post. He’s always wanted to play there, but he doesn’t have the moves that would give him that option.”
While the reported progress is encouraging, it remains to be seen just how effective Amar'e will be in this nuanced basketball craft.
It will clearly strengthen his offensive repertoire if he can still score without relying on his athleticism. Also, if he is able to move into the post, it will allow him to exist more harmoniously with Carmelo Anthony on offense.
Amar'e Stoudemire came to New York with championship aspirations. If he wants a ring, he will have to earn it in the post.
Post play is a step forward for Amar'e, but it might not be everything.
Imagine this scenario: With Melo at the wing, Amar'e in the post and Tyson leading the defense, the Knicks realize their potential and become bona fide postseason contenders. However, age and injury catch up to Amar'e, and he reinvents himself as a wily post player. He's still effective and plays his role well, but he's not the game-changing player he once was.
The team would ultimately be better, which is Stoudemire's express goal. But if he were putting up 17 points and seven rebounds in workmanlike fashion, fans would only embrace his effort if the Knicks won a title. Otherwise, the narrative would be that the Knicks came up short and Amar'e is over the hill.
The move to the post is a step forward for Amar'e, but if he wants to return to his former glory, he needs to maintain his athleticism for as long as possible.
To be a great player, you've got to walk the walk. To be a star, you have to talk the talk, too.
We only saw a glimpse of that from Stoudemire last season. It came out in Game 4 against the Heat. Coming off his hand injury, Amar'e willed his way to 20 points and 10 boards, and the Knicks won their first playoff game in 11 years. The Garden was rocking, and so was Stoudemire.
More often then not, though, Stoudemire was clanging his mid-range jumper and fighting through physical and emotional issues. He wasn't having fun out there, and the charismatic personality Knicks fans met in 2010 was missing in action.
Stoudemire needs to get his swagger back in 2012. He led with his personality before the Big Three formed, but that disappeared last year. If he wants to make his presence felt to Knicks fans again, he has to get back to carrying himself like a star.