Why Amar'e Stoudemire Will Determine New York Knicks' Success in 2012-13 Season
New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson knows what to expect from Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler. The former figures to score 20-25 points per game while chipping in six rebounds, three assists and using upwards of 30 percent of his team's possessions, many of which will come in isolation. The latter will be called upon to pile up double-doubles (of which he had 20 last season), convert upwards of 60 percent of his shot attempts and anchor an ever-improving defensive unit.
As for Amar'e Stoudemire, the last of the Knicks' "Big Three"...well, that's anybody's best guess at this point.
Which is precisely why STAT (Standing Tall and Talented) is the key to New York's hopes for bigger and better things this season.
Stoudemire's game has dropped off considerably since he first arrived in the Big Apple in the summer of 2010, and though Carmelo makes for an easy scapegoat, the real story may be more nuanced than that. In his 53 games as a Knick prior to the 'Melo trade, Stoudemire looked like a dark-horse MVP candidate, averaging 26.1 points (50.7 percent shooting on 19.4 attempts), 8.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.0 steals in 36.8 minutes for one of the league's most exciting squads.
In 25 regular-season games thereafter, STAT's stats suffered a modest but still significant decline, dropping to 23.5 points (49.1 percent shooting on 18.2 attempts), 7.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.3 blocks and 0.8 steals in 36.8 minutes.
It wasn't until the 2011-12 season, though, that Stoudemire's productivity truly tailed off. In 47 games during the lockout-shortened campaign, Amar'e posted a line of 17.5 points (48.3 percent on 13.9 shots), 7.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.0 blocks and 0.8 steals in 32.8 minutes. However you slice it, this was Stoudemire's worst single-season performance since his sophomore campaign with the Phoenix Suns when he missed 27 games due to an eye injury.
Stephon Marbury, who was Stoudemire's teammate for much of that season, recently told Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com that he doesn't think Amar'e and Carmelo will be able to work together in New York:
Amare needs a point guard like Steve Nash (to thrive). He's a pick-and-roll guy, a pick-and-pop guy. He can't play in the half court where everything's slowed down.
Now, it may be easy to dismiss the words of a guy who tanked during his time with the Knicks and has gone on to tattoo his shoe logo onto his head and eat Vaseline in front of a live internet audience. But, as a former teammate of Stoudemire's, Starbury knows a thing or two about what the big fella does best.
And, to be sure, the shakeups to the Knicks' roster since Stoudemire's signing (i.e., trading for 'Melo and inking Chandler) haven't helped him any. Anthony and Chandler combined to siphon off a substantial portion of Stoudemire's pick-and-roll possessions, leaving the powerful power forward with fewer opportunities to attack the basket. It's no surprise, then, that Stoudemire's attempts from within nine feet of the basket declined so dramatically, from 11 per game in 2010-11 to 7.9 per game in 2011-12.
Neither did it help Amar'e case in this regard that he had to fork over so many of his minutes at center—where he's been at his most effective since making his New York debut—to Chandler, who's a much more traditional purveyor of pivot productivity as a rebounder and defensive enforcer.
Could it be, then, that Anthony isn't the biggest impediment to Stoudemire's game on the Knicks' roster? Is it possible that Chandler is more culpable for STAT's struggles?
Perhaps. According to Basketball Value, the Knicks didn't field a single lineup with Amar'e last season that posted a positive adjusted plus-minus rating, which suggests that he was a drain on New York's prospects for success.
But all of those lineups featured Stoudemire at the 4. Turn the clock back to 2010-11, and you'll find nine Stoudemire-centric lineups that yielded positive results per Basketball Value's measurements, six of which slotted Amar'e in at center. Granted, these were all pre-'Melo, but they were also pre-Chandler.
Still, it would be anything but fair to blame Tyson for the Knicks' struggles and those of Amar'e therein. Chandler's an invaluable member of New York's operation, one who earned Defensive Player of the Year honors for turning the Knicks' D into a top-five unit and whose contributions on that end of the floor more than make up for whatever problems his presence precipitates offensively.
Blaming others for Stoudemire's downfall, it seems, is somewhat shortsighted and overlooks what may be the actual source of his overall decline—his own body. Stoudemire's long been a player who's relied more on speed, strength and athleticism rather than pure basketball skill to dominate his opponents. He made a name for himself in Phoenix while throwing down thunderous dunks—be it in transition or as a screen-game finisher—and spinning his way to easy buckets on the block, along with the occasional jump shot from the elbow.
Which Knicks player will be under the most pressure to succeed this season?
But Stoudemire's struggles with knee and back problems over the years have sapped him of much of his once-elite physical prowess, to the point where the deterioration of his body seemed to catch up to him all at once last season. He looked old and slow at times, particularly for a 29-year-old and even more so for a six-time All-Star for whom the slam dunk was merely part and parcel of his very existence.
The prolonged lockout may have played a part in it. So, too, might the 20 pounds he packed on while working out prior to the shortened season. The Knicks' revolving door at point guard and the untimely death of Amar'e's older brother could've only compounded the situation.
On the whole, though, it's likely that Stoudemire simply isn't the player he once was, that he can no longer rely on raw athletic ability alone to get by.
As such, it was smart of Mike Woodson to encourage Amar'e to spend time with Hall of Famer and post-move guru Hakeem Olajuwon this summer, both on The Dream's massive ranch outside Houston and with several other Knicks in New York. If Stoudemire can rediscover and refine his low-post game, he'll be a more effective offensive option for the Knicks without having to lean so heavily and put so much pressure on his less-than-springy legs. He may not dominate the opposition down low, but at least he'll be a more versatile scoring threat within the Knicks' scheme.
For their part, the Knicks might've actually been smart to re-acquire Raymond Felton this offseason, if the goal in doing so was, in part, to revive Amar'e's game.
Even if the resulting decision to let go of Jeremy Lin was a rather unpopular one.
After all, Stoudemire and Felton flourished together for most of the 2010-11 season before Felton was sent packing to the Denver Nuggets in the deal that brought 'Melo to Madison Square Garden.
It's feasible that a full training camp alongside 'Melo and Chandler, under Mike Woodson's tutelage, with a more promising post game and a helping hand from Ray Felton will precipitate Stoudemire's renaissance.
Not likely to pre-'Melo levels, but to something more respectable, or at least something less easily picked apart by the ravenous New York sports media machine. For all the guff Stoudemire gets, he's been a star on his fair share of playoff contenders and has done his part in the postseason when permitted.
Contrary to popular belief, Amar'e's far from a lost cause. He may not be the destructive force he was once upon a time, but he's still a talented big man who's capable of contributing consistently to a contender.
He'll have the opportunity to show as much this season, now that the situation in New York appears to have settled down for the time being.
With the proper adjustments, Stoudemire can be more than just the squeaky leg on New York's star-studded tripod and help lead the Knicks to new heights in the Eastern Conference in 2012-13.
And if not? It'll probably be back to pointing fingers, throwing up hands in disbelief and calling for someone's head on a stick by season's end.
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