Following a disappointing 2011-12 season in which Amar'e Stoudemire was hampered by injury and simply did make the kind of consistent impact on the court fans have become accustomed to, fans and pundits spent the entire ensuing summer dissecting how the New York Knicks can use him so as to maximize his talents. Suggestions ranged from simply giving the All-Star big man more touches and playing a faster brand of basketball to potentially benching Stat and using him as a sixth man behind Carmelo Anthony.
While something as radical as bringing a superstar scorer off the pine is not necessary, it is clear that for New York to have a chance at a deep postseason run and potentially even bring home an NBA championship, they will need to adjust the manner in which they use Stoudemire.
Last season, Stat struggled to coexist with Anthony, who took many of his shots and often halted the ball movement so crucial to making Amar’e a potent weapon offensively. Though Stoudemire is adept at scoring in isolation, he is even more of a weapon running the floor and playing uptempo basketball that allows him to use his athleticism and make plays around the basket.
However, once Mike Woodson became coach, the team began to run almost exclusively halfcourt offense that featured Anthony working with the ball in his hands and taking his man off the dribble. Though this led the Knicks to a successful late season run and a brief playoff appearance, it is not the kind of basketball that a player like Stoudemire could ever thrive in.
Stat’s best basketball for New York came during the beginning of the 2010-11 season when he was pushing the pace with the Knicks’ crop of talented young players and also forming a ferocious pick-and-roll tandem with then-and-current New York point guard Raymond Felton.
That season, Stat averaged a stellar 25.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.9 blocks per game while shooting 50.2 percent from the field and attempting 19 shots per game. He was the focal point of the team’s offense and to many was a legitimate contender for the season’s MVP award.
However, during the 2011-12 season, Stoudemire, impeded by myriad injuries including a troubling disc issue in his back, averaged just 17.5 points, 7.9 boards, 1.1 dimes and one block per game while seeing his field-goal percentage dip to 48.3 percent from the floor.
Stoudemire has reportedly spent the offseason working with Hakeem Olajuwon on his post moves, and New York would be wise to give him the ball on the block fairly regularly early on in the season to establish him as a true low-post threat. ‘Melo can certainly play with his back to the basket, but he is better as a high-post scorer, and with Stat using his deceptive quickness and refined game down low, it could open up the floor for the rest of the Knicks.
It may mean fewer touches for Anthony, but getting Stoudemire the ball more regularly will be huge for New York's offense, which struggled at times last season.
In order to carve out space down low, Stat will need to see at least a handful of minutes per game at center. Despite the undeniable impact Tyson Chandler has defensively, he is not capable of producing offense outside of the paint and will clog up the lane as Stoudemire attempts to work in the post.
For the brief stretch that Amar’e is playing the five position, he will present a tricky matchup given his speed and athletic ability and should see plenty of touches in the paint, which will allow Anthony to thrive as a stretch-4 and draw opposing big men away from the basket.
Even if it is not as effective as it was in 2010, employing Stat in the pick-and-roll forces defenses to game-plan for a different style of offense instead of simply putting all their efforts into slowing down Carmelo.
He may not be capable of carrying a team’s offense for an entire season anymore given his injury battles, but Stoudemire can certainly carry New York for games thanks to his explosiveness, and we should see more than the 14 attempts from the field he had during the 2011-12 season.
On the defensive end of the court, Stoudemire obviously needs to put in consistent effort and make his presence felt on the boards, but he should still be spending the brunt of his time on the floor alongside Tyson Chandler, who is more than capable of anchoring the paint for the Knicks.
Despite their lack of depth at the power forward spot, it may behoove the Knicks to actually give Stoudemire some games off during the regular season to preserve his legs and keep him well rested for the postseason. New York could certainly get away with a lineup of Felton, Iman Shumpert, Ronnie Brewer, Anthony and Chandler for a few games, and this could prevent Stat from burning out over the course of the grueling 82-game season.
Stoudemire, despite his drop in production, is still among the elite big men in the NBA, and while New York has clearly committed to Carmelo Anthony as their franchise superstar, the team would undoubtedly benefit from making some adjustments to help Stat dominate out on the court.
This Mike Woodson-led Knicks team may appear to have a defined system, but a few changes to make it more Stoudemire-friendly could be the difference between another first round playoff exit and a run to the Conference Finals.