Amar’e Stoudemire was off his game in 2011-12, but he has shown, both as a Phoenix Sun and a New York Knick, that he can dominate the paint from both sides of the ball. There are moments when Stoudemire flashes an inside game as good as anyone’s in the league.
The conditions need to be just right, though, and they haven’t been for a good season and a half. Amar’e’s descent from 25 PPG inside-man to tentative outsider began with the Carmelo Anthony trade and continued on through that odd back injury, a meek 2011-12 and an even meeker pair of postseasons, at least by the expected standards.
But evidence has been mounting this offseason that 2012-13 will be a year of resurgence for Amar’e. He appears fully healed, sought elite training this summer, has a familiar pass-first point guard in Raymond Felton and again is exuding that infectious optimism he brought to New York a couple years ago.
Maybe the shock of being so quickly relegated to the second (third?) most important Knick is wearing off.
Amar’e looks poised to rediscover his mojo, and if he does, then it’s a quick step to his return to dominance down low, offensively and defensively.
And by quick step, I mean literally:
Since then, that quick step has gone missing, and with it a big piece of Amar’e’s offense. Throughout 2011-12, Stoudemire was noticeably less explosive, straight up into Round 1 against the Miami Heat. As cbssports.com recalls, “Stoudemire has also struggled with signs of having lost a step, and was routinely beaten to position by Chris Bosh.”
Hopefully that’s been more a function of a now-healed bulging disc injury than age.
Notice also the millisecond fake on Garnett, too. Just before Stoudemire blows by, he steps back nano-briefly as if to set for one of his once-deadly mid-rangers. Garnett has to defend it, and this opens up the lane for Amar’e.
But in 2011-12, the league noticed that Stoudemire had lost some of his efficiency from 10-15 feet as well, and thus fewer defenders would bite.
I think this is precisely where Stoudemire’s summer training sessions with Hakeem Olajuwon will pay off.
This could mark not only the return of Stoudemire’s offensive prowess from two seasons ago, but also the threat of such offense, which will in turn open up the paint for Amar’e (and the floor for Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the team).
Now take a look at these two clips and think about what you see and what they have in common.
Certainly Anthony will continue to command the ball most of the time, but you have to believe Felton and Stoudemire are going to play a little side game and together grab a bigger piece of the offensive pie, like they did in the beginning. They should take advantage of breakaways, quick breaks and temporarily blown coverage and not wait for Carmelo to set up or catch up. Bring back not all of D’Antoni’s running game, but some of it.
Much of this will depend on coach Mike Woodson, who looks ready to embrace a larger offensive role for Stoudemire, affording Stoudemire the focus in additional sets.
It would help to have Anthony and Stoudemire on the court at separate times some 10-15 minutes a game. This is very doable, yet it is an experiment Woodson has yet to test. Yet.
ESPN quotes “Travis King, Stoudemire's longtime training adviser: ‘Mike Woodson himself said he wants the ball to go through Amar’e in the post more.’” The same article points out that it was Woodson’s idea to set up the Olajuwon retreat in the first place.
Amar'e is a real student of the game, and when he wants to get better, he does whatever it takes, whether it's been working on his free throws or his jump shot," King said. "Now, it's working on playing on the block and working on his defensive presence. Hakeem is one of the best shot-blockers to ever play the game and one of the best-scoring centers to ever play the game. He's been trying to take it all in to become a complete player.
Which brings us to defense.
If Stoudemire is healthy, has regained some of his speed and has improved his “complete” game this summer, then defense will follow. And surely it will be enough on a team with Tyson Chandler, now Marcus Camby and an insistently defending second-year Iman Shumpert returning. Stoudemire need not expend himself too much on that side of the floor, which is a good thing. Amar’e was never a great defender, opting to focus his energies mostly on offense.
But there is one “specialty” Amar’e has on D that I noticed sifting through video:
While Woodson’s game plan may be the key to Stoudemire’s offensive season, Chandler and Camby are the keys to his defensive season.
With Chandler and Camby always covering the middle, this should help Stoudemire’s particular, stalking defense.
Furthermore, the two centers grabbed 10 and nine rebounds a game, respectively , last year. Stoudemire’s rebounding as a Knick has not varied much, despite his slight downturn in 2011-12. He’s at about eight rebounds a game (2.4 ORB), and I see no reason why that should not continue.
Amar’e Stoudemire is all primed and ready to go, as ready as he’s been since Carmelo Anthony’s homecoming. The schemes are there. The roster is there. The coach and training are behind him. This is the year that is going to really tell us what we have left in Amar’e.