Pinch yourselves, Knicks fans. Your team is off to a 3-0 start and a lot of it has to do with star player Carmelo Anthony. The former Syracuse star has put the team on his back completely, averaging 26 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
Even more amazing is that Anthony and the Knicks have accomplished this hot start without star forward Amar'e Stoudemire, currently rehabbing a knee injury, with whom some people believe Anthony cannot mesh with effectively. While Anthony's ability to create his own shot from anywhere on the floor makes him perfect for coach Mike Woodson's system, Stoudemire is used to playing in a run-and-gun system and often relies on his jump shot instead of using his 6'11", 245-pound frame to stand and bang under the basket.
Given how the Knicks have won each of their three games by an average of 16 points, including a 20-point blowout of the defending champion Miami Heat, it's safe to say that Woodson's lineup tweak in the absence of Stoudemire is working. By shifting Anthony to power forward and using the defensive-minded Ronnie Brewer at small forward, more mismatches and open shots are able to be created. The fact that the Knicks currently rank in the top 10 in field goal percentage and the top five in three-point percentage proves that this approach is effective.
That said, what happens when Stoudemire returns in six weeks? He makes $19.5 million a year, so it's hard to justify having him come off the bench. Yet, the question remains: Can he and Anthony play together?
Sure, the two did well as the go-to-guys on offense once Woodson took over in March of last season, but then Stoudemire's back started acting up and he was out for the remainder of the regular season. Over that stretch, with Anthony running the show, the Knicks went 12-5. Then, the playoffs started, Stoudemire returned and the Knicks were eliminated in five games by the eventual champion Miami Heat.
Granted, the Knicks were a No. 7 seed and didn't have upstart point guard Jeremy Lin running the floor. As was observed last season, Anthony and Stoudemire did best when they had a true point guard getting them the ball and were not left to their own devices.
On top of that, Raymond Felton has done a fine job at point guard thus far, averaging 13.7 points and six assists per game to go with 1.7 steals, and he and Anthony have formed a great on-court relationship just two years after being traded for each other. Suddenly adding another superstar to the mix is the A1 recipe for upsetting the apple cart.
Thus, while it is only a three-game stretch, the Knicks' good start has proven something that no fan ever wants to admit. One of the team's superstars, Stoudemire, has become expendable. Nothing against the man, but he is not as well-rounded a player as Anthony and is a holdover from the very system the team from which the team is trying to distance itself.
Can Stoudemire and Anthony play together and succeed?
Be it trading him or using him as part of a stellar second unit featuring J.R. Smith, Steve Novak and others, the sad truth is that the deadly tandem of Anthony and Stoudemire just isn't meant to be if both are on the court at the same time, let alone in the starting lineup.
However, once the All-Star forward returns, it's going to be hard to justify keeping him out of the lineup with Anthony. Hopefully, Mike Woodson will see how well his team has performed in Stoudemire's absence and make the right decision.