Things are looking good for the New York Knicks.
After using the summer to add some much-needed depth to the roster, they've gotten off to a great start in the 2012-13 season and are finally starting to look like an elite team in the East.
Carmelo Anthony's playing defense, J.R. Smith is making smart decisions and on the whole, the team is playing some fantastic basketball.
The only major question at this point—other than whether or not they can keep this up—is how Amar'e Stoudemire will fit into things when he eventually returns from his latest knee injury.
For a lot of people, putting Stoudemire on the bench as a sixth man seems to be a common answer. But, though that can be helpful in the first few games as he returns to basketball form, that is not the long-term answer.
Instead, the Knicks are better off giving Stoudemire back the starting position he had before the injury.
First and foremost, this should just be a matter of principle.
As well as the Knicks are playing without Stoudemire, it's not fair for a player to lose his starting role because he was injured.
Mike Woodson is a coach who subscribes to that, saying the following about former Knick Jeremy Lin's injury last season:
I’ve always believed this: When a starter goes down he doesn’t lose his job because of an injury. You welcome him back with open arms when he gets healthy and you keep it moving. (via the NY Post)
With Woodson on record saying that, it probably won't go down particularly well with Stoudemire if he becomes an exception to the rule.
From a purely basketball perspective, it also doesn't make great sense to use Stoudemire as a sixth man.
For one, the Knicks already have their spark off the bench. His name is J.R. Smith, and at this point, he's probably a frontrunner to win the Sixth Man of the Year award.
Most of the NBA's best sixth men over the last few years (the likes of James Harden, Manu Ginobili and Jason Terry) are all shooting guards, and this is no coincidence.
One of the main points of having a sixth man is that he's a player who can lead the bench unit and create for others as well as himself, which is a lot harder to do at power forward.
For Stoudemire, this is particularly difficult, because he's a player that has required the play of a good point guard to get the best out of him.
Last time we saw STAT at an All-Star level, it came with him alongside Raymond Felton, who currently is the Knicks' starting point guard.
It only makes sense to reunite them in the starting lineup.
Over the course of his career, Stoudemire has always been a starter, and there's no promise that he'd adjust well to playing off the bench. What we do know, however, is that he's at his best when playing alongside his team's best players, especially at point guard.
The idea that STAT and Melo can't coexist in the same starting lineup is also questionable.
They've barely had the chance to play with each other in full health with a good point guard alongside them, not to mention under Coach Woodson.
Things can (and probably will) be a lot different with Felton around.
Last year, when the Knicks didn't have a great point guard for much of the season, this was the root of Stoudemire's problems. He simply isn't an isolation player and gets a lot more of his points off of assists from pick-and-rolls.
With Felton back, Stoudemire won't be a ball-stopper as he tries to force his own shot, which will improve the flow of the offense tremendously.
Even if there are some chemistry issues between Stoudemire and Anthony, moving him to the bench won't solve anything.
As the Knicks' most important player, Anthony is currently playing 36 minutes per game, which of course means there are only 12 minutes when he's not the floor.
So, no matter what, Stoudemire and Anthony will have to play heavy minutes with each other, which will most likely include both being on the floor together when it comes to crunch time.
People also seem to be pointing to the play of Melo at power forward as a reason to bench Stoudemire, but again, this isn't as good an idea as it sounds.
As the season moves on, Melo will struggle physically to deal with banging against bigger players every night. This will result in foul trouble (just like in the loss against Memphis) and some wear and tear down the stretch.
The Knicks are also a terrible rebounding team with Anthony at the 4 and need Stoudemire's 6'11", 260-pound frame just to keep up on the boards.
Admittedly, Anthony has been playing better since he moved to the 4 at the end of last season, but that's actually quite misleading.
That was also the time that Anthony's nagging injuries started to clear up and Woodson took over, so that may well be the reason he has been playing so well since then.
Either way, Anthony has been a dominant scorer and an All-Star for much of his career at small forward, and frankly, he can have success at either position.
The only real concern with Stoudemire returning to the starting lineup is spacing.
With Tyson Chandler having quite a limited offensive game at center, the Knicks need a power forward with range in order to space the floor.
Due to his back injuries, Stoudemire lost his shooting form last season, but if he can get that back, the spacing issues will be solved.
So long as he can hit the mid-range jumper again, things should work well.
It's not like the Knicks are at a disadvantage if their center can't shoot and their power forward doesn't have three-point range—those things are typical of most NBA starting 5's.
At the end of the day, the Knicks just need to stand by their $100 million man.
Woodson has made great decision after great decision since he got to MSG, and his initial plan was to start Stoudemire.
You have to trust that's the right move.
People were so excited about STAT's potential return to form when he worked out with Hakeem Olajuwon this summer, but his recent injury seems to have made us forget just how much work he put in to improving himself over the offseason.
Stoudemire is a consummate professional, and as a starter, he is not the sort of player who will demand the ball and ruin the chemistry that has been built so far.
Don't forget, he spent most of training camp working with the team and should be used to the things they are doing in his absence.
Using Stoudemire as a sixth man is simply unnecessary.
Stoudemire has been a great starter for much of his career and will continue to be when he returns.