The Knicks, despite losing three of their last five games, have looked phenomenal. They are currently ranked first in the Atlantic Division, and they are third in East behind the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets. Another thing to note: they’re achieving all of this success without one of their star players—Amar’e Stoudemire.
Although they are playing well without Stoudemire, it is paramount for their long term success that they figure out a way to make him a weapon when he returns. ESPN New York reports that Amar’e plans on returning later this December, but even head coach Mike Woodson is rather cryptic in regards to whether Amar’e will even be a starter when he returns.
In the same article, it is indicated that despite a documented losing record with Amar’e in the lineup, the Knicks were an impressive 6-1 when Stoudemire was in the lineup along with Carmelo and former Knick, Jeremy Lin of “Linsanity” fame.
The fact remains that Amar’e is coming off yet another surgery, his numbers were down last season and he still has three years left on his massive contract (worth over $99.7 million). These aforementioned variables mean that Amar’e is too much of a risk for any team in the league to take the risk of clogging up their cap space for an injury-riddled vet who turned 30 this month.
Although on paper that is what most executives consider when doing a risk assessment, it doesn’t necessarily mean Amar’e won’t come back in dominant form. He has had knee problems in the past, and he’s demonstrated to be resilient in bouncing back from such troubles, but it doesn’t mean that league executives are still convinced he can do it again.
As a result, the Knicks front office may not be able to move him, so it means the Knicks are stuck with him. Does that mean that this is a bad thing for the Knicks?
In short, no. Not at all.
Amar’e is still one of the league’s better forwards, and whether he has to adapt to a different role or change his playing style, there is no doubt that he makes the Knicks a better team.
Still skeptical? Then let’s examine why despite the aforementioned knocks against him, Amar’e still makes the Knicks a solid squad and legitimate title contender.
Having a guy like Amar’e on your squad is like having instant offense. In the pick and roll, few are more lethal rolling to the rim than Stoudemire. His strong dribble-drive tomahawks, solid mid-range shot and deceptive footwork make him a nightmare if you’re slow on the switch, or fail to stick with him if he cuts to the elbow or baseline for a shot. He is just a flat-out, scoring machine, and if the Knicks can get him back to his old self, he’s going to be a monster for them.
His numbers did drop considerably last season, however. During the 2010-11 season, Amar’e averaged 25 points and eight rebounds per game, as compared to last season where he only averaged a pedestrian (at least by STAT’s standards) 17 and eight boards.
Despite the drop in numbers, Amar’e is still a fundamentally sound offensive player. Although it’s possible his explosiveness might decline to an extent due to age and injuries, his smooth jumper and high offensive IQ won’t decline.
When he’s at his best, Amar’e is a legitimate one-man scoring machine, and when he returns, he will have some big offensive performances. There is no question having a weapon like Stoudemire means you can go shot-for-shot against some of the league's best superstars.
Any great team needs depth, and when Amar’e returns, he will further solidify and strengthen their lineup. The Knicks have done a great job by adding veteran talent like Rasheed Wallace and Jason Kidd, but they will get even deeper once Stoudemire returns.
Over the course of the 82-game campaign of the NBA season, injuries, performance slumps and any number of obstacles can occur. As a result, the best contingency is ensuring you have supremely talented personnel like Stoudemire to fortify the depth chart.
An interesting development recently also involves how it’s possible Stoudemire might be assigned to a sixth man role with the Knicks. ESPN New York reported recently that sources close to the team say Amar’e would be willing to adjust to this role if need be.
In the same ESPN article, Coach Woodson was less than forthcoming about what particular role Amar’e will play when he comes back, so it undoubtedly led people to speculate about a possible off-the-bench scenario.
For a key player like Amar’e to demonstrate his selflessness and willingness to sacrifice for the good of the team, it speaks volumes about his professionalism and maturity.
If he did come off the bench, it would only strengthen the Knicks’ second unit because Amar’e would likely get the green light to score as much as he can without worrying about disrupting the chemistry of the starters. Considering Amar’e could easily start on most teams in the league, to have him coming off the bench is a scary thought for opposing teams.
No matter what role Amar’e ultimately plays upon his return, he adds tremendous depth to the Knicks’ roster, and having depth in the long term is vital for consistent success in the NBA.
Although Amar’e has averaged about a single assist per game throughout his entire career, he makes the game easier for the Knicks on offense—especially their perimeter shooters.
In pick-and-roll situations, often times teams will attempt to halt the screener (who in most cases would be Amar’e) by either helping when he rolls to the rim, or trapping the screen-and-roll before it’s complete.
As a result of these defensive rotations, this will provide a plethora of gaps in opposing defenses when they play the Knicks with Amar’e in the lineup. As the defenses collapse or trap Amar’e, he is going to have the opportunity to either swing the ball, or whoever is the point guard running the play (whether it’s Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton or Pablo Prigoni) can feign an entry pass and instead assist wide open shooters.
Amar’e will also give Mike Woodson and his staff the opportunity to add another go-to scorer to draw up plays for rather than Carmelo Anthony. Because Amar’e has such a diverse offensive game, you can run any number of plays for him that would in turn enhance the game for his fellow teammates, because he commands so much attention. As a result, teams would have to pick their poison as far as who they let beat them.
This doesn’t mean that Amar’e is going to suddenly pass more and rack up assists, but it means that defenses will have to be conscious of his presence on the floor and concede shots for others in attempt to shut him down.
Shooters are going to love defenders overhelping or overdenying, and all it takes is one ill-advised gamble to leave the Knicks’ shooters with a wide-open opportunity.
The Knicks have the second-best three-point shooting efficiency in the league, considering they convert over 40 percent of their three-point chances. This is a phenomenal statistic for the Knicks, and it demonstrates that they have the personnel to light it up if given a chance. Besides Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e is going to be another player who will give those shooters the opportunities they crave when they spot-up on the perimeter.
Besides individual output or giving your team an extra player to count on, the most important job of a player on a team is to help the team play efficiently and win games.
By having Amar’e on the squad, he just flat out makes the game easier for everyone else because he draws so much attention. The Knicks are already doing great offensively without him, and when he comes back they’ll continue their impressive offensive output with him on the floor.