After their first 16 games of the 2012-2013 NBA season, the Knicks are already 12-4 and leading the Atlantic division. Furthermore, they are currently tied with the Miami Heat for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
The Knicks have been playing very well so far and they have been led by superstar forward Carmelo Anthony. Anthony leads the team with 26.6 points per game. He has a 46.4% field goal percentage, and also averages 6.9 rebounds per game and 2.1 assists per game.
Anthony is supported by the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in center Tyson Chandler. Chandler this year has elevated his offensive game by averaging 12.2 points per game, along with 8.9 rebounds per game and a 71.3% field goal percentage.
Point guard Raymond Felton has averaged 15.1 points per game, 6.8 assists per game and has a 43% field goal percentage so far. Shooting guard J.R. Smith has added 13.6 points per game, 5.1 rebounds per game, 2.8 assists per game and a 41.8% field goal percentage. Rounding out the starting five is Ronnie Brewer, who has averaged 7.1 points per game and has a 45.4% field goal percentage.
The Knicks bench has also been very productive. Veteran backup point guard Jason Kidd (8.0 points per game, 3.4 assists per game, 2.08 steals per game, 51.8% field goal percentage), forward Steve Novak (8.1 points per game) and forward Rasheed Wallace (7.2 points per game) have all contributed notably to the Knicks' success. Fellow veterans Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas provide additional depth off the bench as well.
However, the Knicks are hoping to get star forward Amar'e Stoudemire back from a left knee injury by Christmas. Stoudemire has yet to play in a regular season game due to the injury and his return will make the Knicks even better than they already are.
Here are five reasons why Stoudemire's return will give the Knicks an additional boost in their quest to make a deep postseason run.
Last season, Stoudemire had a down season for the Knicks, with only 17.5 points per game, which was the lowest it had been since his rookie 2002-03 season. His 7.8 rebounds per game was the lowest mark of his career as well. In addition, his field goal percentage (48.3 percent) was the lowest it had been in his last six seasons.
While a back injury and a self-inflicted hand injury kept Stoudemire sidelined for a good portion of the 2011-2012 season, Stoudemire certainly did not play as well as he had in the past. He did not get selected to the NBA All-Star Game for the first time since the 2006-07 season, which goes to show how much more his game declined than just the statistics themselves.
The temporary lockout may not have helped Stoudemire stay in shape, which could have had an effect on his performance. Nonetheless, in order to win back the support of Knicks fans, he will have to redeem himself when healthy and help the Knicks get further into the postseason.
Despite his down season, Stoudemire is still one of the most elite power forwards in the NBA. His career statistics include 21.6 points per game, 8.8 rebounds per game, 1.4 blocks per game and a 53.3 percent field-goal percentage.
In addition to being a six-time NBA All-Star, Stoudemire was the 2002-03 NBA Rookie of the Year, a member of the All-NBA First Team in 2006-07 and a four-time All-NBA Second Team member. This is quite a good resume for someone to have in the first 10 seasons of an NBA career. All Stoudemire is really missing is a championship ring, which he will do his best to help the Knicks get once he is healthy.
Stoudemire may not have had his greatest season last year, but that does not mean he should be written off as someone who will decline more. He still has a lot to offer to the Knicks, and if they get further in the postseason, he will be a big reason why.
The Knicks' team chemistry, so far, has been very good, as evidenced by the 12-4 start to their season. Normally, when teams are doing particularly well, they don't tend to make significant changes. However, having Stoudemire start could help the Knicks a lot.
If Stoudemire was to start immediately once he is healthy, he would almost certainly supplant Ronnie Brewer in the starting lineup. Brewer has been more of a role player in his career than a star that a team would build around, so that transition could work for the Knicks.
The one negative to having Stoudemire start would be his health. He has had a notable history of injuries throughout his career, as he has only played over 70 games in a season six times in his career.
More minutes on the court for Stoudemire could mean more points and better defense for the Knicks. On the other hand, more minutes could also mean more of an injury risk for him and the Knicks, which they cannot afford to have occur again.
If the Knicks choose to have Stoudemire be a bench player for the next few weeks, if not the rest of the season, it could work for the team as well.
If Stoudemire was to come off the bench, it would likely help him ease back into playing regularly since he is coming back from an injury. The Knicks would possibly benefit as well because the current group of starters has been playing so well that any significant changes could affect the great stretch they have had.
Stoudemire being on the bench could limit the Knicks from playing at their full potential if he is not playing in the majority of a game. He has been a perennial scoring threat for almost all of his NBA career and would certainly help the Knicks offense score more points. His imposing presence would improve the Knicks defense as well.
An NBA team having more depth on its roster is always a good thing because it helps keep everyone rested and not playing every minute of an entire game. Too many minutes for a player could impact his fatigue and could present more of an injury risk due to longer playing time.
Being that Stoudemire can also play center quite well, this would help Tyson Chandler get more rest during games. This would keep him fresh down the stretch and possibly during the postseason.
Stoudemire would also help Carmelo Anthony get more rest because of this same versatility. Anthony is the face of the franchise and needs to stay healthy throughout the entire season in order for the Knicks to really contend for a championship.
Furthermore, if Stoudemire and Anthony are both playing at the same time, this will also help the Knicks' guards, such as Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and J.R. Smith get more rest because Anthony is comfortable playing both guard positions.
All in all, more depth and versatility on the Knicks' roster will help everyone get both sufficient playing time and enough rest in order to stay healthy.
In order for the Knicks to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since the 1998-99 season, they will have to get through a competitive Eastern Conference.
The defending champion, the Miami Heat, is arguably the favorite to get back to the NBA Finals this season. With a frontcourt that includes LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem, Stoudemire's presence will be critical in matching up with Battier and Bosh in particular.
Another team that has won a championship recently and has been a consistent postseason presence is the Boston Celtics. Veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, plus rookie Jared Sullinger will be another difficult matchup in the postseason if the two teams play each other. If Stoudemire is healthy and getting regular playing time, the Knicks should be able to handle the Celtics' big men better.
The Indiana Pacers have been on the rise in recent years and could present another potential postseason challenge. Their frontcourt includes David West, Danny Granger and two former college phenoms in Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough. This group may not sound as imposing as that of the Heat or Celtics, but it is young and full of potential.
The crosstown Brooklyn Nets are also improving and could make a deep postseason run of their own. With a frontcourt that consists of Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez, this would not be an easy matchup for the Knicks. However, Stoudemire being healthy could certainly help the Knicks play better against their local rival.
Last but not least, the Atlanta Hawks could be yet another major postseason contender. Their frontcourt includes Al Horford, Kyle Korver and Josh Smith. While this group may not be considered elite, the Knicks should not take them lightly. Stoudemire should be able to match up well with Horford and Smith.
No matter who they end up playing in the postseason, the Knicks will not have an easy road to get to the NBA Finals. Most of the frontcourts among likely Eastern Conference contenders will be difficult matchups overall, but if Stoudemire is healthy and playing well, he could make those challenges easier for the Knicks to handle. Hopefully, his presence will help the Knicks get back to the NBA Finals and maybe even win a championship.