Amar'e Stoudemire, your chariot awaits.
No really, it does. It's just not in the form of the New York Knicks' starting lineup.
For weeks upon end, Stoudemire's impending return to the rotation has been a source of controversy for the Knicks. Now that his return is imminent, however, it has spawned a sense of urgency.
New York stands at 18-6 and is tied for the second-best record in the NBA with the Los Angeles Clippers. It has the second-most potent offensive attack in the league right now to go along with the fifth-largest margin of victory.
As such, the Knicks are understandably concerned. The temptation to panic is also there when you come to find that Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony are just 31-41 in games played together.
And yet, Stoudemire's return doesn't have to inflict a sense of conflict. He can still help this team; he is going to help this team. No matter the cost.
Stoudemire himself said as much (via Fred Kerber of the New York Post) after participating in his first scrimmage—with the Knicks' D-League affiliate—since the season's inception:
“Whatever it takes to win,” Stoudemire said, a refrain he used more than once. “You guys [media] know me. Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve been all about winning and been a total team player. So whatever it takes to win, that’s the goal.”
Even if it takes coming off the bench.
“I’m totally open to it,” he said. “I’ve been here for three years now. You should know how much of a team player I am. In Phoenix … it was a team-oriented game and the same applies here in New York.”
Here, Stoudemire addressed one of the pressing concerns surrounding his return. Obviously, the decision of where to play the forward is ultimately Mike Woodson's, but there was plenty of angst regarding his reaction to potentially come off the bench.
But that's no longer an issue. Stoudemire has said he is going to do "whatever it takes to win," even if that dictates he assume the role of a sixth man.
And you know what? He should assume that role. Not just because he's open to the idea and not even because he and 'Melo have struggled to play together. But because it puts Stoudemire himself in a position to not just succeed, but dominate.
What many neglect to realize is that the problem at hand is not Anthony and Stoudemire, but New York's crowded front line.
Tyson Chandler, Stoudemire and Anthony all occupy the same space. That's not conducive with ball movement or a free-flowing offense. The Knicks need to find a way to perpetuate the small-ball concept that has worked wonders for them this season while also re-integrating Stoudemire into the rotation.
Which brings us back to that sixth man role Stoudemire himself alluded to.
Bringing Stoudemire off the bench changes nothing about New York's starting lineup, the one that has been nothing short of demonstrative this season. It ensures Chandler can remain the high pick-and-roll man while allowing Anthony the bounty of space he prefers to have when operating on offense.
Most importantly, though, relegating Amar'e to the second unit places him within a structural dynamic where he has already proved he can succeed.
Remember Stoudemire's first season in the Big Apple?
Of course you do. It was the one where he generated early MVP chatter and put up monstrous stat lines.
During that span, he manned the center position more than twice as much as the power forward slot. The thinking here was that it gave both he and the Knicks a tactical advantage.
Sure enough, it did.
Stoudemire averaged 34 points per 48 minutes at the 5, posting a PER of 24.3 in the process. New York's offensive production rose to 109 points per 100 possessions and the team posted a net point differential of plus-88 with him there as well.
I understand that's not enough to sell you. The 2010-11 crusade was one of Stoudemire's best seasons. Plus, he spent less than half of it alongside 'Melo.
Which is why we're going to fast forward one year to 2011-12. The same campaign that saw Stoudemire put up just 17.4 points on 48.3 percent shooting, his lowest production levels since an injury-riddled 2005-06 campaign. And yes, the same campaign that saw he, Anthony and Chandler occupy the same space—injuries aside—for an entire year.
By no means was it a successful year for Stoudemire. It was, however, a telling one.
He spent nearly three-quarters of his time on the floor at the 4, scoring at a rate of 24.3 points per 48 minutes to go along with an effective field-goal percentage of 45.5. His PER within that sample was a paltry 14.3 as well.
Upon shifting to the center position, though, Stoudemire's production exploded. He averaged 31.8 points per 48 minutes with an effective field-goal percentage of 56.9 and a PER of 25.
That's a huge difference, and it's one that can become a reality by bringing Stoudemire off the bench with the second unit now.
It is with them that Stoudemire will spend most of his time at center.
It is with them that he will be the primary pick-and-roll man with Pablo Prigioni and eventually Iman Shumpert or Jason Kidd.
It is there that he will be surrounded by shooters like J.R. Smith, Steve Novak and Rasheed Wallace.
Would Amar'e Stoudemire and the Knicks be successful with him playing off the bench?
And it's there that he will be able to co-exist with Anthony, who will be free to saddle up at the power forward spot, where he himself is posting a PER of 26.3 per 48 minutes this season.
So no, this isn't a time to panic. Nor is it a time to belittle Stoudemire and his return.
Instead, it's time for us to embrace his forthcoming re-entry the same way he has endorsed the "whatever it takes to win" mantra.
Because as it turns out, welcoming Stoudemire into the second unit with open arms is what it's going to take for Anthony and the Knicks to win even more than they already have.
All stats in this article are accurate as of December 19, 2012.