Why This Year's Carmelo Anthony-Amar'e Stoudemire Dynamic Won't Be Any Different
Of course he does. What else is STAT going to say? That he's inflexible? That he's $100 million worth of dead weight, on bad knees no less? That he's a cap albatross on par with (dare I say it?) Allan Houston?
Certainly not. Stoudemire expressed no doubt about his efficacy next to 'Melo when asked (via Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com).
Nor should he. The last thing any team should want is for a star to think he's incapable of meshing with another franchise cornerstone.
Not that Amar'e's confidence necessarily affects—much less dictates—the reality of the situation.
To be sure, Stoudemire and Anthony are two very different players. The former has a post-up game that might best be described as rudimentary, but excels in the pick-and-roll and popping out to the elbow. The latter is superb with his back to the basket, but can also spot up from the perimeter or take his man off the dribble, among other skills. One is a "big"; the other a "wing."
Yet, they haven't worked all that well together so far. The Knicks are just 30-33 in regular-season games in which both Stoudemire and Anthony have started, though they've won eight of 10 together since Mike Woodson took over for Mike D'Antoni.
How could that be? How is it that two All-Stars, whose friendship began long before they joined forces, can't seem to fit together on the court?
Part of the problem stems from another key difference—pacing preference. Amar'e likes to get up and down the floor, or, at least, has thrived in a fast-paced environment. He made a name for himself as a galloping giant with the Phoenix Suns, dunking in transition and coasting to the hoop in half-court pick-and-rolls.
'Melo, on the other hand, is more accustomed to a slow, deliberate pace. Sure, he can get out on the break and hit the PUJIT (pull-up jumper in transition). But he seems to lean toward taking his time in isolation and breaking down defenses in the half-court.
The Knicks have demonstrated an ability to accommodate both styles, to some extent. On the one hand, Raymond Felton is a speedy point guard who likes to push the tempo, and he and Amar'e worked beautifully together in New York prior to the 'Melo trade. On the other hand, Anthony can count on Felton and Jason Kidd to get him the ball down low and let him work his magic when the game slows down.
But even if the paces match up, the places do, too, and not in a good way. Which is to say, Amar'e and 'Melo typically occupy similar spots on the floor offensively. They're both deadly between the elbows and the post, but there's only enough space therein to comfortably quarter both of them simultaneously.
Even so, offense shouldn't be a problem for these two in New York. They're both gifted scorers, and the Knicks are potent enough as is to absorb just about any "blow" that Stoudemire's return may render.
(Though, frankly, the Knicks could use someone like Amar'e to provide more points in the paint, especially with the second unit.)
But the bigger problems between Stoudemire and Anthony arise on the defensive end. According to NBA.com's stats database, the Knicks yielded an eye-popping 110.9 points per 100 possessions when their two All-Stars shared the floor in 2011. The following season, that number dropped to 102.7 points per 100 possessions, but so did the offense—from 110.7 points to 99.1 points.
Keep in mind, the Knicks offense slowed considerably in 2011-12 on account, in part, of ongoing volatility at point guard. Everyone at Madison Square Garden saw their scoring suffer as the Knicks shuffled through Toney Douglas, Iman Shumpert, Jeremy Lin, Baron Davis and Mike Bibby—all after cutting Chauncey Billups via the amnesty clause prior to the campaign.
Of course, the logic behind the Knicks nixing Mr. Big Shot after the lockout had everything to do with the dismal defense of Amar'e and 'Melo. Those two were both such sieves in the frontcourt that the Knicks had little choice but to find someone to compensate for their weaknesses in that regard.
Enter Tyson Chandler, a defensive-minded center with a championship pedigree. New York courted him as a free agent prior to the truncated 2011-12 season, but had to clear cap room in order to sign him. To make the numbers work, the Knicks wiped Billups from the books, thereby banishing him to the waiver wire and creating space enough for Chandler's four-year, $58 million deal.
The expense proved worthwhile on the defensive end; Chandler was named the Defensive Player of the Year and the Knicks jumped from 22nd in defensive efficiency in 2010-11 to seventh in 2011-12.
But the money turned out to be just as cumbersome to New York's salary cap as it did to the team's offense. Chandler led the league in offensive rating—with the Knicks scoring 130 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor—but created even more of a logjam whenever he was teamed with 'Melo and Amar'e. Per NBA.com, the Knicks gave up 100.3 points per 100 possessions and scored only 98.5 for themselves with that trio on the floor last season.
Strange as it may seem, the most important impediment to 'Melo and Amar'e meshing might have little to do with them and everything to do with Chandler. As valuable as he is on the defensive end and as efficient a finisher (particularly in the pick-and-roll) as he is offensively, his range is rather limited. He can't pop out for a jump shot or back his man down in the post.
Who's the biggest culprit in New York's conundrum?
Nor should he try. Chandler doesn't have a ton of skills, but he excels at the few in his arsenal.
The problem is, Chandler is only effective on offense when he's around the cup. That naturally leaves less room in the middle for Stoudemire, Anthony or, worse, both in tandem.
And, if New York's recent slide back down the defensive rankings (to 19th) is any indication, Tyson's impact as a back-line defender may be waning somewhat as well.
To be sure, the return of Felton and the presence of another facilitator (Jason Kidd) could help to alleviate some of the inherent issues with spacing and sharing.
But, realistically, there is no magical solution to the Knicks problems with Stoudemire and Anthony. Trying to get them to work together effectively on all levels is like trying to plug holes in a sinking ship—new problems always seem to pop up. Carmelo has thrived at power forward, which is Amar'e's more natural position. Stoudemire can slide over to center, but that would displace Chandler and leave the Knicks with a massive breach in the middle on the defensive end.
However Mike Woodson arranges things, a new leak is likely to spring. But that's why he gets paid the big bucks—to find solutions to problems the front office creates.
Never mind the mega-millions being shelled out to Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. After all, it's much easier to fire a coach than it is to "fire" a player.
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