Amar'e Stoudemire will soon take the court for the first time this season.
The New York Knicks are rolling right now, but how will the impending return of Amar'e Stoudemire affect the team?
Though their $100 million big man has been out all season with knee debridement, the Knicks have emerged as a bona fide title contender. Stoudemire has been cleared to practice, but it doesn't look like his team needs him right now.
Adding an All-NBA-caliber forward to a winning team doesn't sound like it has a downside. However, the Knicks have been exhibiting great chemistry and ball movement in Stoudemire's absence. As good of a player as STAT is, reintegrating him into a hot lineup could slow some the Knicks' momentum.
The reward of a healthy Amar'e is obvious, but there is some risk to bringing him back too. Let's take a look at how things will change for the Knicks when he gets back on the court.
Camby has been hampered due to injury.
With Amar'e Stoudemire returning to the active roster, someone has to be deactivated.
Prior to the season, Chris Copeland seemed like the reasonable candidate to go on the inactive list when STAT came back.
The 28-year-old rookie has taken on some of Stoudemire's work as an athletic forward so far. However, Copeland has shown a surprisingly smooth offensive game when he's gotten on the floor. If you can put up an efficient 29 points, even in garbage time, you earn immunity from deactivation.
For now, that means Marcus Camby is the odd man out.
Due to nagging injuries and the rise of Rasheed Wallace in the Knicks rotation, Camby has played limited minutes in just six games so far. He has not seen the court since Nov. 26, and he had made little to no impact up to that point.
Given the Knicks' aging roster, injuries are liable to be a common theme throughout the season. Someone will get hurt down the line, and Camby will get back into the rotation. Until then, he's the most logical option for the inactive list.
J.R. Smith and Co. could use fewer minutes.
Amar'e Stoudemire's return means three of the Knicks' most-used players can get some more rest.
Carmelo Anthony currently leads the team with 35.6 minutes per game. It's a manageable figure, but he would be fresher both in individual games and over the course of the season if he sat a couple minutes more.
Amar'e and Melo operate in a similar way as a power forward, so Amar'e can replace him without a significant drop off in scoring.
The same goes for Tyson Chandler. While Stoudemire is practically the antithesis of Chandler defensively, he gives New York a second elite roll man. That would allow the Knicks to keep the pick-and-roll option open when Tyson rests.
Lastly, J.R. Smith has been very effective as a sixth man, but Amar'e is another creative scorer who needs the ball. With Smith shooting under .400 from the field, Mike Woodson would be able to use him only when he's hot and to lean on STAT and Melo otherwise.
Amar'e effectively kills Melo's MVP chances.
Melo's campaign for the 2013 MVP award will end swiftly when Amar'e returns.
Even now, Anthony is falling behind in the race for the top individual hardware.
Kevin Durant's 27.1 points-per-game mark is slightly below Anthony's 27.9. However, Durant has shot .514 from the field on 16.9 attempts compared to .473 and 20.1 for Melo. On top of the more efficient scoring, Durant is posting more rebounds and assists while leading a team with a better record in a tougher conference.
If Melo is struggling now to keep up with Durant, as well as LeBron James, it's not going to last much longer. Stoudemire is going to eat into his minutes, touches and rebounding opportunities, finishing his chances for good.
Amar'e will give Chandler no help on defense.
Even with Amar'e on the court for 47 games last season, the Knicks allowed just 98.3 points per 100 possessions, good for fifth in the NBA.
Without Amar'e in 2012-13, that figure has jumped up to 102.6 points per 100 possessions, and New York has tumbled all the way down to 17th in the league.
Even with an influx of post depth and the addition of plus defenders in Ronnie Brewer and Jason Kidd, the Knicks defense has devolved into Tyson Chandler and everyone else. Many of the pieces might be good, but Woodson hasn't gotten them to fit together properly yet.
Unfortunately, Stoudemire's return does nothing to solve this problem. He's a minus defender if there ever was one; adding a liability into the mix will only make things more difficult.
Amar'e will not fit immediately into the offense.
As potent as Amar'e is as an offensive weapon, there's going to be an adjustment period working him in.
The most evident part of the Knicks' success has been the way they've whipped the ball around the perimeter to the open man. Following Jason Kidd's lead, even Carmelo Anthony has gotten in on the ball movement, and the result has been the second-most efficient offense in the league.
When Stoudemire steps in, he's not going to be able to immediately gel with his teammates and make the right pass. It's going to take some time for him to readjust to game speed in general, let alone playing as part of a cohesive offense.
That said, he will get there in time. Ultimately, Stoudemire will be able to take some of the scoring load off of Anthony's and Smith's shoulders. The offense will take a temporary downturn to create that offensive depth, but it will pay dividends in the postseason.
Amar'e will ultimately help more than he hurts.
Amar'e Stoudemire will briefly destabilize the Knicks upon his return, but by no means will he derail their stellar season.
The most important Knicks story this season has been Stoudemire's statement that he'd be open to coming off the bench, as reported by ESPNNewYork.com:
"You guys know me, ever since I've been here I've been all about winning and been a total team player," Stoudemire said Tuesday after practicing for the first time since he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Nov. 1. "Whatever it takes to win, that's the goal."
As long as STAT doesn't start, that means Woodson can play him and Anthony apart as much as possible; since they play such similar offensive games, they would provide the most production if they were separated.
That ability to manage talents rather than egos is huge for a coach.
It would have been plausible if the $100 million man demanded he start, throwing off the New York's tried-and-true game plan due to pettiness. Instead, Stoudemire has put his team first and his pride second.
That mindset will stave off the risk of friction in the Knicks locker room when Amar'e returns. Instead, the team with the best record in the East is going to get even more dangerous.