In the coming days, New York Knicks fans will receive a belated holiday treat. Star forward Amar'e Stoudemire will return from knee surgery and hopefully bring some extra oomph to a team that has performed remarkably well in his absence.
As happy as Knicks fans have been this season, they could be even happier once Stoudemire is back in the lineup.
Then again, where in the lineup will Knicks coach Mike Woodson slot Stoudemire? Will he be a starter once fully healed, or will Woodson look to bring him off the bench?
More importantly, will Stoudemire play his usual power forward or will he play center?
Just when he will return remains up in the air, but the anticipation is mounting. Stoudemire is going to be back with the Knicks soon, and I have a feeling certain chips will fall into place once he steps back on the court.
Though rabid fans will want to see him play starters' minutes right away, there's no doubt that Stoudemire will come off the bench at first. He is just coming off knee surgery and has been injury-prone throughout his career, so it does not make sense for Woodson to take a chance on him reinjuring himself by overusing him immediately.
Assuming Stoudemire performs well off the bench, he could continue to do so even after the rust is shaken off. The idea of him serving as a bench player has been brought up before, and Stoudemire has said that he would welcome that role if it would help the team win.
Just how long Stoudemire will remain in that role remains unclear. It's not something fans will be used to seeing, but they will gradually welcome it, whether it be for an extended period or just for the short term.
One of the Knicks' few flaws this season has been the lack of a reliable backup center. Marcus Camby has been injured most of the season, and both he and Kurt Thomas are getting up there in years. The same can be said for Rasheed Wallace, who has been slow on the court, save for an occasional three and some low-post play.
The Knicks can't afford to let Tyson Chandler get tired down the stretch, so it is important that Woodson ensure Stoudemire gets some time at center. At 6'11" and 245 pounds, he has the size for it and has shown prowess at the position before.
More importantly, in Woodson's slow-paced isolation offense and tough defensive system, Stoudemire should be able to thrive at center.
One of the many criticisms of Stoudemire throughout his career has been his lack of a low-post game. Rather than stand and bang under the basket, he has relied on the pick-and-roll and his jump shot to get by in the league.
During the offseason, however, he took care to improve his post game. Stoudemire spent time and trained with Hall of Fame center and two-time NBA champion Hakeem Olajuwon, one of the best low-post players in basketball history.
Once he returns, Stoudemire's marked improvement in this area will immensely please Knicks fans. They will be glad to see their $100 million big man playing good ball, and championship prospects will only grow.
Assuming he stays healthy, playing in the low post will help Stoudemire re-establish himself as one of the NBA's best.
When Stoudemire first came to the Knicks, his point guard was Raymond Felton. The two thrived in the pick-and-roll-heavy system of Mike D'Antoni, and it was sad to see Felton go to the Denver Nuggets as part of the Carmelo Anthony trade.
Felton is now back in a Knicks uniform where he belongs and doing a fine job running the point. The offense is not the same, but his previous experience with Stoudemire will count for something.
After all, they did manage to hook up for this amazing play in the preseason and will continue to do so in the regular season once Stoudemire is back on the court.
Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony may be teammates, but they have struggled to perform when on the court simultaneously. Critics have said they can't play together, which is why some believe Stoudemire should come off the bench.
Whether Stoudemire is a bench player or not, he and Anthony will get it right this season. It may sound far-fetched, but Woodson's offense will allow them to peacefully coexist and help turn the Knicks into an Eastern Conference superpower.
You see, Woodson runs an isolation system. That means he picks one or two players to be in control on offense; in this case that would be Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. Unless both of them are off the court, they will be the focal points of the scoring.
More importantly, look at how well Anthony and Stoudemire performed together last season once Woodson took over as head coach following D'Antoni's resignation in March. Stoudemire averaged 17.5 points and 7.1 rebounds over the final two months of 2011-12, while Anthony averaged 24.6 and 6.8. That's not much of a difference in numbers.
The two are perfect for this type of offense and will get the formula right this season, be it Stoudemire coming off the bench to join Anthony or both of them being starters. Either way, the critics will be silenced and the Knicks will continue their borderline dream season.