The wait is finally coming to an end.
After two months of rehabilitation, Amar'e Stoudemire appears set to return as the new year turns on Jan. 1. The New York Knicks have been on fire in his absence, and the topic of debate has been whether the man called STAT should return as a starter or in the unfamiliar role of sixth man.
Even with recent news of Raymond Felton's finger injury (via the New York Post) that could sideline him for a month, a reserve role is still the best fit for Amar'e.
Let's break down why this would be the best option for New York.
Stoudemire would give the bench a scoring threat as dominant as some teams' starters.
J.R. Smith is an excellent scorer coming off the bench, but he plays the majority of his minutes with four of the team's five starters (via 82games).
This leaves the team's reserve squad as combinations of Pablo Prigioni, Ronnie Brewer, Steve Novak, Rasheed Wallace, Chris Copeland, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas. None of those players can benefit the Knicks as a purely dominant scorer this season.
With Amar'e Stoudemire pegged into one of these spots, defenses would be faced up against a premier scorer at all times against New York—similarly to what the Oklahoma City Thunder's opposition dealt with last season when James Harden ran the show with OKC's reserves.
The prospect of courting a prime offensive weapon nonstop should be enticing for Mike Woodson. It's hard to envision how defenses would endure a full 48 minutes of offensive attack.
Anthony and Stoudemire's inability to produce together has been widely documented.
Much has been made of the so-far-unsuccessful pairing of Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. It's not an impossible connection, and it is one that's seen moments of triumph. But on the whole, it's largely been a failure, and that's according to the numbers.
That's not to say that Mike Woodson can't make it work—after all, the two stars will probably have to cooperate during crunch time when they'll likely share the court to pull out wins. But to make Stoudemire's re-integration as seamless as possible, avoiding any potential clashing with Anthony would be ideal.
Tyson Chandler shouldn't go unmentioned in this discussion either. When MVP chants were descending from MSG stands onto Stoudemire, it was the center position he was playing. At his own request, the Knicks acquired a more traditional 5 in Tyson Chandler. The position change has caused nothing but problems (more stats here) on offense for the 30-year-old former All-Star, however.
At least in the early stages of his return, Amar'e would benefit from avoiding Anthony, Chandler and any negative press that could come along with potential miscommunications.
Only when he gets his legs under him and proves his worth while running with the reserves, is when Stoudemire should step up and face the task he's failed at accomplishing for the last season-and-a-half: existing in an offense with other primary options.
STAT's offensive weapon of choice is the pick-and-roll attack.
Amar'e Stoudemire's primary method of attack is the pick-and-roll. It's what boosted his name into MVP talks in 2010-11 and what made Raymond Felton an All-Star candidate that same winter.
Luckily for Stoudemire, the Knicks' reserve unit doesn't shy away from this strategy.
35-year-old Pablo Prigioni has been a skilled screen-and-roll man throughout his illustrious career overseas and has imported his craft along with him this season in New York.
A whopping 60 percent of Prigioni's offensive plays have come through the oldest play in the book, according to Synergy. He's even connected with Rasheed Wallace on various rolls, even though most of Wallace's shots this season have come from beyond the arc.
If Prigioni can work magic with so-so roll men, just imagine the Houdini-like stunts he can pull with Stoudemire up his sleeve.
The starting squad has performed too well to be shuffled around at this stage.
This would be the main component of this entire argument, if there had to be one, so this should be short and sweet.
The Knicks are 21-8. They're just a half-game behind the Miami Heat for the Eastern Conference's top seed, and they rank third league-wide in offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) at 109.2—they trail only Miami and OKC.
Unwarranted tinkering with the Knicks' top five-man units should really be avoided at all costs, as per the "If it ain't broke…" adage. Stoudemire's return will throw the five-man units out of whack a bit, but it's just a matter of how quickly he can adjust to his new teammates and if he can bring the same sort of offensive production to those squads.
Stoudemire's injury history has played a huge role in the latter stages of his career.
This all brings us back to the reason we (you, me, Knicks fans, NBA fans...everybody) have been discussing this topic for what seems like an entire season: Amar'e Stoudemire's health.
STAT arrived in New York with health issues. In 2005-06, he underwent microfracture surgery after significant cartilage damage was discovered. Then in 2009, Amar'e suffered a detached retina after being poked in the eye during a game—the injury responsible for Stoudemire's trademark goggles.
He made it through his first Knicks season almost completely unscathed, appearing in 78 games for New York that season. Knicks fans didn't have to wait much longer than that for the injuries to flare up, however.
To compensate for the back weakness, Stoudemire put in extra work the following offseason. He added 15 pounds of muscle to his back before the start of the 2011-12 season, but he would soon find out that the added bulk would only slow him down and eliminate the bounce from his game.
By the time Stoudemire shed the bulk, it was mid-March, but he finally appeared to be his dominant self. With aid from Jeremy Lin, Amar'e was back in the swing of things. From March 6 to March 24 of last season, Stoudemire averaged 18 points and eight rebounds per game on 58-percent shooting, with one block.
It was on March 24, however, that STAT was forced to leave a game early with back pain. It was later announced that he'd be out indefinitely—just as we're finally getting re-acquainted with the old king of New York.
This season, Amar'e appeared to be in tip-top shape. He put in work with Hakeem Olajuwon and pronounced himself healthy again.
Until he banged knees with Chris Copeland in training camp one October afternoon. What was originally diagnosed as a bruised knee escalated quickly to a ruptured cyst that required surgery and two months of recovery time.
Which brings us to where we are now.
Stoudemire can't afford another injury setback at this point, and bringing him in as a reserve eases him into action more gently. Rushing him upon return and trotting Amar'e out for 30 minutes per game right away wouldn't be wise on Mike Woodson's part.
Luckily, the team's head coach knows better.
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