Just because the New York Knicks have won without Amar'e Stoudemire doesn't mean his return isn't coming at a great time to improve this team.
Although the Knicks are surprisingly among the NBA's best through one-third of the season despite not having their star power forward on the court, they'll be even better when Stoudemire returns, which will be Tuesday according to Ian Begley of ESPN.
The average basketball fan looks back at last season, sees a mediocre Knicks team and STAT punching fire extinguishers and suddenly thinks their stellar 2012-13 campaign is based solely on Stoudemire's absence. And while this is an easy assumption, it couldn't be more wrong.
What the Knicks really missed was veteran leadership in the backcourt, which they got by bringing in Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd. The fanbase may have been up in arms when the organization didn't match an offer for Jeremy Lin, but they couldn't have gotten the move any more right.
Along with Felton and Kidd's emergence, superstar Carmelo Anthony has had arguably his best season ever thus far. Combine that with Tyson Chandler anchoring the post at a level that New York's brass could've never imagined, and you have yourself a strong core.
So, how does STAT fit in with all of this? Quite well, actually.
The Knicks thrive with a player whose skills are formidable on both sides of the floor to play alongside Chandler, as you could see earlier in the season with Rasheed Wallace's solid play. But Wallace hasn't seen game time since Dec. 13.
Marcus Camby has seen a lot of time in that same spot, but he's been banged up all through December and his playing time has been greatly diminished.
With the return of Stoudemire, the Knicks have a younger, more able version of Camby and Wallace to incorporate into that position.
Now, when the frontcourt depth is short, Anthony won't have to play down on the post as much and will have more room to take jump shots.
It's not like the Knicks have to use all $20-plus million of STAT for him to positively affect the team. Just because he's paid like a superstar doesn't mean you have to feature him as one.
Mike Woodson can't listen to all of the talk about how Stoudemire's return could diminish what the Knicks have going. Good coaches utilize players where they can most benefit the team, and that's what Woodson must do with STAT. If he's playing 15 minutes per game and the team is winning, it's a good formula.
All that matters is that Stoudemire fits into what the Knicks want to do down the stretch. And that he's getting healthy.
Those two combinations make for a scary realization for the rest of the NBA: the Knicks could be getting even better.
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