Amar'e Stoudemire returned to the Knicks last night
In the Summer of 2010 there was only one man who was willing to come to New York and play for the Knicks. Immediately after getting signed to a $100 million contract, Amar'e Stoudemire boldly announced that the New York Knicks were back.
Since then, Stoudemire has dealt with being the team's star player, having to adjust to Carmelo Anthony's arrival, and many injuries that have prevented him from being on the floor.
After having surgery on his left knee at the end of October, Amar'e finally returned to Madison Square Garden last night. Here are five observations I took away from watching his season debut.
Stoudemire received a standing ovation from Knicks' fans last night
Stoudemire checked into the game with 3:31 remaining in the first quarter. He was extremely nervous, even experiencing butterflies he said, as he made his way to the scoring table (via The Star-Ledger).
But, as the Knicks' $100-million man stepped on the floor of Madison Square Garden, the building erupted into a standing ovation.
When Stoudemire scored his baskets in the second half, each was acknowledged by loud applause from the crowd, especially on Stoudemire's thunderous dunk over Portland's Victor Claver off a great pass from J.R. Smith.
It had to be great for Amar'e to hear that support from the Garden faithful after having to deal with trade rumors, injuries and questions about how good of a basketball player he really is throughout all of 2012.
Stoudemire on the defensive end of the floor
Right from when he first got on the court, it was clear that Stoudemire's game was rusty. He missed his first five shots, had one turnover and no rebounds during the minutes he played in the first half.
He was moving slowly, and as Amar'e has already admitted, he is not yet back to 100 percent healthy.
The Knicks coaches are not worried so much about Stoudmire's offensive game, but more so his liability on the defensive end, and it was clear that he will need to get adjusted to Woodson's schemes as he was often caught looking out of place last night.
Stoudemire says he is willing to become a 'student' of defense under Mike Woodson
Amar'e was targeted on the defensive side of the ball by LaMarcus Aldridge and J.J. Hickson during the minutes he was on the floor last night.
He got burned multiple times while defending the pick-and-roll, and often looked lost on that end of the floor. It was especially embarrassing when Hickson slipped behind Stoudemire to throw down a vicious alley-oop finish.
After the Knicks' practice earlier this afternoon, Stoudemire said that he was ready to become a student of defense, and that he believes having Woodson as a coach is going to do him wonders on that side of the floor (via ESPN).
This was evident last night when Woodson called Stoudemire over to give him a coaching point on how to defend the pick-and-roll.
Look for improved defense from Stoudemire in the coming weeks as he continues to regain full health and learns from Coach Woodson.
Stoudemire thrived in the Pick-and-Roll last night
Stoudemire has made his living in the NBA as being an explosive threat off of the pick-and-roll. That statement held true in his return to Madison Square Garden, as he scored four of his six points off of the pick-and-roll.
Several times he ran the play with backup point guard Pablo Prigioni. When the Knicks signed Prigioni because of his strength running the pick-and-roll, it was expected for him and Stoudemire to click well. They did so last night as Stoudemire completed one of their plays for a dunk and went to the free throw line another time.
In addition, Stoudemire and Anthony also tried to run a lot of pick-and-roll. It was the first time that we have seen these two try this with consistency since both arrived in New York. The one time it worked you saw Anthony's ability to pass as well as Stoudmire's brilliant finishing ability.
Personally, I hope Woodson continues to implement this, as Anthony is brilliant at shooting off the dribble, but can also make good decisions and dish to Stoudemire for an easy finish.
Stoudemire finishes a dunk over Portland's Victor Claver
After not scoring in the first half, I was beginning to wonder just how much this injury was going to affect the explosive Stoudemire. However, my worrying stopped as Stoudemire played a stronger second half.
Of the three baskets which Stoudemire made, one was a layup and they other two were powerful dunks.
While his overall game is definitely still lacking, the ferocious dunk Stoudemire threw down in the third quarter was a reminder of just exactly what Stoudemire does well and what he can bring to this New York Knicks team. As J.R. Smith penetrated the Portland defense, he dished to his left to Stoudemire who soared over Claver, and threw down a powerful dunk over the Portland defender.
Stoudemire brings power and energy to the Knicks on the offensive end, and hopefully will soon be able to bring that to the defensive end as well.
Amar'e has never been known for his defense. But, if he can improve that under Woodson, and continue to return to his former level of offensive greatness, he can help out this Knicks team by giving them a seriously need scoring threat beside Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler and more interior defense.
Whether he does that off the bench or starting in the next couple months will not matter.