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How Mike Woodson Can Transform Amar'e Stoudemire into a Defensive Presence

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 01:  Head coach Mike Woodson of the New York Knicks talks with Amar'e Stoudemire #1 before Stoudemire enters the game in the first quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers on January 1, 2013 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Ciaran GowanContributor IIIJanuary 6, 2013

As if Amar'e Stoudemire hadn't opened himself up to enough criticism over the last year or so, he's done it again with his latest comments on his defensive flaws. 

The New York Knicks forward recently told reporters after practice that he has "never been taught defense," which doesn't say much about his commitment to the game.

Sure, Mike D'Antoni (who coached Stoudemire for much of his career) is anything but a defensive mastermind, but that doesn't mean the blame can be shifted off Stoudemire's shoulders. He's a professional and after a decade in the league, it's his responsibility to improve himself—even if that means looking for outside help, like he did this past offseason with Hakeem Olajuwon.

More to the point, if Stoudemire was trying to highlight that he can now improve his defense with Mike Woodson at the helm, he's forgetting one important thing: Woodson's job for much of last season was to be D'Antoni's defensive assistant.

As confusing and frustrating as STAT's comments were, it's important to understand that it's now in the past. Stoudemire clearly wants to make amends, and Coach Woodson is the perfect man for the job.

Much like he did with Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, Woodson is capable of transforming Stoudemire's game on that end of the floor.

The first thing that needs to be done is for Stoudemire to build on what has been a strength for him at points in his career—shot blocking. As a help defender, when Stoudemire is committed, he has the capability to be a serious threat inside.

Back in his first season with New York, Stoudemire averaged 1.9 blocks. He also averaged 2.1 in 2007-08 with the Phoenix Suns. Granted, Stoudemire was playing center in those two seasons, but now that he is coming off the bench, he will see plenty of minutes backing up Tyson Chandler at the 5.

Stoudemire's past success with shot-blocking shows that even if he isn't a skilled defender or a knowledgeable defender yet, when he gives his full effort, he can still be helpful in that regard.

His primary job defensively will be to help Chandler and Marcus Camby hold down the paint, which is something the Knicks really need him to do. The Knicks are allowing 25.9 points per game from in close this season, as opposed to 22.3 last season. The opponent effective field-goal percentage inside has also increased from .562 to .605.

The main point of improvement, however, is Stoudemire's effort. Since returning from injury, we've seen Stoudemire put in a lot of effort offensively, almost to a fault. He is forcing some shots and trying to prove a point now that he's back. But we don't see the same kind of involvement on defense.

When his shot isn't falling, Stoudemire needs to understand that he can impact the game defensively as well.

Effort is going to be a big part of it. At the very least, you aren't going to get embarrassed if you make sure you stick with your man and help out when someone else's assignment drives to the basket.

To ensure the effort is there, Woodson needs to punish Amar'e for poor defense. Woodson has never been shy to reduce minutes or pull a player to the side mid-game if they aren't giving their all. Mistakes are inevitable, but just standing there and watching as someone drives by you is not acceptable.

That said, putting in the extra effort won't just suddenly fix everything. It won't work that way with Amar'e, because unlike Melo and J.R., he isn't even a particularly good defender when he tries and never has been. Often times, he just looks confused out there.

Woodson has a tough task on his hands because he essentially will have to teach Stoudemire defense from scratch. This isn't a switch that can be flipped like when Anthony suddenly started playing D after D'Antoni resigned.

Stoudemire has already spoken about how he doesn't know defensive stances or positioning, and Woodson says he also struggles when it comes to rotations out of double-teams. That's a lot to catch up on.

It's at least encouraging that Stoudemire sounds willing to learn, though. His eagerness to make amends will speed up the process, but don't expect him to suddenly turn into the second coming of Charles Oakley.

It will take a while—probably the rest of the season and more—for Stoudemire to actually become a good defender and a difference-maker like Anthony and Smith have been this season. Instead, the hope will be that he simply won't be a liability when the playoffs come around.

Steve Novak is a good example of what you can expect Stoudemire to be defensively this season. For his career, Novak has done very little besides shooting, and he was just terrible on D last year.

This year, however, Novak isn't making any major mistakes and is playing a role in a good team defense. With Chandler and Camby in the middle and a good set of perimeter defenders, that's enough.

Communication has been essential, and it will be the same with Stoudemire. He needs to trust his teammates, but luckily, that is exactly what Woodson has been preaching since training camp.

Ultimately, if Stoudemire is looking for someone to finally help him defensively, he couldn't be in a better situation. With a coach like Woodson and two former Defensive Player of the Year winners, he has plenty of people to turn to. 

They can help him, but only if he is willing to be coached. The onus is still on Stoudemire to iron out his weakness and make use of the resources around him.

It has taken a long while for STAT to realize his defense isn't acceptable, but it's great to see that he's finally making the changes he needs to as he comes off the bench for the Knicks.

Better late than never, right?

 

All stats used in this article were accurate as of Jan. 6, 2013. Advanced stats are from 82games.

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