Grading Amar'e Stoudemire's First Five Games Back From Injury
Amar'e Stoudemire has had mixed results in his five games for the New York Knicks since returning from left knee surgery.
There is considerable rust to his game. He is quickly winded and not in sync with his teammates. His elevation is also clearly diminished. Yet, through a couple of gorgeous spin moves and rim-rattling dunks he has provided glimpses of the STAT of old.
Stoudemire has shown improvement over the five games, but he also experienced soreness in his knee after the Knicks' loss to the Celtics Saturday night. He still moves gingerly and his minutes are limited.
Only time will tell if his explosiveness will return once he rounds into shape. Injuries to key players have also made it difficult to assess Stoudemire's progress and his role on the team.
Game 1: Jan. 1, vs. Portland Trail Blazers
Amar'e Stoudemire entered his first game of the season with 3:31 remaining in the first quarter to a standing ovation from the Madison Square Garden crowd. The six-time All-Star looked rusty and a bit nervous. He rushed his shots and missed his first five attempts from the field.
In the second half, STAT showed glimpses of his dominant former self. His first basket came while rolling to the hoop after setting a screen for Carmelo Anthony.
He followed that up with an emphatic dunk off of a dish from J.R. Smith, an encouraging sign that he may regain most, if not all, of his explosiveness once he gets his legs back under him. Stoudemire's final hoop came on a pick-and-roll with Pablo Prigioni.
Amar'e struggled mightily on defense. LaMarcus Aldridge blew by him on the perimeter, and J.J. Hickson pushed him around down low. He was caught out of position on several occasions, prompting Knicks' assistant coach Herb Williams to state at halftime that Stoudemire "looked lost" on defense.
STAT played just 16 minutes and was noticeably winded by the end of his run. His monster slam and an impressive blocked shot on LaMarcus Aldridge were promising signs for a player coming off of knee surgery, but he must improve his defense if he wants to be on the court in crunch time.
Game 2: Jan. 3, vs. San Antonio Spurs
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Stoudemire was in more of a rhythm in his second game back. He scored 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting and grabbed two rebounds in 20 minutes.
STAT showed off some of the post moves he worked on with Hakeem Olajuwon over the summer. First, he beat Boris Diaw to the buck with a quick drop step. Then he gave the Spurs forward a little shake-and-bake before nailing a mini-hook in the lane. His other two baskets came on a bank shot from the wing and as the roll man on pick-and-roll with J.R. Smith.
Most importantly, Stoudemire showed marked improvement defensively. He appeared to be more comfortable with his defensive rotations and did not have any obvious mental lapses.
On the down side, Amar'e was unable to elevate around the basket. In a sequence reminiscent of his lack of lift last season, his shot was blocked on consecutive attempts by Tiago Splitter. Amar'e's shot was rejected twice more and his rebound totals—three in the 36 minutes over his first two games—are a reason for concern.
Game 3: Jan. 5, @ Orlando Magic
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Once again, Amar'e had trouble finishing in traffic. He has resorted to flipping the ball toward the rim in situations where he used to throw it down and had his shot blocked twice by the Orlando Magic.
Amar'e scored 11 points on 3-of-7 shooting. He still has a knack for rolling to the rim for the easy basket and seems to be developing nice chemistry in the pick-and-roll with Pablo Prigioni.
Amar'e has yet to hit a jump shot from the elbow, a shot which had become a weapon for him in recent years. Once he rediscovers his stroke, he should provide the Knicks with another reliable offensive threat off the bench.
Stoudemire's defense was adequate and he was more active on the glass, grabbing four rebounds in just 16 minutes of play.
Game 4: Jan. 7, vs. Boston Celtics
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Stoudemire had a little extra spring in his step against the Celtics and dropped a season-high 13 points on the Knicks' Atlantic Division rivals. On one memorable play early in the fourth quarter he blew past Kevin Garnett and finished with a slam dunk.
STAT knocked down his first perimeter jump shot of the season, connecting on a curl play from the left elbow. The rest of his attempts came on isolation plays. The Celtics' ball pressure hindered the Knicks' ability to initiate pick-and-rolls, a play Amar'e generally feasts off of.
Stoudemire's defense remained decent, though his lack of rebounding is troubling. He grabbed just two boards in 27 minutes.
According to Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com, Amar'e's surgically repaired left knee was sore the day after the Knicks' loss to the Celtics. Team doctors advised Coach Woodson to reduce the forward's minutes. Stoudemire stated that this is not a setback, but Knicks fans should be concerned given his injury history.
Game 5: Jan. 10, @ Indiana Pacers
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With Carmelo Anthony serving a one-game suspension, Amar'e had an opportunity to play a more prominent role offensively. However, the Knicks did not feature him in their attack, and Amar'e failed to demand the ball down low. He took 11 shots on a night in which J.R. Smith took 29 and the team posted just 76 points.
STAT scored nine points, two of which came on an uncontested put-back in the closing seconds. He converted on two sweet spin moves, but contributed little else offensively. Once again, he lacked elevation around the basket.
Stoudemire does not look comfortable in the offense. He misses Raymond Felton. The two developed excellent chemistry during Felton's first stint with the Knicks two years ago, and the feisty point guard is able to get Amar'e going with some easy looks off of pick-and-rolls.
Stoudemire did make his presence felt on the defensive end. He wrestled with power forwards David West and Tyler Hansbrough down low and disrupted a layup by sprinting back during a Pacer fast break. His eight boards in 22 minutes helped the Knicks outrebound one of the best rebounding teams in the league.