As much as New York Knicks fans and team management may not want to, it's time to stop handling Amar'e Stoudemire with kid gloves.
The team's defense has been struggling for a while now, and the solution to the problem is staring them right in the face.
There's just one problem with this realization: Nobody seems to want to act on it.
Stoudemire is the clear-cut answer to the Knicks' problems on D, but his tendency to get injured and history of ineffectiveness in the paint is enough to scare head coach Mike Woodson and the Knicks' front office into keeping him in a role as a bench player.
That alone is borderline absurd. The Knicks are a team committed to defense, but their handling of Stoudemire makes them look like the complete opposite of that.
If everyone thinks that the current approach is going to inch them closer to a championship, then they're in for a rude awakening once the playoffs start.
The sad truth is that the Knicks are not in a position to use their original approach right now. Low-post threat and stretch-4 Rasheed Wallace is out indefinitely with a foot injury, and there's no telling when he'll be back. An earlier report by Ian Begley of ESPN New York stated that he may be gone for the season, but that was later denied.
Marcus Camby could arguably be used to fill this role, as he is an excellent defender. However, he too is injury-prone and is now out with a bruised foot. As reliable as he is when healthy, the man gets injured too frequently—plus, he is not as strong an offensive threat as Wallace.
We won't even discuss Steve Novak and Chris Copeland. Both players are shooters first, and the fact that Copeland has averaged 18.2 minutes over his last five games is ridiculous. Novak can at least get into a groove and be unstoppable from three-point range, but Copeland should not be getting that much playing time.
Thus, the problem presents itself: The Knicks need a viable backup center for Tyson Chandler, and Carmelo Anthony needs to be playing the 4 instead of the 3. He is too good at creating mismatches and playing the low-post to be solely a wing scorer, and his performances throughout this season show it.
More importantly, Anthony ranks fourth in the NBA in player efficiency rating at 25.30, so why try and fix something that wasn't really broken to begin with?
Nobody may want to admit it, but Stoudemire is the perfect backup center for the Knicks. He has the size for the position at 6'11", 245 pounds, and has just performed better there as a whole throughout his career.
The numbers speak for themselves. In all of the seasons Stoudemire has played primarily at the 5, be it with the Phoenix Suns or the New York Knicks, he has posted an average PER of 22.2, a very respectable number.
Also, remember Stoudemire's first year with the Knicks? As the team's starting center, he posted a 22.7 PER while averaging 25.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. Granted, it was in Mike D'Antoni's run-and-gun system, and Stoudemire's PER dropped to 17.7 after being moved to the 4 the following season, but it's still clear that he is more comfortable at the 5.
That all being said, I understand that there is going to be some anxiety about Stoudemire being a backup center. His defense isn't very strong, and there's always going to be the issue of he and Anthony being able to play together.
Well, friends, worry not. Though we haven't seen much of it yet, Stoudemire spent the summer working on his low-post game with legendary NBA center and Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon. As his knee gets stronger, he's going to incorporate that more and more into his game, and it will definitely help him become a solid center in Mike Woodson's system.
It should also be noted that in the very near future, Raymond Felton is going to be back running the point. He has done a fine job in building a good on-court relationship with Tyson Chandler, resulting in the center having an All-Star-caliber season, and he and Stoudemire worked excellently together in 2010-11 before Felton was included as part of the infamous trade for Anthony.
Thus, to say that Amar'e Stoudemire is not the best option to help the Knicks' defense is just a bit far-fetched. He may not be the best long-term piece of the puzzle, but the fact is that he's all the Knicks have to plug the leaks now, lest GM Glen Grunwald choose to hit the free-agent market and gamble on someone like Kenyon Martin.
But money doesn't buy solutions in this case. The solution is staring the Knicks right in the face, and it's time for everyone to bite the bullet and see what happens when Stoudemire is placed in this role.
Granted, it may not work effectively, but the Knicks will then know that he is not the best solution to fix their current problems.
However, by not at least taking a chance on him, New York is cheating itself out of something potentially special in what has already looked like a championship-caliber season.