One of the main concerns about the New York Knicks this season was how Amar'e Stoudemire was going to fit in upon his return from injury. But after the first 12 games the picture is starting to become a lot clearer.
To this point, Stoudemire has done a great job of silencing his critics, and besides a few inevitable hiccups has proven he can still be a major contributor for the Knicks.
Formerly the star of the show, Stoudemire has made the ultimate sacrifice in accepting a role on the Knicks bench, and essentially putting the good of the team ahead of everything else.
Working as a sixth man along with J.R. Smith, Stoudemire has allowed the Knicks to continue to go small with Carmelo Anthony at the 4. This makes New York a tough team to match up with, and Mike Woodson always has the option of moving STAT back into the starting five against bigger and more physical teams.
Once Amar'e returns to full health, there is a chance that he will become a regular starter, but for the time being he has found a place where he fits in and can help the Knicks.
Most surprisingly, Stoudemire has been working well with Anthony, and the pair are showing signs of becoming a real dynamic force. In their close loss against Brooklyn, STAT was assisted by Melo multiple times, getting in the right positions to feed off his offense.
With Raymond Felton now also back in the fold, Stoudemire has yet another partner he works well with. As both players continue to heal they should start to develop the pick-and-roll they had so much success with in 2010-11.
For now, though, Stoudemire's jump shot is finally falling, and he appears to have much more rhythm than he did in the last campaign. This wasn't the case in the first few games, but clearly more recently he has gained confidence.
Even when his shot isn't falling, Stoudemire is finding a way to put the ball in the basket by getting to the line. His stand-out performance in that regard came in London, where he put up 17 on the Pistons including 11-of-12 from the line.
Over his last six games, in which he has started to look a lot more comfortable, Stoudemire is averaging 16.2 points on a very efficient 56 percent shooting, along with 5.7 rebounds.
Those numbers don't jump off the page initially, but considering they are coming in only 24 minutes per game of action, he is providing some serious punch off the bench.
In 32 minutes per game last season, Stoudemire only managed 17.5 points per game, and did so on 48.3 percent shooting—his worst mark since 2004.
The advanced stats also show that Stoudemire has made a great start to his comeback. According to Basketball Reference, STAT has so far recorded his highest win shares per 48, true shooting percentage, effective field goal percentage and offensive rating since his days in Phoenix.
Stoudemire has always been a great offensive player, so it's not crazy to expect that he will continue to succeed on that end of the floor. But—as always with Stoudemire—changes need to be made on defense.
At times, STAT really just looks confused on D, and it will take a long time and a lot of hard work from Woody to make him a difference-maker defensively.
It is encouraging at least to see that Stoudemire is willing to put in the work. According to the New York Post, defense appears to be his number one priority:
Offensively, it’s coming. More experience more practice. My main goal is getting better defensively. That’s been my main focus. Offensively, I’m improving the more we play.
In the meantime, Stoudemire can make up for his defensive limitations by putting more work in on the boards. With Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby out the Knicks are struggling to rebound, and a player with Stoudemire's physique should be able to bring in at least eight or nine per game.
On a side-note, the Knicks would be wise to invest in another center on the bench, to help keep Stoudemire and Chandler healthy for the postseason and to help out in the rebounding battle.
At this point in his career, Stoudemire cannot be expected to put up MVP-level numbers, especially considering his diminished role. He's also not going to be worth the $100 million contract he signed back in 2010, but considering how many underpaid players the Knicks have, that's OK.
The worries about STAT actually hurting the team were premature and an overreaction to the horrible season he had last year. This year is clearly different, with the Knicks investing in better point guards and Stoudemire being given full time to recover from his injury.
It's more than likely that there will continue to be calls for Stoudemire to be traded, but he is fine where he is. If he continues to play efficiently and puts in the extra effort, he will continue to be a major contributor in the Knicks' hunt for a title.
Stats used in this article were accurate as of Jan. 28, 2013.