The two All-Stars struggled to develop chemistry during their first season-and-a-half together, though it was difficult to gain any traction with the lockout, coaching change, shuffling personnel and injuries to both players. Then Stoudemire missed the first 30 games of this season following knee surgery.
With both stars finally healthy, on a team talented enough to compete for a championship, there is sense that time is running out for the Knicks' dynamic duo to make it work. They have only played 15 games together this season, though the early returns have been encouraging for the Knicks and their fans.
Surprisingly, the Knicks' offense has relied on Carmelo Anthony more heavily offense since Amar'e Stoudemire's return to the lineup. As seen below, according to NBA.com, Anthony's minutes, field-goal attempts and points per game have been higher in the 15 games in which Stoudemire has played.
|Last 15 Games||15||40.5||10.1||24.1||42%||2.9||7.8||37.6%||28.8|
Anthony's increase in shots has been accompanied by a decrease in efficiency. The Knicks' star is shooting just 42.0 percent from the field since Stoudemire returned, down from his season average of 44.7 percent (via NBA.com.)
On the positive side, according to NBA.com, Anthony is averaging 1.5 more assists per game over that span—4.3, compared to 2.8. Melo took on more of a play-making role in the absence of Raymond Felton, who missed 12 games with a broken pinky, and he has continued to average 4.2 assists per game in the five games since Felton returned.
Anthony remains the Knicks' first option offensively. However, he has made a conscious effort to feed Amar'e the ball in the post.
Amar'e Stoudemire understands that this is Carmelo Anthony's team and has reshaped his game accordingly. He is playing less pick-and-roll basketball and spending more time on the left block, showing off the post moves he worked on with Hakeem Olajuwon over the summer.
Stoudemire has done an excellent job of establishing position close to the basket. As seen below, courtesy of NBA.com, Stoudemire is taking 77.2 percent of his shots from inside the paint, up from just 56 percent last season.
Once he receives the ball on the block, Stoudemire reacts quickly with a move towards the middle of the floor, where he can see help defense coming. He either takes one or two dribbles to his left and finishes with a little flip/mini hook shot or quickly spins back right and lays it in on the left side of the rim.
Amar'e scores the remainder of his points off of timely cuts in the paint and along the baseline. He no longer possesses the leaping ability of his youth, but still has a nose for the basketball and knows how to finish around the rim.
Mike Woodson has limited Stoudemire to 22.3 minutes per game. During that time, STAT has averaged 21.8 points on 58.5 percent shooting, 7.4 rebounds and 8.0 trips to the foul line per 36 minutes, according to NBA.com.
Over the past five games, Stoudemire is shooting a staggering 73.5 percent from the field and is scoring 18.0 points in just 24 minutes of play (via NBA.com,) including a 10-for-10 performance in the Knicks win over the Sacramento Kings Saturday night.
Through 15 games, Anthony and Stoudemire have looked more comfortable playing together than in years past. By confining his game to the post, Amar'e has created space for Melo to operate on the wing, and Melo has done his best to get STAT the ball in the post and when Amar'e flashes into the paint.
Yet, there are still times when the two stars appear to be taking turns with the ball, rather than getting their shots within the flow of the offense.
According to NBA.com, the Knicks' offensive rating with Melo and Amar'e on the floor together is 108.3, up from 99.1 last season. However, that is still below the team's overall offensive rating of 109.
Spacing was a problem in the past when Anthony and Stoudemire were joined on the front line by Tyson Chandler, but the Knicks' offensive efficiency has skyrocketed with the trio playing together.
According to NBA.com, the Knicks' offensive rating with Chandler, Stoudemire and Anthony on the court is 118.2 and their offensive rebounding rate is 34.3, well above New York's overall offensive rebounding rate of 25.3 percent.
Anthony has made a concerted effort to improve become a better defender this season. Having slimmed down in the offseason, Carmelo Anthony is able to chase perimeter players around screens and compete defensively for 48 minutes. Yet, he still maintains the strength to battle for position in the post.
When Stoudemire or Chandler are in the game, Anthony defends the opposing power forward. If it is Amar'e, Melo must place greater emphasis on being a help defender, as teams attempt to exploit Stoudemire in the pick-and-roll, and Chandler is not in the game to protect the basket.
When Chandler and Amar'e are in the game, Anthony covers the opposing small forward.
Advanced metrics indicate that Anthony's defense has in fact improved this season. Last season, the Knicks defensive ratings was four points worse when Anthony was on the floor—101.1 compared to 96.1—according to NBA.com.
This season, the Knicks defensive rating is virtually the same whether Anthony is on the court or on the bench, 102.6 and 102.4, respectively.
According to 82games.com, Anthony is holding his counterparts to a PER well below the league average of 15. Small forwards are posting a PER of 12.0 against when guarded by Melo and power forwards, 13.6.
Amar'e's much-maligned defense has worsened over the past few years as his agility has diminished. The 6'10'' forward's poor instincts and limited lateral mobility will prevent him from ever becoming a great defender, but he knows in order to remain in the game in crunch time, he has to improve on that end of the floor.
STAT struggled mightily on defense during his first few games back after knee surgery, missing rotations and repeating the mental lapses which have infuriated his coaches for years. However, he has worked diligently on his defense and can often be seen discussing rotations with his teammates, Coach Woodson and assistant coach Herb Williams during timeouts.
Amar'e's defense has steadily improved over the past 10 games, and statistics indicate that the Knicks have actually been better defensively when he is on the floor. According to NBA.com, New York's defensive rating is 101.4 with Stoudemire in the game and 102.7 without him. However, 15 games is a small sample size.
Amar'e's biggest weakness continues to be defending the pick-and-roll. He often allows the screener to separate from him, creating space for the ball-handler to turn the corner and get to the basket. He also has difficulty changing directions, which makes it hard for him to hedge on screens and get back to his man or stay in front of a perimeter player if the Knicks switch defensively.
Anthony and Stoudemire's communication on the defensive end has improved as Stoudemire has become more comfortable with the team's defensive schemes. Since they are roughly the same height, the two players often switch defensive assignments, which causes problems for Stoudemire if Melo is guarding a quicker player.
The Knicks' defense has been significantly worse statistically when both Stoudemire and Anthony are on the floor. According to NBA.com, New York's defensive rating of 102.5 balloons to 108.3 when both forwards are in the game.
That can be explained by the fact that when Stoudemire and Anthony are in the game together, the Knicks' best interior defender, Tyson Chandler, is usually on the bench. When Chandler, Stoudemire and Anthony all play together, the Knicks defensive rating drops all the way to 100.2 (via NBA.com.)
Despite Anthony and Stoudemire's progress on that end of the floor, the Knicks will always sacrifice defensively when they are in the game together. If Amar'e is playing the 5, that means Chandler is not in the game.
When Woodson plays the three together in crunch time with Amar'e at the 4 and Melo at the 3, it will likely be at the expense of the team's best perimeter defender, Iman Shumpert.