So much for the New York Knicks not needing Amar'e Stoudemire.
Having posted a 21-9 record through the first 30 games of the NBA season without Stoudemire, his return was considered a hindrance above all else. New York couldn't win with him, but it was winning without him. The logic seemed simple.
And by that logic, it came as no surprise that the Knicks attempted to pawn Stoudemire off on anyone who would listen (no one would). Clearly, they were better off without him.
Except they're not.
I'm not one to say I told everyone so (though I did), but Stoudemire is thriving. He's dominating off the bench for New York's finest.
Surprised? Because you shouldn't be.
Stoudemire, unlike Pau Gasol, has been accepting of his role as the sixth or seventh man because 1) he remains a win-at-all-cost type of player and 2) he knew off the bench is where he stood the best chance at salvaging his deteriorating image. And salvage it he has.
Since returning, STAT is averaging 21.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per 36 minutes, and his field-goal percentage stands an an impressive 58.5 percent as well.
Has it been a seamless return and subsequent transition?
Upon his return, Stoudemire's jumper was visibly flat, he wasn't playing above the rim and he was fighting a losing battle on the defensive end. But it's been a different story during the Knicks' current four-game winning streak.
Per Al Iannazzone of Newsday, the game has become "easy" for Amar'e and the stats are there to support it:
Amar’e Stoudemire has been a huge part of the Knicks’ 4-game winning streak. He’s been ridiculously productive and efficient, with two perfect shooting games in the last three.
Overall, Stoudemire is averaging 17.5 points in 23.8 minutes, and shooting 77.8 percent (28-for-36) in those four games. He’s also a plus 39 in the last four games.
“The game is becoming easy,” Stoudemire said. “I think with the addition of a post game everything else is becoming easy. Players are having a hard time figuring out how to play me in the post. There are a few moves that they can’t guard so that allows me to have easy baskets. But also, my teammates like Raymond and those guys are finding me in certain areas. So it’s a combination of everything.”
Why is it becoming so "easy" for the 30-year-old STAT? Why is it he's returned to dominance one year after toiling with obscurity? Why is he making more of an impact while playing nearly 10 minutes less per game?
I point you, once again, to his role off the bench.
Though head coach Mike Woodson has played Stoudemire alongside both Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler on occasion, coming off the bench has allowed Amar'e the opportunity to spend ample time at the center position, where he thrives most.
In his first season with the Knicks, Stoudemire posted a PER of 24.9 and an effective field-goal percentage of 51.7 per 48 minutes at the 5. Last year, in what was his worst showing as a pro since his rookie season, he duplicated such a performance. At center, he posted a 25 PER and effective field-goal percentage of 56.9.
And you know what? It's been the same story this season.
Amar'e has tallied a PER of 23.1 and effective field-goal percentage of 58.7 at (you guessed it) center. He's also allowing opposing centers to post a PER of 12.5, well below the league average.
Playing against second-tier athletes has undoubtedly helped Stoudemire fuel his return to prominence, but playing at the position where he's excelled has done more.
As a center, Stoudemire instantly becomes the primary focus of the pick-and-roll. And as a big man who can both hit the mid- to long-range jumper, he holds the tactical edge on nearly every center he goes up against.
No longer is he forced to jostle for position with Melo and Chandler extensively. It's usually been one, the other or neither at all.
The limited minutes that come with playing off the bench have kept him fresh as well. He's averaging just 22.3 minutes per contest thus far, a far cry from the 34.2 he's average over the course of his career.
Fewer minutes not only reduces the risk of injury, but it doesn't overwork his ever fragile back and knees. Instead, he's able to play at a high level for 20 or 25 minutes. He's able to play without reservation during controlled intervals.
At nearly $20 million annually, Stoudemire isn't the cheapest of second-unit pillars. That he's no longer an athlete who can consistently power through 35-plus minutes of action is also a disappointment—but only slightly.
This wasn't the Stoudemire the Knicks envisioned paying and playing nearly three years ago, nor is it the one they arguably wanted. Right now, though, it's the one they need.
They needed him to perform at a high level on the offensive end. They needed him to be able to score in excess, to run the floor with purpose, to exude the genre of mobility that allows him to at least attempt to feign competency on the defensive end.
They needed him to complete what appeared to be a championship-caliber puzzle.
Which he has, because he's still that talented. He's still capable of executing at a superior level.
But also because coming off the bench has afforded him the opportunity to validate all of the above more than playing in the starting lineup ever could.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com, unless otherwise noted.
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