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Amar'e Stoudemire Blossoming into NBA's Most Lethal Sixth Man

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Amar'e Stoudemire Blossoming into NBA's Most Lethal Sixth Man
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Who will be the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2013? The Los Angeles Clippers’ Jamal Crawford? The Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Martin? The New York Knicks’ J.R. Smith?

What about Amar’e Stoudemire?

The Knicks have lost three of their last four, dropping two of those to the pretty awful Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors, teams New York has to beat. One can argue they are playing their worst basketball of the season right now and Mike Woodson is probably grateful for the timely arrival of the All-Star break.

Don’t blame Stoudemire for any of this, though, despite his Charles Smith impersonation under the basket in that loss to Toronto.

For the most part, Amar’e has been playing better than expected coming off the microfracture surgery-related cyst issue that kept him out of the first 30 games.

Questions about Stoudemire have evolved from “Will he ever play at a high-level again?” and “Is his career effectively over?” through November and December to, as the New York Times recently asked, “Is Stoudemire returning to form?”

“Stoudemire’s post-injury outings suggest a quicker than expected return to form; he has tallied at least 10 points in each of his last six games; his rebounds have ticked steadily upward; and his per-36 numbers since returning to the lineup…while slightly off his career pace, are nothing if not encouraging…What’s more, Stoudemire is playing with an efficiency not seen since his halcyon days with the Phoenix Suns.”

Amar’e’s per-36 numbers are actually up in points and free throws over last season. Those points from the line are a critical component of  Stoudemire’s value in this lineup. He needs to get to the stripe, and he’s making it happen.

What about defense? Don’t get bogged down in the Knicks latest three losses when they gave up an average of 100 points to opponents. That’s hopefully more an anomaly than a sign of something to come, though age’s affect on the team is a genuine concern down the stretch, here.

USA TODAY Sports
Stoudemire's defense is not great, but improved.

But the fact is New York still has the eighth best defense in the league, just about where it’s hovered all season. Also, the defense has improved since Stoudemire has returned.

Pre-Amar’e, the Knicks were giving up 97 points per game. Since his return, they are only yielding 93.9—which would put them amongst the NBA’s defensive elite. And this is all without Rasheed Wallace.

Stoudemire’s blocks are up from last season, and while his rebound numbers are slightly down, it appears his presence is helping Tyson Chandler under the boards.

Chandler’s rebounds are up more than two a game since Stoudemire came back, including those crazy back-to-back-to-back 20-board nights. Chandler’s offensive rebounds are slightly up, too, so it is clear both opposing offenses and defenses are expending energy on Stoudemire when Chandler is sitting and splitting focus when the two are sharing the court.

So Amar’e is bringing the offense and maybe even a better brand of defense. Overall, it’s a virtual guarantee, barring another injury, Stoudemire will finish the season with per-36 averages of the low-to-mid 20’s in points, eight rebounds and over a block.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Stoudemire is averaging 21.5 points per 36 minutes.

That stat line is just about better than anyone off the bench in the whole NBA, accounting for Stoudmire’s minutes which could reach 30 a game before the end of the season.

Sheridanhoops.com, which ranks the top 10 Sixth Man candidates every week, currently has Crawford and Martin as the top two players in the running. Both, of course, have more steals and assists than Stoudemire, but will fall short in point production.

Third is Stoudemire’s teammate Smith, who puts in over 33 impactful minutes a game but whose numbers will also be very comparable to, and in some cases fall short of, Stoudemire’s.

The real difference, though, between the three guards and Stoudemire is in that word “impactful.”

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Crawford has won games, including against the Knicks a few nights ago when he sunk 27 points. He’s stepped up in Chris Paul’s absence, scoring 30, for example, against the Houston Rockets with the point guard out.

Martin is called a “super sub” by Sports Illustrated.

And Smith has had several game-tying and game-winning buckets.

And therein is where Amar’e Stoudemire is yet lacking—impact. This is where he falls short of the other Sixth Man contenders.

In the four-point Raptors loss, Stoudemire managed just 10 points and had a +/- of -13, worst on the team.

The Knicks need Amar’e to help win games like these, rather than the opposite. Stoudemire has to take over some games, throw up a game-winner or two and execute more efficiently in critical game situations before serious Sixth Man consideration.

Either way, Knicks fans have to be pleased with Stoudemire’s performance thus far.

 

All stats used in this article are as of Feb. 13, 2013.

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