Will Amar'e Stoudemire's Injury Impact New York Knicks' Postseason Prospects?
Without question, the news is a huge blow to Stoudemire individually, as he's been plagued by injuries over the latter half of his career. Whatever you think of him as a player, it's unfortunate that he's had to endure such rotten luck in the health department.
For Stoudemire, this is, unequivocally, a bad break.
But as we're only a few weeks away from the postseason, it's worth discussing what his absence will mean for the Knicks' playoff prospects, too.
To do that, it's critical to establish exactly how valuable Stoudemire really is.
Let's start at the beginning: The Knicks started 21-9 without Stoudemire and followed that run with a mediocre 16-13 record after his return.
Simply looking at the record and concluding the Knicks are better without Stoudemire is a little shortsighted; the team shot the lights out in the first six weeks of the season, so it's hard to argue that his presence would have somehow damaged an entire club of hot outside shooters.
Looking deeper, though, there is evidence that the Knicks' better record sans Stoudemire might not have been a coincidence.
According to 82games.com, New York has held opponents to about five fewer points per 100 possessions when Stoudemire has been on the bench. That's not particularly surprising, given the forward's well-documented defensive shortcomings.
But what is notable is the fact that the Knicks have also been about two points per 100 possessions better on offense when Stoudemire has been sitting. Altogether, New York is better on both ends when its now-injured forward isn't on the court.
If you only look at Stoudemire's individual statistics this year, you'd be struck by his shooting efficiency (57 percent) and assume that he was having a nice year. In about 29 minutes per game, his 14-point, five-rebound averages look fine.
But apparently, what he's doing individually isn't making the Knicks better collectively.
Some of that disconnect may have to do with the fact that Stoudemire still doesn't mesh well with Carmelo Anthony. Per NBA.com, both players have far superior plus-minus ratings when the other is on the bench. Whether that has to do with the Knicks' effectiveness with Anthony at the power forward spot or Stoudemire's lane-clogging game is hard to say.
Clearly, though, the Anthony-Stoudemire pairing hasn't been mutually beneficial.
Down the Stretch
So if Stoudemire is technically a net-negative player, it stands to reason that his absence will actually improve the Knicks' playoff prospects, right?
The answer is "probably," but it's not that simple.
Remember, New York is basically down to Kenyon Martin and Kurt Thomas at the power forward spot. In limited minutes behind Stoudemire, those guys have been serviceable, but as their playing time increases, it's unreasonable to expect the aged tandem to sustain their modest levels of play.
"Kenyon Martin looked good for 17 minutes in one game" is not really a valid justification for anything.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) March 10, 2013
And perhaps more importantly, Stoudemire's absence is going to put a heavier burden on Anthony to carry the load as a small-ball 4. We know he can do that, but he's suffering through his own injury issues now, so asking him to do even more than he already is could prove disastrous.
As far as playoff seeding goes, it's still probably too early to predict the effect of Stoudemire's injury on the Knicks' spot.
Obviously, New York would love to retain a top-four slot to secure home-court advantage. If the Knicks continue to play around .500 (or improve a tad without Stoudemire), they'll most likely be able to maintain their two-and-a-half game lead on the Brooklyn Nets.
Alternating wins and losses down the stretch—which the Knicks have basically been doing anyway—should be enough to stay among the East's top four teams.
Assuming a six-to-eight-week timetable, Stoudemire's return could come right around the first round of the postseason. Based on the way he came back from the same procedure on the other knee earlier in the year, it seems like the Knicks will have to ease him back into the rotation.
Knowing that, it's hard to see him having a significant impact on the Knicks' first-round series.
Overall, Stoudemire hasn't made the Knicks better this year, so his latest injury probably won't have a significant effect on New York's remaining games. At worst, his absence is probably a non-factor for the stretch run and the postseason.
At best, New York might suddenly start to play like it did during its season-opening run without Stoudemire.
It might sound harsh to deem Stoudemire's injury as something between inconsequential and beneficial, but there's not much of a logical case to say anything different.
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