Will Amar'e Stoudemire's Return Ruin NY Knicks' Success with Small Ball?
Amar'e Stoudemire isn't going to kill the New York Knicks' small-ball concept.
Woodson said Stoudemire will play about 10 to 15 minutes Saturday. Stoudemire looks a little better in 4-on-4 scrimmage.— Marc Berman (@NYPost_Berman) May 9, 2013
The Knicks were 16-13 in the 29 games Stoudemire appeared in, compared to going 38-15 without him. With New York in the thick of the playoffs, his return stands to potentially kill their rhythm.
New York prefers to run with smaller lineups. Tyson Chandler starts at the 5, Kenyon Martin comes off the bench and Carmelo predominantly mans the power forward spot. Toss Amar'e into the fold, and the Knicks have a quandary on their hands.
Coach Mike Woodson has the option of running with bigger lineups—especially against the Pacers—and shifting 'Melo back to the small forward. And yet, that really isn't an option.
Of the 20 lineups the Knicks used most frequently during the regular season, just two included two big men. And of the top 10 most-used combinations in the playoffs, none of them has included two bigs. So not only do the Knicks prefer to run small, they're unfamiliar with going big.
Playing small forward has also become something of a foreign concept for Carmelo. Roughly 80 percent of his minutes came at the power forward position during the regular season.
Until now, this was fine—various members of New York's front line battled injuries throughout the year, and it always seemed to work out. Now, for the first time all season, Anthony, Chandler, Martin and Stoudemire are all healthy or as close to it as possible.
What are the Knicks to do? For starters, there's no need to panic. As far as problems go, this is a good one to have.
When playing the Pacers, going bigger will be preferable in certain situations. The Knicks were able to score 52 points in the paint in Game 2 but just 32 in Game 1. When Indiana goes on offense-crippling tears, Amar'e—who can score in the post—is an asset.
Also, although the Knicks haven't strayed from their small-ball concept all that much, they've found success when implementing other lineups.
As alluded to previously, two of their top 20 regular-season lineups included multiple bigs. Those alignments were comprised of both Stoudemire and Chandler and outscored opponents by a combined average of 12.6 points per 100 possessions.
There's not a whole lot to be concerned about when the Knicks are forced to go big. New York doesn't increase its size often, but when it does, it has a couple of combinations that have worked.
Yet, that's not the real concern. Small ball has taken the Knicks to where they are now—the second round of the NBA playoffs. Deviating from a successful blueprint to accommodate a sudden "excess" of inside presences isn't likely to instill much confidence.
But who says they need to move away from it? Because of STAT's return? Berman already noted that Amar'e will be on a cap of 10-15 minutes. That's hardly a rotation changer. If they have to go big for 10 or 15 minutes a game, then so be it.
Understand that this isn't an overly cavalier approach. The Knicks shouldn't drift away from what has worked. And small ball (for the most part) has worked for them. Just because something works, though, doesn't mean it can't get better.
Stoudemire can still get his reps in at center, where he posted a player efficiency rating of 23 during the regular season. With the way his minutes will be structured, the Knicks will be able to incorporate plenty of small-ball groupings.
And should they decide to go big, that's hardly a problem either. Stoudemire isn't as offensively limited as Chandler and Martin are. Playing the latter two together restricts the offensive sets the Knicks can run. Place either alongside Stoudemire, and you don't have the same problem. He'll cover up their offensive deficiencies in the same way that they will make up for his atrocious pick-and-roll defense.
Will Amar'e Stoudemire's return hinder the Knicks' use of smaller lineups?
All year, I've implored the New York faithful to believe. This can work. The Knicks have the only player in the NBA who averaged at least 14 points in under 24 minutes per game coming back. If Stoudemire can still perform at a similar level, that's a good thing.
Stoudemire won't be logging enough minutes out the gate to shake up New York's entire game plan. Should it get to the point where he does, then sacrifices will need to be made. Whether they include cutting Martin's minutes or surrendering to the will of going bigger remains to be seen.
This ambiguity is part of the beauty of this situation, though. Stoudemire's return gives options to the Knicks. It allows them to make adjustments that they otherwise couldn't.
Adjustments that won't include the absence or failure of the offensive concept that has brought the Knicks this far.
*All stats from this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, NBA.com and 82games.com unless otherwise attributed.
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