Ready or not, here Amar'e Stoudemire comes.
The New York Knicks will have some power forward help in the form of their $100 million man on Saturday night in Indiana, as Stoudemire is expected to return (h/t ESPN) to the Knicks lineup for the first time since March 7.
The Knicks and Pacers are tied 1-1 heading into Saturday's Game 3 clash.
New York is already on record with the media as saying it's are going to take it easy with Stoudemire's return to action. Sitting out two months recovering from a knee debridement, the star power forward is expected to get 10-15 minutes of burn on the court on Saturday night.
To take it a step further, head coach Mike Woodson shouldn't rush Amar'e back into the regular player rotation—fully ready or not.
While the return of a player who has career averages of 21.3 points and 8.6 rebounds and is a six-time NBA All-Star would usually be anything but questionable, the Knicks have thrived in a wide-open offense that features three guards, Carmelo Anthony at power forward and Tyson Chandler protecting the rim.
ESPN First Take asked a question on Twitter that really sums up Amar'e's return better than any party, celebration or talk about his career averages ever will:
Will the return of Amar'e Stoudemire mess with the Knicks flow?— ESPN First Take (@ESPN_FirstTake) May 10, 2013
Adi Joseph expanded on that question in his recent piece about a potential Amar'e return for USA Today, talking about the potential lineup changes, lack of defense and a fundamental change in the way the Knicks play if Stoudemire is on the court.
New York's offensive success without Stoudemire is reason enough to sit him down for the remainder of this postseason.
The Knicks have been one of the best teams on offense all season because of Anthony. He creates matchup problems for teams without a standout offensive power forward because he can gobble that person up on the other end, as he did to Brandon Bass in Round 1.
With Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, Pablo Prigioni, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert all able to play around Anthony on the perimeter, the Knicks can use high screens and rolls to create lanes for their guards while deferring to Anthony in isolation sets while still leaving open shooters on the outside.
It's a strategy that has them three wins away from moving on to the Eastern Conference finals.
A Stoudemire return would nip that offensive strategy in the bud.
With Stoudemire on the court, he'll need to be the primary screener to really get anything going offensively. The Knicks lose a guard, spacing on the court and now have another iso-heavy player on the court if Woodson decides to go back to a traditional lineup.
Play Stoudemire at center, you say? While worthy of consideration in stretches, Stoudemire isn't nearly the defender Chandler or even Kenyon Martin is in the post, and watching him get schooled by Roy Hibbert in the post might send Knicks fans into a tailspin of epic proportions.
There's just no consistent way Mike Woodson can justify using Amar'e in a way in which it feels like he's a vital part of what they are going to accomplish on both ends.
However, there's a role that Stoudemire needs to play—one that undercuts his role as a $20 million per year man, for sure, but could ultimately help the Knicks move on to Round 3.
For starters, Stoudemire is a playoff veteran.
It might not seem like it because the Phoenix Suns were entrenched in series that never really got them over the hump, but Stoudemire has played in and started 60 games in the postseason during his career.
That kind of experience is invaluable to a team like the Knicks, who are currently using Kidd and Chandler's leadership from the 2011 Dallas Mavericks title team to help enhance the mental and locker-room side of the game for the Knicks.
The Knicks could also use Stoudemire on the glass.
Anthony has been great as a power forward this year and does his fare share of heavy lifting in the rebounding department. But there are few that would suggest he's an elite board-getter when facing Roy Hibbert and David West every possession—that's unfair even for Melo's lofty standards.
As a novelty player, Stoudemire could really help the Knicks on the glass in this series. The Pacers victimized the Knicks in Game 1 in that department, and David West seeing something other than Melo on offensive sets might help throw the Pacers offense for a loop on a possession or two.
Let's face it—Stoudemire is still a marquee player.
He's a guy who thrives in the pick-and-roll but really needs the ball in his hands to be effective. Unfortunately for the Knicks, the only man who matters in that role is wearing No. 7 in this series, and Anthony's stellar season trumps any and every Stoudemire return-to-glory storyline.
That being said, Stoudemire can help the Knicks. Chandler is a noted defender, and he's going to get in foul trouble. Martin has been huge, but the depth behind those two guys is shaky at best with Marcus Camby still banged up.
As a spot player who is used specifically to either counteract a smaller Pacers lineup or in the game to attack the glass and give the Pacers frontcourt fits, Stoudemire fits the bill.
How many minutes would you play Stoudemire per game this postseason?
Hopefully Woodson knows that, too.
The odds on Stoudemire making a big impact in this series aren't great. The general consensus about his ability to help the team is mixed at best, with most fans and analysts probably agreeing that Stoudemire's return to the lineup is risky after a two-month injury and the team playing its best ball when he's been out (first and last part of the season).
The 10-15 minute limit is hopefully just a gauge for what Woodson does not want Stoudemire to play. If he's playing any more than that, then the Knicks are in trouble in Game 3.
Patience is the name of the game with the star power forward. Woodson needs to pick his spots and pick them wisely—botching this situation could cost the Knicks a chance to regain their past glory and reach the East finals.
It could also cost Woodson something else entirely.
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