The way Amar’e Stoudemire planted his leg on the landing—awkwardly, painfully, with a grimace you could feel as much as see—people simply assumed the worst.
His season was over.
Stoudemire is expected to miss the next two weeks of action, according to ESPN New York's Chris Goff.
The news was met with a collective sigh of relief from Knicks fans. Understandably so, considering Stoudemire’s extensive injury history and cap-clogging contract.
But with New York once again reeling and their playoff prospects growing murkier by the day, losing Stoudemire may prove a much bigger blow than Bocker fans are prepared to admit.
In the 11 games prior to STAT’s injury, the veteran forward was averaging 13.6 points and 5.8 rebounds on 57 percent shooting from the floor in just under 23 minutes per contest.
For a player with six All-Star Game appearances and career clips of 20.7 points and 8.4 rebounds per game to his credit, those numbers don’t exactly jump off the page.
However, given Stoudemire’s pronounced early-season struggles, forging a niche as the Knicks' most reliable and efficient scoring option off the bench had become a welcome development indeed.
Of course, the chief issue with STAT has never been his offense.
So far this season, Basketball-Reference.com indicates that Stoudemire is charting a defensive rating of 108, a full three points worse than his career average of 105.
In the 361 minutes he’s shared with fellow superstar cornerstone Carmelo Anthony, those numbers don’t get much better: The two are registering an offensive efficiency of 102.9 and defensive efficiency of 107.4 for an overall net rating of minus-4.5.
Still, even that trend—which dates back to when the two perennial All-Stars first joined forces back in 2011—had been showing signs of improvement.
According to NBAwowy.com, Anthony’s defensive efficiency with STAT on the court had dropped from 102 to 92 in the 10 games prior to the latter’s latest injury.
Questions of sustainability aside, that has to be a welcome sign for a duo that’s never carved the kind of cooperative niche many had hoped for.
As is this: In the aforementioned 11-game stretch, the two Knicks lineups with the highest overall net rating both include Stoudemire.
The most successful of the two—a unit featuring Stoudemire, Anthony, Raymond Felton, J.R. Smith and Andrea Bargnani—registered a whopping offensive rating of 133 and a scintillating net rating of plus-55.9.
Granted, those stats came in just 27 minutes of shared court time—the unit has only logged 35 minutes so far this season. Regardless, for a team desperately in need of rotational stability, this lineup might provide a useful, near-future template.
That’s not to say Stoudemire’s effectiveness has been limited to that one lineup, however.
Of the 21 five-man platoons that have amassed at least 10 minutes and boast a positive net rating, 10 of them—including the top three—feature Stoudemire at either power forward or center.
|The STAT effect|
|Lineup||Minutes||O Rating||D Rating||Net Rating|
|Stoudemire, Anthony, Felton, Hardaway, Smith||11||130||54.6||75.4|
|Stoudemire, Martin, Hardaway, Murry, Shumpert||18||119.5||72.4||47.1|
|Stoudemire, Anthony, Smith, Shumpert, Murry||14||121.4||77.9||43.4|
For all of Stoudemire’s defensive limitations—and there are many—he’s clearly been effective when paired with the right four players. Even in somewhat limited minutes.
However, a cursory look over the Knicks’ net-positive lineups does yield somewhat of a looming elephant: Only four of the top 30 units—including those in net-negative territory—feature Tyson Chandler and none include the Chandler-Stoudemire pairing.
The team’s two-man specs reveals the reason why. In 55 minutes, the Chandler-Stoudemire duo has netted a dreadful defensive rating of 119.1 and an overall net rating of minus-17.1.
What does all this mean? Put as simply as possible, the biggest issue with New York’s clumsily assembled Big Three isn’t the defensive ineptitude of Anthony and Stoudemire.
Rather, it’s the Chandler-Stoudemire duo that has proven one of the biggest rotational headaches for head coach Mike Woodson.
The cruel irony therein: It’s precisely because of Stoudemire’s spate of injuries over the past few seasons that the Chandler pairing has become borderline untenable.
During the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, STAT attempted only 31 percent of his shots from five feet or closer to the rim (203 of 652) and 26 percent from 15-19 feet (167).
That disparity has become even more pronounced this season, with Stoudemire attempting 66 percent of his shots at or near the rim (157 of 237) and only 19 percent of his shots from midrange.
Practical reinvention aside, STAT’s newfound post game— thank you very much, Hakeen Olajuwon—has yielded an unintended side effect: the crowding of a quadrant previously dominated by Tyson Chandler.
It’s a big reason why the two have seen such a precipitous decline in collective production, from a net rating of minus-3.7 in 2011-12 to the previously mentioned minus-17.1 rating this season.
Adding Bargnani to the equation makes the whole picture even murkier. Indeed, the Bargnani-Chandler pairing has been even worse than STAT-Tyson (minus-18.1 net rating).
The Bargnani-Stoudemire tandem, meanwhile, hasn’t fared much better, having charted a minus-15.3 rating in 215 minutes.
Needless to say, Woodson will have quite the personnel conundrum on his hands once Stoudemire returns.
On the one hand, STAT’s production with certain units would suggest he should play more.
On the other hand, how many more minutes can you give him before he’s inevitably overlapping with Bargnani and Chandler—two players who, given the onerous nature of their own contracts, are unlikely to see their minutes decrease to any drastic degree—?
But with both Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin out for at least the next few weeks, the frontcourt burden falls almost exclusively on the former two.
With the Knicks entering a soft stretch of their schedule, losing Stoudemire likely won’t mean the difference between making and breaking the team’s playoff picture.
Still, once STAT returns, the onus will be on Mike Woodson not just to find what works, but to actually stick with it. Increasingly, that’s included putting Amar’e Stoudemire in the best rotational position to succeed.
From the day he first declared “The Knicks are back,” STAT has remained something of a lightning rod in New York—the one piece people pointed to when looking for reasons why their team’s Big Three gamble always seemed to sputter.
And yet, even through the pain of worn-down knees, Stoudemire has shown a steadfast willingness to adapt his game—from the high-flying, death-defying exploits and face-up fury of long-gone days to a rim-blind brand of ground-and-pound that makes up for in bounty what it lacked in beauty.
His moves no longer lead the highlight reels, but STAT’s absence could quickly find the Knicks missing their bespectacled bellwether where it matters even more: buttressing the lower half of the box score.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats courtesy of NBA.com and current as of January 20, 2014.