When the New York Knicks take on the Phoenix Suns Friday night, Amar'e Stoudemire's return to the desert will surely spark memories of the youthful, explosive scorer that used to call Arizona his home.
Primarily because the NBA hasn't seen a youthful, explosive Stoudemire since his days with the Suns.
After a stellar first season with the Knicks in 2010-11, Amar'e has attempted to work his way back from basketball purgatory. Three knee surgeries and one back procedure removed from his inaugural New York campaign, STAT has worked his way back into the team's starting lineup this season, albeit as a diluted form of his Phoenix self.
“I feel great, my body feels strong, I feel healthy,’’ Stoudemire said to the New York Post's Marc Berman. “I’ll continue to say my prayers and continue to stay healthy the rest of my career.’’
Knicks coach Mike Woodson spent time before Friday's game to give Stoudemire credit for that resiliency. According to Berman:
“I couldn’t be more proud of him,’’ Woodson said. “Amar’e’s worked to play basketball. A lot of players would’ve called it quits. He’s hanging right there with us.
“To keep bouncing back, it takes a lot of mental and physical effort,’’ Woodson added. “He keeps doing it. That to me is a sign of a true pro. A lot of guys would after a while forget it [and say]: ’I had enough, enough is enough.’ He hasn’t been like that. I admire him for that. I know how hard he’s worked.’’
Fans may fault Stoudemire for his deficiencies on defense. His tendency to morph into a black hole with the basketball on occasion could also be critiqued. But knocking Amar'e's work ethic couldn't be more misguided.
For a player who had previously spent the majority of his life as a basketball superstar, the last few seasons have undoubtedly been excruciating for Stoudemire. Considering how his role with the Knicks had changed to coming in as a reserve—a role he'd been relegated to as recently as this season—it appeared for the first time that Amar'e was finished as an NBA player.
With the ball, he was a stumbling turnover machine. Defensively, he was the same disaster—and the numbers proved it. Through Feb. 5, the Knicks were getting outscored by 10 points per 100 possessions with Stoudemire on the floor—the third-worst team mark behind Cole Aldrich and Chris Smith. Since being reintroduced to the starting lineup on March 3, according to NBA.com (subscription required), his net-rating is plus-8.5.
“When a player’s minutes go up, productivity will be better, too,’’ Woodson said to the Post. “I got to think getting in [the] starting lineup has enhanced that as well.’’
For the coach's sake—as well as Stoudemire's—Woodson can only hope this recent stretch is sustainable.