Amar'e Stoudemire lives.
For the first (real) time since 2010-11, Stoudemire lives. For the first time this season, so do the New York Knicks. And that's not a coincidence.
Over the last two-plus years, the Knicks' fate has not been tied to Stoudemire's ability to play. Not really. They have been better off without him. His comebacks, however long or short, were often seen as hindrances.
Mathematically, it was simple: The Knicks didn't need Stoudemire. They needed the money he was earning, the cap space he was eating to offer healthy players who fit their dynamic. Summer 2015, when his contract would come off the books, could not come soon enough.
Even now, the last part of that doubt-crammed perspective may be true. Summer 2015 is when the Knicks will completely retool the roster, when they will chase names such as Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo and perhaps even LeBron James.
But 2015 is forever away. The Knicks are living in right now, and right now, they need Stoudemire. Like, actually need him.
Making the playoffs won't be possible without him.
Productivity has rarely been an issue with Stoudemire.
When he's healthy, he can produce. Problem is, he hasn't been healthy. Not until recently. The even bigger problem has been getting his production when he's healthy to mean something.
Of the times Stoudemire has been at his best, the Knicks haven't always been at their best. Often times, their pace suffers and what very little defense they play becomes nonexistent. Stoudemire has basically been a minus player on both ends of the floor since last season.
|When||Off. Rtg. With STAT||Off. Rtg. Without STAT||Difference|
|Since March 3||113.1||107.6||5.5|
Stoudemire will always have an unfavorable defensive impact. His back is often to the ball, his help defense is nonexistent and he often bails on closing out shooters in hopes of grabbing a rebound—and that's if he even decides to box out.
But that's just how it is. Stoudemire's value has always been on the offensive side of the ball. Not just as a scorer, but as someone who makes New York's offense better.
Getting Stoudemire to have the kind of offensive impact he had in 2010-11—when he would draw frequent double-teams—has been difficult. For most of this season and all of last year, he's had an adverse effect on the Knicks offense.
Points are always going to be scored when Stoudemire is on the floor, many of them by Stoudemire himself. The trick is scoring enough to offset defensive inadequacy. That's finally a trick Stoudemire and the Knicks can successfully pull off.
Since March 3, Stoudemire has appeared in 13 of the Knicks' 15 games, averaging 17.2 points and 6.6 rebounds on 55.4 percent shooting. The Knicks are 9-4 during that time. Their record here is important, and not just because they're 32-43 on the season.
When Stoudemire scores at least 15 points, the Knicks are just 9-12 this year. Once again, they're struggling to find ways to win when he's productive. Lately, it's been different.
Inserting him into the starting lineup has boosted the team's offensive potential. New York is 9-5 in games Stoudemire starts, which is surprising, given it's required head coach Mike Woodson to field big lineups. But Woodson has also done a better job of staggering Stoudemire's and Carmelo Anthony's minutes, allowing the latter to frequently anchor the second unit, free from both Anthony and J.R. Smith.
It's just worked—better than anything else anyway. Stoudemire's scoring is finally acting as the indicator of hope it should be and not the harbinger of doom it was earlier this season and last year.
Finally Stoudemire and Anthony are playing together, both consistently and effectively.
Although Woodson has separated them for stretches at a time, playing them together is unavoidable. They're in the same starting lineup, so it has to happen.
In the past, it's been disastrous. For most of this season, it hasn't served the Knicks well, either. They're being outscored by an average of 2.6 points per 48 minutes, according to NBA.com (subscription required), when Stoudemire and Anthony share the floor.
That's all changed.
The Knicks are plus-5.2 per 48 minutes since March 3 when Anthony and Stoudemire play together, a 7.8-point swing.
To be sure, the Knicks aren't perfect with those two in the game. Anthony's field-goal percentages are better when Stoudemire is on the bench. Playing these two simultaneously still presents spacing issues, and that's before mentioning defensive conflicts.
At its heart, though, this is a necessary pairing. Anthony needs a sidekick, the one Smith and Andrea Bargnani were each supposed to be. The one he hasn't had for most of this season.
Stoudemire is the only other Knicks player averaging more than 16 points over the team's last 15 games, during which time they are 11-4. It's coincided with an uptick in Smith's stock—15.7 points per game during this stretch—but Stoudemire's assistance has been something Anthony can count on.
No one else draws consistent double-teams. Not Smith, not Tim Hardaway Jr. and most certainly not Raymond Felton. Teams double Stoudemire in the post all the time, and that's when this pairing is at its finest.
Ideal offensive sets would look something like this for the Knicks:
Notice how much room Anthony has to shoot. This is the byproduct of the Sacramento Kings sending help on Stoudemire within the pick-and-roll, and it's one of the few times Anthony doesn't need to create space himself—or shoot with a hand directly in his face.
This is the dynamic they have been missing. This is something the Knicks didn't have last year in the playoffs. Smith faded, as did Felton and Jason Kidd. There was no sidekick, no second-in-command to help him navigate the Indiana Pacers' bullish defense.
More than three years after joining forces, Stoudemire is finally giving Anthony that much-needed, still-imperative partner.
Road to Playoff Spoiler Leads Through STAT
Let's get something straight: Anthony is still the Knicks' playoff lifeline.
There will be no playoff berth without Anthony. There may not even be a playoff berth at all.
But if the Knicks are to make a successful postseason push, they need Stoudemire. They need the additional rebounding he provides, especially on the offensive end. They need him as a body in the paint, where he is the Knicks' only true post scorer.
They need him to play like he's playing—both with and without Anthony—to continue winning like they've been winning.
Even then, no one expects the Knicks to do anything. James Dolan's hot mess has been too bad for too long. Clinching a playoff berth only prolongs the inevitable.
And yet, while true, reaching the postseason does something else, too: inspire hope.
Clean slates are borne out of playoff basketball. Maybe the Knicks make some noise. Maybe the Knicks make some unexpected, totally startling postseason magic.
Besides Carmelo Anthony, who is most important to New York's playoff push?
"We have a pretty good team now," Stoudemire told Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher. "If we just continue to keep playing well and stay on this pace, we can do something special."
Or maybe they can't.
Point is, it's doable.
What was once inconceivable and hopeless, in part because of Stoudemire, is now possible largely thanks to him.