In the NBA, the power forward is an anomaly. Not only does it attract the least notoriety, elite talent at the position is difficult to come by.
Few would guess that one of the greatest players of all time and arguably the finest power forward ever, Karl Malone, is a close second to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the career scoring list.
As far as big men go, centers have always hogged the spotlight and served as the foundation for which many franchises have been built around. However, it’s a rarity for a power forward to be a team’s centerpiece.
With Tim Duncan seeing restricted minutes and the once-dominant Kevin Garnett playing second fiddle to Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, two of the game’s prized power forwards are nearing the end of an era.
Since Dirk Nowitzki almost single-handedly brought a title to Dallas, many claim he is currently the top power forward. Or, examining Kevin Love’s body of work last season would lead some to believe he deserves the acknowledgment.
Despite a history of serious operations, the Knicks were more than willing to outbid the Phoenix Suns and make Amar’e Stoudemire the cornerstone of an organization in the midst of reconstruction. By guaranteeing Stoudemire a five-year $100 million deal, Donnie Walsh essentially crowned him king of the power forwards in the process.
Stoudemire confronted those lofty New York expectations head-on and completely lived up to his top-billing status.
Looking at statistics alone, Stoudemire is an offensive powerhouse. His 25.3 points per game placed him fourth in the league in 2010-11, but he outscored the next power forward in line (Nowitzki) by better than two points.
It falls well below his career average of 54 percent field goals, but Stoudemire still managed to shoot 50 percent from the field last season while carrying the burden as the primary scorer prior to the acquisition of Carmelo Anthony.
But, it’s not so much the numbers and more about how Stoudemire goes about putting the ball in the basket.
Nowitzki may be viewed as the most polished shooter of the bunch, but his style is fundamentally one-dimensional and very dependent upon a nearly unstoppable fall-away jumper.
Conversely, Stoudemire has the freedom to dominate inside over almost any defender or step outside and drain shots from 18 feet all day.
As exhibited by stars such as Chris Bosh, finesse is a trend among present-day power forwards, whereas pounding it inside and wearing down your opponent is becoming a lost art. This is what sets Stoudemire apart from his peers.
Even six years after undergoing microfracture knee surgery, Stoudemire has enough spring in his step to take it to the hole and hammer a thunderous dunk on the most imposing of foes. Blake Griffin is the lone power forward who rivals Stoudemire’s ferocity when attacking the rim.
In addition to the unique ability to rise above defenders, Stoudemire also possesses a skill foreign to many post players, enabling him to drive to the hoop using either hand. Aside from making him a threat on the blocks, this versatility allows him to beat the opposition with the dribble from the elbow, too.
Due to his freakish athleticism, Stoudemire is less reliant on a turnaround post game than, say, Carlos Boozer. But, he’s certainly not afraid to step back and shoot from deep if left open, and has proved to be extremely efficient.
Evidently, with the three-ball, Stoudemire has added an element to his arsenal that nobody knew existed. He may have been limited to one attempt from downtown every three games, but he made the most of his chances, shooting a phenomenal 44 percent.
Stoudemire is lacking very little offensively, but he, along with the rest of his teammates, is often criticized for inexcusable defense.
We constantly hear grumbling that Stoudemire is an awful one-on-one defender. Yes, there is significant room for improvement, but we must also consider how frequently he was asked to fill in at center last season.
Obligated to guard larger opponents like Dwight Howard, Stoudemire typically fell victim to early foul trouble. Realizing his responsibility was to remain on the floor and shoulder the bulk of the scoring load, Stoudemire had no choice but to restrain his aggressiveness on the defensive side.
Cynics will tell you Stoudemire racked up the majority of his blocks and steals on help defense this past season. But, the fact that he finished second in blocks among power forwards (seventh overall) at 1.9 per contest has to stand for something.
He’s never been one to crash the boards with a vengeance, yet if there’s one area Stoudemire should focus on, it’s rebounding. Having recorded almost 10 rebounds per game five years ago, Stoudemire is certainly capable of cleaning the glass with more frequency.
Fans will probably never refer to him as “The Janitor,” but slightly greater exertion without the ball in his hands will yield better results than the 8.2 rebounds he averaged during the 2010-11 campaign that saw him barely crack the top-20 among power forwards.
In spite of these shortcomings, the positive attribute that potentially outshines all the rest is Stoudemire’s leadership.
Whether it was Stephon Marbury, Steve Nash or even Shawn Marion, Stoudemire always took a back seat to someone when he was a member of the Suns. However, when the Knicks elected to make Stoudemire the face of the future, he seized the opportunity and ran with it.
He’s become the voice of reason for his teammates to lean on in the locker room and on the hardwood, while he’s a person to idolize and a model citizen off the court.
Having overcome a rough upbringing, Stoudemire has grown into a man who accepts defeat with dignity and conducts all media sessions with class. He’s a role model who seemingly can do no wrong and should be commended for it.
Stoudemire’s embraced his role as team representative to the fullest and has epitomized what it means to be an athletic hero in New York City.
He may not swish it like Nowitzki, bank it like Duncan and scowl like Garnett or box out like Love, sky-hook like Gasol and motor like Griffin, but Amar’e Stoudemire has a little bit of everything and a lot more than the next guy. By today’s standards, he’s the total package.
New York is very fortunate to call the best power forward in the NBA its own.