By, Kenneth Teape – Knickswag Contributor
Throughout the season the Knicks have struggled with injuries, having their planned rotation from training camp play together very few if any games at all this season. Amar’e Stoudemire missed the first eight weeks of the season after having a debridement procedure on his left knee; Iman Shumpert did not return until mid-January after recovering from his ACL Surgery; Marcus Camby has missed big chunks of the season more than once because of plantar fasciitis in his feet. Rasheed Wallace can now be added to that list; after being listed as day-to-day for nine weeks it was revealed he needed surgery on his sore foot and will be out at least eight weeks, effectively ending his season. Let us not forget Carmelo Anthony as well, who has missed a total of 10 games and counting this season with multiple ailments throughout the season.
For everyone on that list the injury that hurts most is Stoudemire; not because of the eight weeks he missed in training camp but the six-eight weeks he is about to miss now. After experiencing some soreness in his right knee after a stretch of four games in five nights he had an MRI on the knee and it produced a result of swelling on the knee. The result of the MRI results was that Stoudemire would need to have the same debridement procedure he had during training camp. The estimated timetable for his return will have him miss the remainder of the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs.
This is a huge blow to a Knicks team that Stoudemire was finally starting to feel at home with. Stoudemire has been a soldier for the Knicks, returning early from his original injury to help a team depleted by injuries and coming off the bench for the first time in his career because it is what Head Coach Mike Woodson deemed best for the team. Stoudemire has always put the team ahead of his own personal achievements and just wants to win, so he was willing to do whatever it took.
At first Stoudemire looked out of place and uncomfortable coming off the bench but really started to hit his stride in the last few games. He had back-to-back 22-point performances against the Cavaliers and Pistons this week that he followed up with a 16 point, nine rebound performance against the Thunder.
Stoudemire was providing the Knicks with interior scoring, something they will sorely lack with him back on the sideline. He was also their most efficient offensive player; Tyson Chandler has a higher shooting percentage but the Knicks are not running plays for Chandler to get the ball, Stoudemire was a go-to player on the offensive side that teams had to game plan around and worry about.
Everyone knew Stoudemire could score the ball; his problem was that he did not always show up on the defensive end of the court. When he first got back from injury that seemed to be the case again as he was step slow on rotations and did not seem to pick up on Woodson’s defensive schemes as well as the coach had hoped. Recently though, something seemed to click for Stoudemire, as he stepped up his defensive intensity recently.
A reason for the uptick in defensive intensity and performance coincides exactly with Stoudemire being worked into the offense more. Stoudemire doesn’t need to take all of the shots, he just wants to be involved in the offense and he will be happy. A happy Stoudemire on offense is a Stoudemire that will become more engaged in the defensive end. Any player that has the offensive capabilities of Stoudemire will give their all on defense if they do not feel they are being used right on offense; it is a weird mentality to have but anyone who has played basketball knows it is the truth. Stoudemire, like every other basketball player as athletic as he is, is capable of playing defense when they want to.
An example of Stoudemire showing improvement on the defensive end was Woodson’s decision to play him as the lone big man down the stretch of the Thunder game. For a five-minute period in the fourth quarter Woodson decided to go small against the Thunder and use Stoudemire as the lone big man on the court with Chandler resting on the bench. Stoudemire responded amazingly as he surprised many with how well he played on the defensive end and showed Woodson that he should have more confidence in him; too bad that very well may be the last time we see Stoudemire on the court this season.
Combined with the loss of Wallace, the Knicks would be dangerously thin up front if not for finding a former number one pick on the free agency wire. The Knicks recently brought Kenyon Martin in for his second 10-day contract and could not be happier with what they have gotten. Martin came into the season thinking he would get multiple contract offers after a strong post season run with the Los Angeles Clippers last season, but found that no team had any interest in him. With this he became humbled and realized that he needed to take what he could get, becoming the first number one overall pick in NBA history to sign a 10-day contract; the Knicks could not be happier that they are the ones who got him.
Martin played his significant minutes against the Thunder and showed how important of a piece he can be for the Knicks, especially with Stoudemire and Wallace now out. Martin guarded every position on the court for a period of time against the Thunder and for most of the night took on the responsibility of slowing down three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant.
Martin will bring a different aspect to the Knicks at the power forward position they have not had with Stoudemire being there, as Martin is a great defender. This will help the Knicks in the long run as he adds toughness to a Knicks squad that is sometimes lacking in that department. One example of that was when he put a hard foul on Durant, sending him to the line to take two free throws instead of making a layup. It is little things like that which do not show up in a stat line but are important to a team that wants to win.
With Stoudemire being out the Knicks will need improved performance offensively from their guards, specifically Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith in the efficiency department, as they will see increased roles in the offense. None of the Knicks current bigs are real offensive threats so they will rely on perimeter offense even more now; the big thing will be balancing their jump shots with attacking the basket.
Felton can get to the basket when he wants to and makes the offense better when he does; evident from the time he missed as the Knicks offense became too perimeter orientated with no point guard able to attack the basket with Felton hurt. In Smith’s case, there is not many players as athletically gifted as him, but there are also not many that can shoot as well as he can and he likes to show that off. Smith needs to make a concerted effort of getting to the basket more; it will increase his efficiency and also should spike his point totals as he will be taking more free throw attempts.
Both are more than capable pick-and-roll players as well, being dangerous enough with their jump shots and ability to get to the basket that teams will have to pay attention to them, opening up easy opportunities for their bigs at the rim on the rolls. The Knicks will not win if Felton and Smith cannot become more efficient; having each of them jack up 15 shots each per game and making less than 40 percent of them is not a winning formula.
Another person that should see an increase in playing time is fan favorite Chris Copeland. In his limited minutes on the court Copeland has showed that he can fill it up with the best of them, averaging 20.6 points per 36 minutes and doing it from all over the court, shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from beyond the arc. Woodson has said that the only thing holding Copeland back was his defense, but with the Knicks now in need of another scorer Woodson might soften his stance a little bit on that; seriously he does give Steve Novak run so there is no reason Copeland won’t find his way on the court.
All in all the Knicks future all hangs in the balance on another player’s knee in Carmelo Anthony. This is once again Anthony and solely Anthony’s team as he is without his sidekick for the third consecutive season heading into the playoffs. Anthony’s knee injury will be talked about in another article if it proves to be something note worthy and catastrophic, but for now the Knicks feel he will be okay.
Anthony is more than capable of carrying this Knicks team as he has showed numerous times throughout his time in New York, but the Knicks cannot reach their ultimate goal without Stoudemire in the lineup; a healthy and productive Stoudemire, like we saw this past week, is exactly what the doctor ordered as a winning formula for the Knicks. Too bad the doctor now has to perform another surgery on Stoudemire’s crumbling knees.