The Knicks are off to a great start this season, going 21-9 while having multiple players suffer pretty serious injuries. Raymond Felton just broke his pinky finger, Rasheed Wallace is now dealing with a stress reaction in his foot and Iman Shumpert is still recovering from surgery on his knee suffered in the first playoff game against the Heat.
Amar’e Stoudemire has not played this season either, but his return to the lineup is imminent. Stoudemire, who needed surgery after re-injuring his surgically repaired knee, practiced with the Knicks for the first time yesterday in over two months.
Stoudemire said after practice that he is not yet 100 percent, but is willing to take the court Tuesday if the currently short-handed Knicks needed him; his preference is to wait until he is 100 percent though to take the court. He currently puts himself at 80 percent healthy, as he still lacks explosiveness and has lingering soreness in the knee.
It is a fair question to ask if Stoudemire will ever reach 100 percent healthy again because of the nature of this injury and the history of knee ailments that have plagued Stoudemire throughout his career.
Whenever Stoudemire returns, no matter how healthy he is, he will have an impact on the Knicks and it will be a positive one.
Before getting into how he would help the Knicks in certain areas, the most important thing he would do is give the Knicks a legitimate power forward. Anthony has been dominant at the 4 this season, but is already suffering from nagging injuries; he would not make it through the whole season playing exclusively at the power forward position.
I am not saying that Stoudemire should come in and start at power forward, but having the option of using him is a luxury the Knicks would love to have. He would give the Knicks an option to not only give rest to Anthony, but also Tyson Chandler as Stoudemire thrives in the center position when given the chance.
As for on-court performance, thus far this season the Knicks have been a below-average rebounding team; they have won games but struggled in the rebounding department. They rank Stoudemire had his worst rebounding season last year, averaging only 7.8 rebounds per game, but averages 8.8 for his career. That isn’t the highest number for such an athletic power forward, but it would be more than welcomed on this current Knicks squad.
The Knicks would welcome even Stoudemire’s worst performance on the boards, as the 7.8 rebounds would put him second in rebounding behind Tyson Chandler on the squad this season.
Another area Stoudemire would help in surprisingly is defense. He is not known as the best one-on-one defender, but he is a more than capable help defender. In his career, Stoudemire actually averages more blocks per game than Chandler at 1.4 compared to 1.3.
This season Chandler has been relied upon even more defensively as the Knicks have played a majority of games in smaller lineups. Because of this, Chandler is not having the same impact he has in recent seasons on the defensive end, especially last season when he won Defensive Player of the Year and changed the culture of the Knicks.
Chandler also has looked timid at times because he knows the Knicks cannot afford him to get into foul trouble, resulting in less than one block per game. Stoudemire has never averaged less than a block per game in a season and having him on the court will enable Chandler to become more aggressive as he will not be the only rim protector on the court.
Those are all areas Stoudemire will help in, but where he will come in most handy is on the offensive end. Stoudemire went through a rough season last year with the lockout, death of his brother and multiple injuries, resulting in his lowest scoring per game since his rookie season with 17.5; but there are factors that point towards Stoudemire returning with much better results.
Without Stoudemire, the Knicks have lacked a consistent scoring option alongside Anthony as J.R. Smith has stepped up admirably but is still inconsistent at times.
Stoudemire will most likely not return to where he was in his first season with the Knicks, as Anthony is now by far the focal point of the offense, but the point total will not mean as much as his presence alone. With Stoudemire on the court the Knicks will have a low post presence they currently do not have constantly with Anthony preferring to work from the elbow-extended and Chandler not having much of an offensive game.
Another thing Stoudemire has going for him is the presence of legitimate point guards in Raymond Felton (who won’t be around right away because of a broken pinkie finger), Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni. All three run the pick-and-roll better than any point guard options the Knicks had last season and all are capable of getting their players into great position to score, evident of career high efficiency ratings for Anthony and Chandler.
When paired together the first time around, Stoudemire and Felton combined as a lethal pick-and-roll combo, both putting up all-star caliber stats until Felton was a part of the Anthony trade package. Both will be excited to get on the court together again.
Prigioni will be playing a lot with Stoudemire if he does come off the bench as intended and it will be harmonious to watch them run the pick-and-roll. Prigioni has done well getting the ball to players like Chris Copeland, imagine what he will do with a player the caliber of Stoudemire.
For anyone that thinks Anthony and Stoudemire cannot play together on offense does not watch games, as that combination is not the problem but instead Stoudemire and Chandler. Anthony plays more on the perimeter and is not a part of the pick-and-roll game, meaning him and Stoudemire are not in each other’s ways.
On the other hand, Chandler is limited to pick-and-roll as his only real weapon on offense, clogging up the spacing with him and Stoudemire on the court. If Chandler can continue with the aggressiveness he has shown recently on offense, taking face-up jumpers and posting up, it will go a long way in him and Stoudemire coexisting on the offensive end.
Another factor ignored by people is the change of culture in New York. Mike Woodson has brought a different attitude to the forefront, holding players more accountable and getting the most out of them. He has dealt with a similar situation in Atlanta with these types of players, but with the Knicks he has far superior talent.
In the end, it will come down to how Woodson incorporates Stoudemire into the game plan and if he can get Stoudemire to buy in and give the same energy and attentiveness that Woodson has gotten out of Anthony and J.R. Smith thus far this season.