Stoudemire spent his burgeoning basketball years showcasing inimitable feats of raw athleticism, gliding to the basket and making a pastime of finishing with ferocity.
For a player recognised for such explosive, intuitive displays, the decline has been an unforgiving, slippery slope.
It’s often said that Father Time is unkind; this time, however, the former All-Star was barely given a chance to get acquainted with the idea of “the end,” let alone consider a cup of coffee with the foreboding figure.
Although a melange of maladies have cast him in an unfamiliar role, a recent return to the starting lineup has proved a silver lining on an otherwise clouded career.
The Knicks, adrift of eighth place in the Eastern Conference, have strung together eight consecutive victories – including an impressive 92-86 home win over the league’s number one defence (the Indiana Pacers) on Thursday.
Having reached the nadir of his playing days this past season (2012-13) – only managing to hit the hardwood twenty-nine total times – with plummeting statistical averages, Stoudemire’s active stretch of eight starts in the team’s past nine games has served as a welcome change.
Across those eight starts, Amar’e has averaged 23.9 points and 8.6 rebounds per 36 minutes, while shooting 58.8% from the field and 80.0% at the free throw line.
In addition to this, he has garnered a healthy net rating of +15.6 over 222 minutes of court time.
New York’s “Renaissance Man” has delivered much-needed offensive efficiency, generating the kind of supplementary scoring that had been largely absent from this one-dimensional, isolation-heavy arsenal prior to the streak.
Pleasing progress in a season too often beset by the humbling realities of minute restrictions, games rested, and reduced responsibility. If you blinked and nonchalantly scanned over the stat sheet, it might seem like the Knicks’ reshuffling of the deck and thrusting the 11th year man into the starting lineup was long overdue.
Where, then, should Stoudemire’s place on this streaky squad rest? It’s a delicate balance.
The problems for Amar’e seldom rise on the offensive end. Even in the midst of this present patch of successes, where Stoudemire has rediscovered the fountain of youth, he has remained a constant target of opposing offenses. Consider the following examples:
The worst kept secret about the Knicks’ max-contract identity is his inability to read and react to defensive situations.
In their recent matchup with New York, the Pacers made attacking Stoudemire, and involving his man early and often, a clear priority.
Indiana’s weapon of choice, as is seen below, was a high screen-and-roll action with Stoudemire’s direct opponent.
Here, Amar’e’s man (Ian Mahinmi) sets the perimeter pick, leaving Stoudemire to hover in no man’s land as Shumpert slides under and recovers onto the ball-handler (Lance Stephenson).
In this instance, Shumpert’s adjustment deemed the move a nil all draw, and the play ended with Stephenson draining a 20ft jump shot.
Indiana exerted patience and deliberation in looking to exploit the formerly agile four-man’s glaring weaknesses.
As noted with this next sample, the ploy rarely ended after the initial action.
On this possession, George Hill accepted two separate screens from Stoudemire’s man (Luis Scola) some 22-feet from the basket, before finally engaging in a dribble penetration play and netting a contested five-foot floater.
As Hill changed directions, utilised the second screen, and headed towards the rim, Scola leaked out to the elbow-extended area (as a hollow decoy) and left Amar’e wandering in the desert fifteen feet from the goal – neither here nor there.
Smart teams acknowledge the flaws in Stoudemire’s defence and, in this case, the Pacers made no effort to disguise their approach, continuing to expose them until some kind of adjustment was made.
While the pick-and-roll is the simplest, and typically most effective, method to roping the Knicks’ shaky frontliner into the play, dribble penetration is ultimately the key.
Drawing Stoudemire into an immediately accountable defensive scenario is the icky Venus flytrap that New York would prefer to strictly avoid.
The Pacers, far from a clockwork offence, showed no mercy.
Below, with Scola curling toward the high post from the baseline, Evan Turner seized the gap on the floor and made a beeline to the basket.
Turner approached the painted area, drew the collapsing coverage (namely Tyson Chandler), and dumped the ball back out to an uncontested Scola – all while Stoudemire did not stray more than two feet from his initial position.
The possession ended with the Argentinian veteran drilling the textbook, open 18-footer.
It’s not always the case that the poor timing and ill-fated decision-making of Stoudemire is highlighted by coordinated sets, either.
In the Sixers’ visit to Madison Square Garden on March 10, guards driving into the lane produced a similar outcome.
James Anderson, not renowned for his ball-handling abilities, entered the lane (well covered by J.R. Smith), sucking Stoudemire over from the strong side of the floor, and freeing his teammate (Jarvis Varnado) for an elementary baseline jumper.
As Anderson looked to fire the ball out, Amar’e was found with his back turned to his opponent, without having collapsed quickly enough to intercept the driver’s path.
As encouraging as it may be to witness Amar’e return to relevance and spark the offence, there should be little doubting the degree of caution that is required in distributing his minutes.
Injury-induced limits aside – this team needs to remain cognisant of the punishing defensive lapses that almost universally erase the value of Stoudemire’s scoring production.
Through four seasons in orange and blue, STAT’s teammates have historically fared well with him on the bench, per 82games.com.
Amar’e affords the offence a reliable midrange jump shot, creative interior finishes, and the occasional throwback jam.
In looking to accelerate their unlikely push for a playoff berth, though, the Knicks must remember the (albeit sad) truth that the team is significantly better off without Amar’e on the floor.