Amar’e Stoudemire has been paired with Carmelo Anthony for 20 months, and over that time period, when the pair have played in the same game the Knicks’ record is an underwhelming 31-40 (1-7 in playoffs) . When Stoudemire, Anthony, and Tyson Chandler were on the floor together, New York scored only 98.5 points per 100 possessions. To put that in perspective, that level of offensive *ahem* efficiency would put the Knicks in the bottom third of the league.
The individual stats available through NBA.com confirm that the pairing of Anthony and Stoudemire are the problem. Anthony posts average to below average numbers in key stats like points, FG%, FTA, and rebounds—when paired with S.T.A.T. And Stoudemire shows a similar drop in production.
A popular option to address this issue, one endorsed by Zack Lowe, Bill Simmons, and others, is moving Stoudemire to the bench, and allowing Anthony to start the game at the power forward position. Lowe noted that of all the players recorded by STATS, LLC’s multi-camera process for tracking every movement in an NBA game, Anthony was the most effective player in the league at driving the ball. Anthony was also the NBA leader in points per possession on elbow touches.
Anthony is highly effective at driving to the basket from the elbow or beyond, and highly effective at scoring when he catches at the elbow. The problem, as Lowe sees it, is that Stoudemire touches the ball at the elbow nearly twice as often as Anthony, and he was a far less effective scorer from that spot. Simply put Stoudemire is getting in the way of what Anthony does best.
In his NBA preview at Grantland.com, [29:30] Bill Simmons said that Amar’e Stoudemire must come off the bench, and that only a fool would argue against that. To quote Gomez Addams “Well, with God as my witness, I am that fool!”
Now, I agree the statistics make a compelling argument that something has to change, but I’d like to offer a few reasons why moving Stoudemire to the bench won’t be as helpful as some seem to think.
1. Making Stoudemire a reserve will only slightly reduce the amount of time he is on the court with Anthony.
Let’s say Carmelo Anthony plays his career average of 36.2 minutes per game. And let’s argue than in a reserve role, Stoudemire plays 32 minutes per game rather than his career average of 34.5. Even if Stoudemire plays every minute that Anthony sits, he will still be on the court with Anthony for 20.2 minutes per game. Last year, they were on the court together 25 minutes per game (976 minutes over 39 games). So bringing Stoudemire off the bench is likely to give Anthony an additional 4 minutes and 48 seconds without Stoudemire. At last year’s pace (93.2), that would mean an extra 9 possessions per game without Stoudemire.
Coach Woodson can tinker with the minutes by increasing Anthony’s or reducing Stoudemire’s, but each of those answers come with their own problems. Anthony’s career high minutes per game was 38.2 while he was in Denver at the age of 25. It is hard to image him playing that many minutes per game or anything in excess of that at 28, especially after a summer of Olympic Basketball. Stoudemire has never played less than 31 minutes per game, and wouldn’t likely respond well to such a sharp drop in minutes. Then again, maybe making Stoudemire sullen and unproductive is just the thing to get the Wizards to inquire about trading for him.
2. It does nothing to address Stoudemire’s productivity issues
Stoudemire’s True Shooting Percentage and Effective Field Goal Percentage last season—.541 and .487 respectively—were well below his career averages of .596 and .534, and below 2010-2011’s .565 and .505. Stoudemire’s drop in scoring is complicated by the fact that he took about .5 fewer shots at the rim in 2011-2012( 5.7) than he did in 2010-2011 (6.2). Furthermore, he took nearly 2 fewer free throws per game in 2011-2012 (5.7 a career low) than he did in 2010-2011 (7.5).
Even if you want to argue that pairing Amar’e with ‘Melo is the proximate cause of the Stoudemire’s shooting woes [Stoudemire’s shot the same 48% while paired with Anthony as he did while Anthony was on the bench, the big change was in the FGAs (17.3 w/o Anthoony up from 14.1 with Anthony)], we’ve already established that Stoudemire will only have about 11.8 minutes per game to take advantage of this. Moving Stoudemire to the bench won’t solve the issue.
Barring a trade [or injury], there really is no way to keep Stoudemire and Anthony from sharing space. Since they are stuck with each other, the Knicks need to make changes to way they play together in order to make this work. Stoudemire seems to have sensed this and has already began adding new “jewels” to his game. I think adding post moves will be a good thing for Stoudemire. Working in the paint rather than at the elbow will free that space for Anthony. Furthermore, if Stoudemire is making moves in the low post, he may see a rise in the number of personal fouls he draws, something he needs to help his scoring efficiency. Catching in the low post and making a quick move may also reduce his turnover volume, which was slightly above average last year. And it is not as though moving to the low post will get in the way of Chandler and his wide assortment of post moves.
In order for this to work the entire team needs to buy-in. The coaching staff needs to incorporate plays for Stoudemire in the low post. The team needs to know when to deliver the ball to Stoudemire. Finally, Stoudemire needs to embrace his new role and not revert to past habits if he struggles early.
With a full training camp and a full season, the Knicks have time to figure out how to make this work before the playoffs start. Hopefully, the team will find a way to get the best out of Stoudemire and Anthony as a pair because there just aren’t enough minutes in a game to keep them apart.