With reports that Amare Stoudemire is returning to play in tonight’s game having completed their transformation from conjecture to rumor to consensus to confirmed reality, we here at KnickerBlogger decided to get together and collect some of our thoughts on the impact of STAT’s 2012-13 debut as well as our hopes and concerns for the weeks and months to follow. Here’s where we landed:
1) If you’re the coach, how do you use Amare in his first few games back (minutes, role, lineups, etc.)? How would you expect that to evolve throughout the remainder of the season?
Mike Kurylo: Coaches don’t like to lose games, and they’d sell their soul to end the night with another W. They are about as short sighted as a starving dog, with seemingly zero understanding of long term ramifications.
With ‘Sheed out, Amar’e is likely to see more minutes than he otherwise would have. Hey, if the game is on the line and you have the choice between Amar’e, Kurt, Copeland or Camby, that’s an easy call to make.
If it were me, I’d do it real slow, seeing which players he meshed best with and seeing how the other players have to change their game to accommodate him. But then again I don’t have to field questions from Berman & Isola.
Jim Cavan: Before the season began I remember saying that the one thing that could give Woodson good cover for bringing Amar’e off the bench was if the team went gangbusters out the gate. Which — to the amazement of all, I think it’s safe to say — is exactly what’s happened. The ‘Bockers being 21-8 basically gives Woody license to tell Stat, “look, I don’t care if you make $20 million a year or $20 an hour, we have something good going here, and we’re not going to let egos — any ego — fuck it up.”
I see Amar’e coming off to the tune of 20 or so minutes a game to start, with a gradual uptick thereafter. Sooner or later, that’s going to mean extended minutes on the floor with Melo and Chandler. But given a combination of improved roster familiarity, cohesiveness, and the kind of practice time that a lockout-shortened season simply didn’t allow, there’s no reason to think Woodson — who I think we can all agree has shown heretofore flashes of unseen creativity and flexibility — can’t figure out a way to get those guys to play together.
Robert Silverman: I’m coach? See guys, I knew that open letter to Dolan thingy would net me the gig sooner or later! Anyhoo, before the Knicks’ most recent spate of crippling day-to-day injuries (and of course, in Knickville, “Day-to-day” is a frightfully Orwellian turn of phrase that means anything and everything including: “Ceasing to be a sentient life form.”),I was prepared to concur wholeheartedly with Messrs. Kurylo, McElroy and Cavan; bring STAT off the bench, let him serve as the focal point of the second unit/play the Chandler role setting high screens with a spate of three point shooters to open the floor. Stoudemire has more talent than any “3 and D” player one might start ahead of him, but the pieces just fit better coming off the pine. It’s a big oversimplification, but think of it like Pizza and Ice Cream. They’re both great, but you wouldn’t want to put ice cream on your pizza. You would want Ice Cream after you’d had your pizza with some fudge and maybe some whipped cream. and some Jimmies and stuff. And now I feel fat.
But now? Gah. Assuming that Melo’s knee doesn’t resemble guacamole, I think Amar’e’ll be starting sooner rather than later. Brewer’s atrocious shooting this month has gummed up the offensive works already so there’s less potential downside of going with a more “traditional” STAT-Melo-Tyson-Kidd-Brew lineup. For now, I’d assume he gets something like 20 minutes a night, expanding to close to 30 by the time the roster has returned en masse from Lourdes.
Kevin McElroy: There are few things in the NBA that bother me more than a focus on labels over utility. I don’t really care who starts games and I only care marginally more who finishes them. What really matters is 1) maximizing the time your best players’ spend on the court and, even more than that, 2) maximizing the time your best lineups spend on the court. That second point is what makes the Amare issue complicated — Carmelo has been able to create high volume offense at a level of efficiency that should make the Knicks remiss to cut down on his shot attempts.
So the Knicks, as I see it, have three options 1) Play Amare and Carmelo together for a lot of minutes and give a big chunk of Carmelo’s shots to Amare. 2) Play Amare and Carmelo together for a lot of minutes and run a limited amount of plays for Amare or 3) Play Amare as much as possible when Carmelo is not on the court and let him be the first option when he’s out there. To me, 3 is easily the correct answer and if you figure Melo plays 35 minutes a game, then we’ve already found 13 where Amare can be top dog. Other than that, i probably look to have them playing together 10-12 minutes; I do this largely when Chandler is on the bench and let Amare play the 5. I understand this is defensively, er, non-ideal but it could work if Woodson tries to use it mostly when the opposition has limited offensive personnel on the floor. That way you preserve Melo’s role as a small ball four and have a dynamic, diverse offensive attack on the court when Chandler goes to the pine.
2) When and if Amare, Chandler, Melo, Camby, Kurt, Sheed, Copeland, Novak are all healthy, how do the frontcourt minutes shake out?
Mike Kurylo: HAHAHA all healthy. Using excel, I calculated the average age of these players as “Error #43: number too large.” There’s little chance that all will be healthy at once.
You don’t have to worry about ‘Melo or Chandler’s minutes, and Novak has a unique role to fill. Kurt, Copeland, and Camby already have end of the bench roles. Pretty much the two fighting for minutes will be Amar’e and ‘Sheed. If Stoudemire loses that battle, that could be a serious blow to his career in New York. Or America.
Jim Cavan: Assuming full health (While I’m at it, I’ll also assume waking up to a trillion dollars in my bank account tomorrow morning), I think it’s pretty clear that Camby and Sheed will be the odd ducks out. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; they both give you different looks, with Sheed providing outside shooting, floor spacing, decent on-the-block D, serviceable rebounding, and a perpetual state of being three seconds from whipping a Bowie knife out of his sock, and Camby wielding better help defense and rebounding at both ends of the floor. Both have expressed their eagerness to fill whatever role needs filling, and to that end I see this less as a minutes drama waiting to happen than an embarrassment of riches — the good kind.
Robert Silverman: A week or so ago, friend-of-the-blog Ian Levy asked a murder of basketball scribes to cobble together an Xmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa/Chrimbus wish list for their respective team(s). I of course asked the gods to grant our noble, pious cagers a big ol’ gift basket filled with good health. Nice right? I could have asked for peace and goodwill towards man, too, but I figured I’d keep it simple. Alas, it seems like our wishes won’t be granted. And I didn’t get a pony or an E-Z Bake Oven either. This holiday season blows chunks.
What was the question again? Oh right, frontcourt minutes. Melo and Chandler get 34-36 a night. Amar’e gets 32 coming off the bench/starting (depending on how Question #1 shakes out), Novak/Cope are deployed when shooters are needed, and Sheed/Camby/Kurt get to roll when faced with a particularly beefy front line, like v. a full complement of T-Wolves or the Jazzmen of Utah or the bearish Grizzlies or the steak-headed Chicagoans–that sort of thing.
Kevin McElroy: 144 minutes for the three frontcourt positions and the Knicks go small frequently enough that plenty of those will go to JR and Brewer (let’s say 24, which is almost certainly low). Figuring that leaves 120 minutes for the 7 players mentioned above, start by knocking out 70 for Chandler and Melo. That leaves 50. I honestly see no role for Cope or Sheed when everyone’s healthy, they go to the end of the bench where they serve as high-end insurance policies. So 50 minutes for Amare, Novak and Sheed. Probably something like 25, 20, and 5 respectively, with Sheed’’s minutes having some upside in matchups where playing Amare at the 5 is especially terrifying.
3) How does Amare’s return affect the distribution of guard minutes and roles? Are there obvious synergies (or a lack thereof) between him and any of the guards that will or should affect the way the Knicks backcourt looks?
Mike Kurylo: I don’t see him affecting the guards, but the tail might wag the dog. One theory for STAT’s decline from Phoenix is a distributor problem. Assuming he’s coming off the bench, Amar’e might play minutes with all three points, and perhaps he makes beautiful music with one of them (Pablo, I’m looking at you). That could certainly affect Stoudemire’s minutes, if coach thinks that he’s more efficient with that one PG. Or better yet, if Amar’e doesn’t mesh well with a certain guard, that could keep him glued to the bench more than otherwise.
Jim Cavan: When the extent of Felton’s injury started cascading its way through the Twitterscape, my first thought — other than wondering what Delonte West was doing at that particular moment (I settled on “spending $50 in quarters trying to get the Celtics basketball out of the Denny’s claw machine”) — was how much Prigioni could benefit from having a dynamic roll-man of Amare’s caliber. Pablo has a clear fondness to the game’s staple set, and has found intermittent success with Chandler and Copeland in the season’s early going. Amar’e basically gives you the best of both P&R worlds; the pop threat of Copeland, and the devastating rolling thunder of Chandler. Obviously the Knicks going out and nabbing Felton had a lot to do with his and Amare’s 2010 chemistry, and to that end Felton’s sidelining couldn’t have been more ill-timed. Still, I think Pablo could provide something of a silver lining on this front.
Robert Silverman: Ideally, you want to make sure that STAT is paired with a good pick and roll point at all times. When Felton returns, that should be a relatively easy task — between Ray-Ray, Prigs, and even J.R, there’s always going to be a guard on the floor capable of playing to Amar’e’s skills. It’ll be interesting to see if his shooting percentage returns to a reasonable approximation of career norms. I’m way too lazy to go look up the splits, but if memory serves, the bulk of his brick-tastic awfulness last season came during the oh-so-horrid “Toney Douglas is a point guard/when’s Baron coming back” pre-Linsanity days.
Kevin McElroy: When Felton and Kidd are healthy their minutes shouldn’t be affected. I do think Prigs becomes a marginally better option with Amare as his roll man — his shooting ability should keep defenders from going under screens as much as they can with Chandler which favors a PG who would rather drive than shoot. I also think that if they use a small-ball lineup with Amare at the 5 for ten minutes a night, we’re likely to see an increase in sets that use Melo as the primary ballhandler and put an emphasis on floor-spacing spot-up shooters at the other positions. This is probably better news for Kidd than anyone else.
4) Assume Amare starts by coming off the bench and at some point a few weeks down the road blows up for a 35 & 10 game on 14/19 shooting. What do the ensuing 24 hours look like? Is this a good or bad thing for the team?
Mike Kurylo: The media will blow this up until everyone in the country knows about it. But as long as Woodson keeps firm with Amar’e is our 6th man, it shouldn’t be an issue. And yes I’m assuming the Knicks will be better with Amar’e not in the starting lineup.
Jim Cavan: If Woodson knows what’s good for him, he’d respond to any and all related media questions thusly: “J.R.’s had a few games like that coming off the bench, but I don’t remember all of you clamoring for him to start the next game. Stat played great tonight, no question about it. But until we figure out what roles and units and dynamics are best for our team, we’re going to stick with the game-plan that gives us the best chance to win.”
Just because it’s full of platitudes don’t make it untrue. The Knicks shouldn’t necessarily look at Amar’e averaging 25 and 10 over ten games coming off the bench as a sign he should start; they should look at it as “Holy shit, we have the best sixth and seventh man combo in the NBA.” That doesn’t mean improved synergy and circumstances won’t eventually render Amar’e starting the smart move; just that it shouldn’t happen after one tour de force performance.
Kevin McElroy: I like Jim’s answer here and don’t have a ton to add. Everyone has just kind of always assumed that Amare would maybe have a problem with coming off the bench but the guy has been a pretty steadfast team-first player since he got here (fire extinguisher haymaker notwithstanding) and I think he has earned the benefit of the doubt on this if nothing else.
Robert Silverman: For the first time since Jeff Van Gundy was guzzling Diet Coke in the halls of the Garden, I actually trust a Knick coach to do a good job handling the delicate parsing out of minutes (which is, like many other things, not something I assumed of Coach Son of Wood before the season started). It’ll be a media clusterfudge no matter what — this is New York, people, and since the 4th estate has been waiting like a throng of starved, feral, rabid, frothing jackals to pounce on this story even when Amar’e was de-debridlementing, I can’t imagine that they’ll put away the sharp knives now that he’s (knock on every object even vaguely resembling wood) healthy. The “START STAT, STAT!” headlines are coming (PS – You’re welcome, Tabloid headline writers. That one’s a freebie). Might as well start girding our collective loins now.
5) The Knicks are cloned and their two manifestations face off tomorrow. One team is forced to play a healthy Amare at least 30 minutes. The other team is not permitted to play him at all. Which team wins?
Mike Kurylo: Not fair. I haven’t seen such a black & white view on something since the NRA’s last public statement. So I have to choose between Amar’e for 30 minutes or none at all to make a statement about him? Look he has the potential to help this team as a scorer off the bench. One of the point guards should be able to bring the best out of him. The Knicks have done well going small, so he can play center as well. Surely he’s better than that handful of ancient big men that are a twisted ankle away from retirement.
So I’ll take 30 minutes a game. But I’m still pissed off that I had to chose just one or the other. I think 20-25 minutes a night would be best for him & the team. You bastich.
Jim Cavan: Can I have Amar’e for 20 minutes and a pretzel with cheese sauce instead? Look, to win a title in this league, you need depth. All this kvetching (and I’m guilty of it just as much as the next person) about what’s going to happen when Amar’e comes back and will the whole show screech to a halt and I think my cat pissed on my Knicks slippers it smells like an ammonia factory in here completely misses the greater point about winning in the NBA: You need depth. And you only have too much depth if the egos become too much.
I for one am genuinely excited for the return of Stat and Shump. There may indeed be early growing pains to traverse, but there’s no question — to my mind, anyway — that we’ll be better off in the long run, particularly as the grit and grind of the schedule inevitably morphs having depth from luxury to borderline necessity.
Robert Silverman: What is wrong with you people? If we clone the Knicks, Melo 1 is going to get into a colossal ego slap fight with Melo 2 over who’s better, J.R. 1 and J.R. 2 are both going to be “Bad J.R.” (if you had said, split J.R. into his good and bad attributes so the evil one doesn’t have a goatee, like in the Star Trek episode/South Park parody, I might have been behind this demented venture into super science), and decide to skip the game entirely and go paint the town red together, Tyson 1 and Tyson 2 would just stand at center court, glowering, frozen with immesaurable levels of red-hot rage/intensity, and on and on. This is evil, pure concentrated evil and I, for one, won’t be a part of it. Good day, Sir. I SAID GOOD DAY.
Kevin McElroy: I wouldn’t have designed the question this way if the answer was easy, gentlemen. I agree that 20-25 minutes is his sweet spot to start out but what I’m really interested in is whether the Knicks are a better team with him on the court or off. And the quantitative evidence suggests “off” and does so fairly resoundingly. Last year the Knicks ran -1.6 per 48 minutes with Amare on the court and +8.2 with him off. There’s a chicken and egg issue that comes with that statistic (Amare was hurt for some of the Knicks best stretches which either 1) biases his number downward or 2) explains why those were their best stretches) but it’s hard to ignore completely.
Right now the Knicks are generating 20-25 shots a game for Melo with extremely low turnovers, getting Chandler the right number of pick-and-roll finishes, and filling in the blanks with a blend of spot-up threes and guard penetration (mostly Felton and JR). If we’re getting career-average Amare (.596 TS%) he can replace some of that (mostly the guard penetration, especially with Felton out) with post-ups and face-ups and mid-range jumpers and (most importantly, perhaps) free throws in a way that replaces less efficient shots with more efficient shots and leaves the rest of the gang with less of a burden to carry. However, if we’re getting last year’s Amare (.541 TS%; lower than the Knicks’ team number this year) and forcing the ball to him because his name is Amare Stoudemire, his ability to positively impact the offense becomes a whole lot less clear. And that’s just the offensive side of the ball — anything we’re losing on the defensive end with him in the game over Camby, Kurt, Sheed, etc. still has to be applied as an offset.
Basically I love the idea of having Amare as another option that Woodson can go to if we need scoring punch. I love that the days of Raymond Felton taking 20 shots a night are probably over (even once he’s back). I like having a big that can pull his defender away from the rim and create more space for penetration. But at 30 minutes a night, I’m not sure his incremental value to the Knicks offense will offset the negative effect he’d have on the defensive end. I think the (otherwise health) team with 0 Amare minutes beats the team with 30+ probably 6 out of 10 times.