It’s impossible to avoid the positivity regarding the potential resurgence of Amar’e Stoudemire these days as the New York Knicks get set for the 2014-2015 season.Before their fifth preseason game against the Milwaukee Bucks Monday night — one in which Stoudemire got his first start of the preseason at center — studio analyst Wally Szczerbiak, filling in for Walt Frazier as MSG’s color commentator, opened up the broadcast discussing what STAT can bring to the team this year.
On October 7th, Amar’e talked about getting back to his “dominant self.” A few weeks, later, on October 20th, he upped the ante, saying, “I feel like I’m 19 again.” He’s talked about playing better defense and how much he can help the roster, and the bulk of the sporting press has gobbled up these tasty, sound bite-ready quotes, typically buttressing them with his at times still-impressive offensive box score numbers.
But it’s not just columnists needing to fill space; the idea that Amar’e is heading for a resurgent year is also coming from the organization itself. Head coach Derek Fisher has indicated (and this is a reminder that it’s not always wise to take pre- and post-game coach-speak as the gospel truth) that STAT will have a big role on the team, and president of basketball operations Phil Jackson had this to stay in a player-by-player scouting report for ESPN.com:
“One of the keys to the season will be the play of Amar’e Stoudemire. Although his tender knee will require his playing time and practice time to be carefully monitored, we hope he’ll be able to play four rotations of eight minutes per game.”
I’m no math wiz(ard), but eight times four is (checks abacus) 32, which is just way too many minutes for this year’s model of Amar’e Stoudemire, sad to say. This is his fifth and most likely final year with the team, but let’s take a gander at his on/off court numbers through the first four:
Soooooo…yeah. That’s what we call “Slightly not good to awful.”
This next chart might be the most damaging to the idea/fantasy that Stoudemire can be an integral cog to this year’s geometric machine. He was barely even a positive during the 54 game, pre-Melo portion of the 10-11 season that has become arguably the most romanticized 28-26 stretch in Knick history.
Yep, you read that correctly. During those 54 games the Knicks were only .1 points better with STAT playing when chants of “MVP, MVP!” were echoing through the upper levels of Madison Square Garden. (As a side note, can we please come up with a better chant? It’s tired and old, even if the receiver of said exhortation is a legit candidate. We can? Thanks.)
Anyway, the reason for this icky data isn’t because Stoudemire isn’t a talented individual offensive player; he is. it’s because he’s extremely hard to construct a quality five-man groups around his particular skill-set.
Take a look at these two man groups from last year:
The way the Knicks are constructed they don’t have enough good defensive players to hide Amar’e especially when Anthony will be on the court for 34 to 36 minutes and the starting point guard is Jose Calderon. That’s two negative defenders you have to cover up for. Adding Stoudemire to the mix is too much bad defense to make it all work.
This is why Stoudemire can’t start and he needs to be limited to 18 to 20 minutes a night at most and truthfully that’s probably even too much. It’s a tough quandary, but here is how I would handle it. He can’t be on the court when Bargs or Hardaway Jr. are playing — that’s completely, 100% off limits if the goal is to win basketball games. Playing Stoudemire at center is a no go. We saw the destruction when he played center with Quincy Acy at power forward during the preseason game against the Bucks, and again last night against the Raptors. The evidence goes back longer than a preseason game or two. Via 82games.com:
Since 2010-2011, lineups involving Stoudemire have been better with him at center versus power forward. In the last three years the Knicks had more success when he was playing PF. This leaves you with three choices of who to play Stoudemire with – Aldrich, Samuel Dalembert and Jason Smith. I don’t see Dalembert working. He gets flashy blocks, but he’s an inconsistent, poor positional defender. He’s not going to be able to cover up for STAT’s flaws. You have to play him with either Aldrich or Smith and I learn towards more with Cole because of his rebounding.
No matter whom you play at PG between Calderon, Prigioni or Shane Larkin, you’re not getting strong defense from that position. Since we’re talking about the second unit it will most likely be Prigs and Larkin getting the run with STAT. Shumpert has to be on the court and it makes the most sense to play him with J.R. Smith. In 213 minutes Stoudemire, Shump and J.R. played together last season the Knicks were a +18.4 net rating.
A lot of the numbers here are small sample sizes, yet despite the extremes, there’s a basic logic at play that makes sense. Giving Amar’e a strong wing defender to help cut off dribble penetration and a basket protector to cover up his poor team defense is what’s needed to help minimize the damage.
So, Stoudemire’s time on the court should always Aldrich/Smith at center, STAT at PF, J.R. and Shump at the wings and Larkin or Prigs at point guard. Now, that’s a very limited scope, probably not more than 15-20 mpg. But honestly, that’s fine. There’s enough evidence to suggest that the team didn’t need a “second scorer” i.e., someone that’s not Melo in order to succeed. What they needed was a balanced lineup, and when they had one, the points somehow, someway managed to arrive. Shocker, right?
It’s all fine and good for Fisher to talk about putting an emphasis on defense, but if his rotations and lineup choices don’t reflect those words… well, then it’s just talk. Amar’e is going to be the biggest early test of Fisher’s stated credo. Because if he is playing center surrounded by equally poor defenders for long stretches, then Fish’s blather doesn’t really have much value than when Woodson said it, or every other coach in the NBA says it. Not to throw STAT under the bus/kick him to the curb, but if he is going to be a big part of what we do/a piece of the puzzle, at the end of the day, less is more.