Few basketball players, heck maybe even professional athletes, have taken as much heat in 2012 as New York Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire. After a less than stellar 2011-12 season, Stoudemire came into the season rehabbing from a back injury he suffered in the 2011 NBA Playoffs (of course the injury occurred during lay-up lines), was faced with the tragic loss of his brother, Hazzell, and of course, re-injured his back in the second half of the season.
The up-and-down season, check that – year, for Stoudemire peaked in the worst of ways when he punched a glass fire extinguisher case after losing to the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs. Stoudemire suffered a severe cut on his hand, which left him in a big cast, and when combined with facing the facts that the team he selflessly came to put back on the map was being built around Carmelo Anthony instead of him, left the star forward with a pretty bruised and beaten down ego.
A good, even terrific season by most players (and fans) standards, Stoudemire finished with averages of 17.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. The big problem, however, was the drop off from the season before, when he averaged 25.3 points and 8.2 rebound per game, as well as 19 field goal attempts per game, a little more than 5 more shots PER GAME than he ended up taking last season.
Stoudemire looked lost at times on defense, which isn’t anything new, but he didn’t seem to fit into the flow of the offense the way he had the season before. Whether it was difficult for him to make the transition from Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo offense to Mike Woodson’s half-court, isolation heavy offense, or Stoudemire just never found his groove last season, he made it awfully difficult for Knicks fans to feel good about paying him a max contract for the next three seasons.
Now that I think I’ve successfully painted the picture of struggle, let’s examine who the subject of this struggle is. An absolute freak of an athlete, the first claim to STAT’s (Standing Tall And Talented – which he nicknamed himself) demise came in the summer of 2005 when he had microfracture knee surgery and missed all but three games of the season for the Phoenix Suns. Despite pretty much taking a season off at the age of 23 with knee problems, he came back looking as explosive as ever in 2006, going for 20.4 points and a career-best 9.6 rebounds per game.
Moving forward, Stoudemire’s knees held up for the most part, holding him over until his next “disabling” injury, when he suffered a detached retna and was forced to bow out of the 2008-09 season in mid-February. What do you know? Stoudemire fought back in 2009 and had himself a hell of a (contract) year…that was, until the Knicks gave him a max contract.
Called everything from “soft” to “injury prone” to “inconsistent,” Stoudemire came to the Knicks with one goal, to bring basketball prominence back to New York. Anyone watching that 2009-10 Knicks team saw what Stoudemire was capable of prior to the team acquiring Anthony. They saw a player they feared might not even be better than David stinkin’ Lee, put a team on his back for the most part. Ferocious dunks, a knack for getting to the free-throw line, a mid-range jumper on par with the former hero Lee, and of course, not much defense, but excitement that Madison Square Garden hadn’t felt in years.
But with the arrival of Anthony, and even Tyson Chandler to an extent, Stoudmire appeared to be the odd man out last season. It seemed he was never healthy, that he was playing catch-up all season, and even when he was in games, he clearly wasn’t making the impact he had made when he first arrived in New York. However, that can happen with a roster that’s still relatively unfamiliar with each other, especially when they’re thrown into action after being under the assumption that they may not even end up playing together due to the lockout.
That’s not even to mention that the Knicks had 4 different starting point guards last season, none of whom were tremendous, or even consistent (sorry Jeremy). Yes, point guards, the most integral position for Stoudemire to flourish. You’d have to imagine that with Raymond Felton – who Stoudmire looked beyond fantastic with during his first cup of coffee in New York – and one of the best distributors in league history in Jason Kidd, Stoudmire will be more effective and have the luxury of being able to run the pick-and-roll with capable P-N-R partners.
But those are all excuses. It’s time for the excuses to stop.
And everyone knows this season it’s put-up or shut-up for not just the team’s current star Anthony, but its other max player, Stoudemire. An athlete who takes care of his body as meticulously as anyone out there, Stoudmire needs to be able to stay healthy and play big minutes for a team that cannot settle for another first round exit. He also needs to be able to effect the game in more ways than just on the offensive end, where he clearly does have to compromise his sweet spots on the floor with the two other players he shares the front court with.
Stoudemire’s been doubted plenty in the past, even coming into the NBA there were questions about his character as he’d attended six different high schools as a teenager! But he’s always proven doubters wrong.
Stoudemire certainly didn’t come to the Knicks to get lost in the shuffle, and even be proclaimed “a walking muscle pull” by some. Of course he was most effective when the offense was based around him, but with one of the best scorers in the league, he had to know he wasn’t going to get the same looks as he did before. He has to adjust this season, everyone knows it, and knowing the competitor Stoudemire is, I believe he knows it and will do what he has to do moving forward.
I could be wrong. All of the Stoudemire slander could be deserved and maybe he’ll continue to give his naysayers more fodder and reasons to pick at him. But with his track record, I wouldn’t bet against him.
Stoudemire’s down, but he certainly is not out!
For hoops, hip-hop and other random sports and pop culture commentary, follow Jared Mintz on Twitter @JaredMintzTruth