Much has been made of oft-injured, frequently criticized for his gaudy contract and use of the word “phenomenal” Amar’e Stoudemire, and what kind of impact – typically more so negative than positive – he’ll have on a New York Knicks team playing the best basketball they’ve played in well over a decade.
In Stoudemire’s season debut on Tuesday night, not only did the star forward look rusty, but the team around him looked confused. It’s become evident over the past two seasons that Stoudemire and the teams better star player, Carmelo Anthony, don’t exactly play smoothly off of each other, and trying to work Stoudemire back into the flow of the offense – don’t even talk about the defense – really seemed to hurt the Knicks in their loss Tuesday night against the Portland Trailblazers.
On Tuesday night, Anthony poured in a season-high 45 points, and his new sidekick, J.R. Smith added 28 points, but Stoudemire’s 3-for-8 from the floor and -9 while he was on the court had to raise questions out of the Knicks coaching staff. Those questions seemed to be answered, for the time being at least, on Thursday night.
After the loss to Portland, I don’t really think anyone knew what to expect when the Knicks were set to host the Spurs on Thursday night. Although they’d be playing their fourth game in five nights, the Spurs came into the game as one of the best teams in the league, looking to avenge a blown lead that turned into a home loss at the hands of the ‘Bockers earlier in the season.
Well they have a whole lot more avenging to do next season.
For the first time in a decade, the Knicks won the season series against the team that defeated them in the 1999 NBA Finals, and for the first time in almost a year, the Knicks won a game with a great contribution from Stoudemire. While his 10 points on 4-10 shooting from the field and 2-4 from the line, with an Amar’e-esque two rebounds, weren’t overly impressive, it was his impact on the flow of the offense, and the opportunities that were created for his teammates by his relentless attack – albeit, fairly weak attack(s) – of the basket, that led to one of the more impressive performances of this still young Knicks season.
Sure, the defensive effort that the Knicks collectively gave on Thursday night would’ve stolen the show if it wasn’t for Smith’s incredible reverse alley on a pass that Pablo Prigioni definitely didn’t anticipate being ooped, but if you look deeper into the numbers you’d see the Knicks took less threes – 27 when they average 30 – and shot incredibly accurate, hitting on 44 percent (they shoot 39 percent for the season).
Much of the Knicks outside success came because Ronnie Brewer and Steve Novak shot the ball much better than they had the past couple of weeks, but everyone on the team got better looks because of Stoudemire’s determination to score down low.
Yes, he still looks rusty. Stoudemire doesn’t seem to be getting great lift, and Thiago Splitter gave him fits, but he was relentless down low, and the Spurs defense took notice. Having him plant himself in the paint, and get the amount of touches he got, opened up looks on the perimeter which lead the Knicks to a 9-for-13 shooting night on spot-up threes, on the season they’ve shot 40 percent – which is very good – in those situations.
Before Stoudemire, the Knicks hadn’t had a player this season who can set-up down low and attack the rim. As the Knicks thrived shooting spot-up three’s with better ball movement, they only took three threes off of isolation plays, hitting two of the three attempts. On the season they’ve only shot 30 percent on those plays.
Of course the Knicks and head coach Mike Woodson are still working on figuring out their rotation, as well as finding out how to incorporate Stoudemire and Anthony into a well functioning offense, but Thursday night showed glimpses of what they can do together. Anthony was able to get his points, and even some open looks for the first time this season, and Stoudemire put in a great effort on both ends of the floor, despite his less than stellar stat line.
I don’t want to give Stoudemire too much credit for a hot shooting night from his teammates, as well as taking into consideration how beaten down the Spurs looked in the second half, but it’s unarguable that he gave the Knicks a look they haven’t shown yet this season. Stoudemire fills the role of post scorer, and while he may not run the pick and roll as well as Tyson Chandler does, it seems he’s intent on finding other ways to contribute to a team that looks as good as anyone in their conference.
Best of all, he did it without needing to be the center of the offense.
It’s going to be a long climb back for Stoudemire, but he showed that he can contribute in a multitude of ways without being the focal point on the offensive end. His body will continue to shed the rust, and his confidence will only grow, but being a good teammate was the most important thing for Stoudemire upon returning to a 21-9 team, and it seems he’s doing his best to adjust to that role.
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