Most likely, the highest paid player on an NBA team has a well-defined role. He is the leader of the team, the No. 1 option on offense, and the guy who has the basketball in his hands in the final minutes of a game.
None of those things apply to New York Knicks‘ forward Amar’e Stoudemire.
Due to factors largely out of his hands such as ravaging knee injuries and the acquisitions of Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks’ $100 million man’s role with the team has been in flux for most of his tenure in New York.
This year will be even more chaotic than ever. Stoudemire will be on a minutes limit to protect his knees. He likely will play no more than 20 minutes a night. As a result of that, the acquisitions of Metta World Peace and Andrea Bargnani, and the re-signing of Kenyon Martin, it’s unclear at this point how the Knicks’ coaching staff will use Stoudemire.
There are three roles that he could potentially fill this season: starter, key bench player, or bench warmer.
Stoudemire last started on a consistent basis in his first year with the Knicks in 2011-12. If they insert him into the starting lineup this season, they’d have to find a way to make the Anthony-Stoudemire pairing work for extended minutes. Both players have shown that they can work well together for short stretches despite the continuous doubt that pundits cast on them as an on-court pair. They did so last year when Stoudemire was coming off the bench. When Anthony had the ball in his hands, he was adept at finding Stoudemire cutting through holes in the opponent’s front line.
However, another issue with starting Stoudemire other than fighting for shots with Anthony is that it robs him of the opportunity to run the pick-and-roll.
Chandler is the primary screener in the pick-and-roll. It’s difficult to use Stoudemire as the screener on the pick-and-roll when Chandler is on the floor because Chandler is not a threat at all from the perimeter. His defender can then sag toward the rim and help take away easy scoring opportunities for Stoudemire rolling to the rim.
Stoudemire played very well as a reserve last season before his second knee injury. He thrived in the post against the opponent’s second unit, taking advantage of matchups against weaker and slower post defenders. Stoudemire actually put together some of his most efficient games in that role, scoring 14.3 points per game on 57 percent shooting in 29 games before he got hurt. Per 36 minutes, that translates to 21.8 points per game, very good numbers for a reserve. If he can find that form again this season, Stoudemire will be am offensive weapon for the Knicks.
It would also allow him to stay on the floor for longer stretches. If head coach Mike Woodson starts Stoudemire, he’d have to pull him quickly to keep him eligible to play key minutes in the second half.
Of course, Woodson has to take Stoudemire’s weak defensive ability into account. Defending the opponent’s second unit big man could potentially hide his defensive lapses.
Finding minutes off the bench for Stoudmire could be a challenge for Woodson and his staff. With Bargnani, World Peace, and Martin in the fold, there is a bit of a logjam at the forward position.
If Woodson elects to start a two-point guard lineup with Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni in the backcourt, which worked out handsomely last season, that would leave Stoudemire, World Peace, Bargnani and Martin on the bench. Logically, you’d have to think one player out of those four would have be left out of the regular rotation. One factor to consider is that pairing Bargnani and Stoudemire on the floor together would leave the Knicks’ frontcourt depleted on defense.
It most likely won’t happen but Woodson could look at Martin, World Peace, and Bargnani and decide that there aren’t enough minutes for Stoudemire.
Stoudemire is far from the man he was when he declared two years ago that the Knicks were back and when he was the heart and soul of the team. It will certainly be interesting to see what lies in store for him this season.