by Leo Sepkowitz / @LeoSepkowitz
Who is Amar’e Stoudemire? Is he STAT—Standing Tall And Talented—like he claims to be? DRAT—Declining Rapidly And Talented? RBMAT—Ruined By Melo And Talented? Apple’s newest product, the iPAT—Injury Prone And Talented? Or is he just the 18 and 8 productive big man that his stats suggest?
It’s fair to wonder whether, if Stoudemire didn’t play under the bright lights of New York, we’d be so worried about No. 1. But he’s a Knick, and, more importantly, he’s Amar’e Stoudemire.
Amar’e Stoudemire won the ROY award a year after graduating from high school. Amar’e Stoudemire flies through the lane, latches onto a bounce pass and throws it down so hard you think the backboard might come down. Amar’e Stoudemire pulled a young yet down-and-out Knicks team out of the slums and into contention.
And yet his numbers from last season would have him slightly below the likes of David Lee and Carlos Boozer. It seems like there are three factors in play when asking why, exactly, Stoudemire doesn’t look like the player once thought of as a dominant big man.
First, he’s banged up… constantly. In a season shortened by 16 games because of the lockout, Stoudemire missed roughly a third of the Knicks games. The main problem is his back, which nagged him all season and may impact him this season, too. Back issues seemed to take away much of his aggressiveness on offense, as he turned into more of a face-up shooter than post scorer last season. He’s also playing on a surgically repaired left knee.
Second is his ability to play alongside Tyson Chandler. Yes, Chandler. Most people pin Amar’e’s lack of touches and buckets on Carmelo Anthony, but I’ll get to him later. In 44 games at power forward last season, Stoudemire averaged 17 and 8 while shooting 47 percent from the floor. In three starts at center, he averaged 23.3 points on 67.4 percent shooting to go along with 8.3 boards. A small sample size at the five, yes, but numbers don’t lie.
There’s no question that Chandler helps Stoudemire on the defensive end, but they haven’t meshed offensively. Chandler takes up space in the lane and gets plenty of touches under the hoop, making it tougher for STAT to operate down there. That was good for the Knicks but bad for Stoudemire himself. New York’s two post presences must develop better chemistry this season.
More importantly, of course, is Stoudemire’s inability to co-exist with Carmelo Anthony. Some stats would show that they do, in fact, fit together just fine. For instance, last season, in nine games in which Anthony dropped 30-plus and Stoudemire played, Amar’e averaged 18.5 points—not bad.
But actually watching games tells a different story. The two have an incredible lack of chemistry on the floor, and when one gets hot the other disappears. The Knicks have not figured out a way to involve both guys in the same game at the same time, and until they do that, they can’t be considered a real threat in the East.
Don’t believe me? Look at what they did in the Playoffs against the Heat. In Game 1, the two combined to go 5-22 from the floor for 20 points. They lost by 33. In Game 2, Melo got it going with 30 points and Stoudemire added 18 on 6-9 shooting. The Knicks played a close game throughout and pulled within four in the third quarter in Miami, but ultimately lost by 10. Stoudemire didn’t play in Game 3 after injuring his hand punching a fire extinguisher, and Melo scored just 22. Miami won by 17. In Game 4, Amar’e returned to score 20 points, going 8-13 from the field. Melo went for 41 and the Knicks won their first Playoff game since 2001. In Game 5, Melo dropped 35 but Amar’e put up only 14 points before fouling out, and the Knicks lost.
Carmelo Anthony can revive Amar’e’s career or sink it. When the two are clicking simultaneously, the Knicks are very tough to beat and there’s less pressure on both of them, allowing both to play even better. And it’s reasonable to think that they’ll figure it out. Amar’e still has a lot left in the tank, there’s no question about that. He didn’t average fewer than 17 points or 6 boards in any month last season despite ongoing injury and chemistry issues. Plus, STAT has been working with Hakeem Olajuwon this offseason and says that the upcoming season will be the dawn of a “new era” for him. Let’s hope so.
|SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012|
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.