Close your eyes and imagine a world where Amare Stoudemire plays both ends.
I can see it now: STAT getting in a defensive stance, slapping the floor, and goin’ KG on us. Blocking a shot off the backboard, starting the break, and running the wing. Catching a pass from Little Stevie, throwing it down, and sprinting back on defense, ready to do it again.
Myth: Amare Stoudemire is a poor defensive player.
Truth: No, it’s worse than that. He’s just plain bad. Not since Charles Barkley has there been a superstar with a bigger chasm between levels of effort on the offensive and defensive ends than Stoudemire’s. And that’s the issue with STAT: Effort. In a nutshell, at that end of the floor he’s Hakeem Olajuwon (capabilities-wise) from the shoulders down and Vince Carter (desire-wise) from the neck up.
When you consider the list of guys that had their career-highs on him (Andrew Bynum and Chris Bosh), their season-highs at his expense (Jermaine O’Neal and Andrew Bogut), those who went for 30-plus (KG, TD, Yao, and LaMarcus Aldridge), and those who did it twice (Dwight Howard and Al Jefferson), then it turns your stomach. Oh, and did I mention that was only counting last season?
Perhaps most bizarre of all, Stoudemire finished sixth in the league in blocks. Ahead of Duncan. Ahead of Emeka Okafor. Ahead of 98.8% of the league. And while that fact defies logic, we know for sure he’s at least putting out for two defensive possessions per game. It’s the other 95 we’re unsure about.
But here’s the thing: Amare’s gone from playing for a coach whose defensive scheming involved taking the ball out of the net (and we loved him for it!), to a coach who expects to implement something that resembles a defensive strategy. In reality, we haven’t seen a seasoned Stoudemire under a moderate defensive-minded regime. His legacy is at stake should he not change his defensive habits. And fast.
Myth: A power forward or center cannot lead the NBA in scoring.
Truth: You can blame the guard-driven rules of today for the fact that there’s hardly a power forward or center amongst the scoring leaders year after year. But how does that explain the fact that on just three occasions since 1976 a center has led the league in scoring? Or the fact that not one power forward has done it in that time? Look it up. Every other year it’s been small forwards, two-guards, or Iverson’s.
Is anyone going to break this drought? Can a big lead the league in scoring? There aren’t too many capable, to be honest. Yao doesn’t have the aggressive mentality to stick his guy for 30 every night. Ditto for Howard, whose offensive game isn’t mature enough – what exactly is his go-to move again? Just five power forwards led their teams in scoring last year, hardly an overwhelming number.
But there is hope: Amare Stoudemire.
Things in his favor: 1) His point guard: Steve Nash (elaboration not needed); 2) His diversity: Amare’s practically unguardable when you consider his combination of shooting touch, mid-range game, and strength in the paint (he’s a 3-point shot away from being a cross between Bob McAdoo and a pre-’90 Olajuwon as far as raw offensive skills); 3) His hands: They’re the best in basketball – not enough credit is given to Stoudemire for the degree of difficulty of the catches he makes which lead to scores; 4) His mentality: Confidence isn’t a problem for Stoudemire. Besides, all great scorers need to be overconfident, to carry this a-bad-shot-is-one-not-taken mentality. Stoudemire has that mentality.
Mark it down: Stoudemire will get a scoring title before he’s done.
Myth: Microfracture knee surgery ends basketball careers.
Truth: For mere mortals like Penny, Allan Houston, Jamal Mashburn and practically every other player who’s had the “M word” done, it does end careers. Not Stoudemire’s. In the two full seasons since his world resumed, Amare has put up 20-10 with a First-Team All-NBA selection in 2007, and a 25-9-2 season in 2008. Of course, his age, body type, and general freakish nature all contributed to his successful return, but there isn’t a person alive who watches him today and sees a man two years removed from a career-threatening injury.
The best part of all this is that the explosiveness – without question the best part of The Amare Package – is almost fully replenished. History has showed us that even the biggest hoop studs (Elgin Baylor, Bob Lanier, and Bernard King, to name but a few) can have their primes ruined by knee injuries. Just be thankful we get to see Amare’s.
Myth: Dwight Howard is, without question, the best 25-or-under big man in the league.
Truth: I understand Howard is the heir to the Next Dominant Big Man throne. That is duly noted. But it certainly isn’t guaranteed. Stoudemire could be. Why? Because he’s “this close” to figuring it all out.
Yes, STAT deserves criticism for his D (see above), for his World B. Free-like theorizing (“My guy may have got 30, but I got 35”), and for his occasional ego-driven rants (for further reference read Jack McCallum’s Seven Seconds or Less). But does he actually realize how close he is to being the most dominant big in basketball?
Stoudemire’s offensive game, at his position, is without peer. It’s not even close. There isn’t another player with his combination of height, length, athleticism, range, and power. He amps his game up for the playoffs, and unlike the grating tendency of Howard the past two seasons, Stoudemire’s production goes up after January 1st. What Amare did after the Marion trade (29-9-2 blks on 59% FG) can become an 82-game killing spree, year after year.
What holds Stoudemire back is the things Howard is best at: rebounding, defense, and interior presence. And therein lies the difference. If Stoudemire even slightly increased his effort in those areas, the whole thing would be shaken up. Why do we have to “imagine” Amare playing D? We shouldn’t have to.
You could say that this year is big for STAT. He’s playing under Porter now; D’Antoni can no longer be blamed for hiding the defender within. It’s on Amare now. He’s either going to choose a path of all-out on both ends – like Duncan and KG – or keep giving up points, not boxing out, and watching guys haul defensive boards over his back. Then, and only then, will he stand above Howard (or above anyone else for that matter) as the best big in the game.