The New York Knicks are off to a 3-0 start and fans, myself included, could not be happier with how the team has performed thus far. The Knicks have played lockdown defense, passed the ball exceptionally well at the offensive end of the floor, and Carmelo Anthony has played like the superstar he was brought in to be.
All of this success has come without Amar'e Stoudemire who many believe despite his All-Star resume is detrimental to the team’s success going forward. All week experts and fans have joined the bandwagon, claiming that Stoudemire cannot effectively play alongside Carmelo Anthony and will only hinder the team upon his return.
NBA.com writer John Schuhmann added to this sentiment earlier in the week when he ranked the Knicks No. 2 in his power rankings but commented, “it’s still painfully obvious that Anthony and his team are better without Stoudemire.”
I, however, could not disagree more with this argument.
Even though a starting frontcourt of Tyson Chandler, Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony has to this point proven to be overcrowded and lacking continuity, the Knicks are going to need Stoudemire’s ability to create his own shot if they want to advance deep into the Eastern Conference Playoffs and have a possible shot at the title.
The way the Knicks are currently constructed they only have three-and-a-half players on the team that can create scoring opportunities: Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Amar'e Stoudemire and, at times, Raymond Felton. So far this season Anthony and Smith have played so exceptionally well that a plethora of scoring opportunities have opened up along the perimeter for players like Steve Novak, Jason Kidd, Ronnie Brewer and Pablo Prigioni.
While this has worked great for the first three games of the season, what is going to happen on nights when Anthony and Smith go cold from the floor?
Just think back to Game 3 of the first-round series with the Miami Heat last May. Anthony shot 7-23 from the floor, Smith was 5-18 and Novak could not get his shot off. The Knicks lost by 12 in a game that was never really even close. Without Stoudemire, the Knicks could not generate any semblance of a dynamic offense once Anthony and Smith started to struggle.
The Knicks might be a significantly different team than the one that was blown out by the Heat last season but none of the new additions except for Felton (at times) presents any type of scoring threat by himself.
Also, when one evaluates the Knicks' season up to this point, he must take into consideration whom they have played. The Miami Heat and the Philadelphia Sixers without Andrew Bynum lack the size up front to take advantage of Anthony defensively at the power forward position.
Anthony might not be a weak defender down low, but he often relies on an over-aggressive style of post defense that might land him in foul trouble against teams with more skilled big men.
If Anthony were ever to get into early foul trouble without Stoudemire available to pick up the offensive slack the Knicks could face serious problems putting points up on the scoreboard. This could become a major issue if the Knicks happen to match up with the Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics or Los Angeles Lakers in the postseason.
Although I do believe the Knicks will need Amar'e Stoudemire to accomplish their goals this season, I also believe that he needs to be used in a tactical way that builds off the many positives that have contributed to the Knicks' success this season.
The Knicks offense in the first three games has been most effective when Anthony gets the ball on the elbow or block with the lane open for penetration and the arc surrounded by perimeter players ready to take advantage of a possible rotation by the defense.
The problem last season was when Chandler, Stoudemire and Anthony all played together, this lane often became clogged, limiting Anthony’s drives and allowing the defense to not have to rotate as far to account for Anthony beating his defender.
The Knicks can cure themselves of this issue if they use Stoudemire in a similar fashion to how the Oklahoma City Thunder used James Harden last year. While James Harden’s style of play did not directly complement Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, head coach Scott Brooks was still able to use him in an effective way to help the team excel.
Like James Harden did for Kevin Durant, Stoudemire would be asked to carry the team while Anthony is struggling or resting. Also, Stoudemire adds another dimension to the Knicks' offensive attack when situations arise that allow him to play the center position alongside Anthony at the power forward. Imagine the Knicks running the offense they currently run but instead of having the offensively inept Chandler on the floor you have the added weapon of Stoudemire.
The big question mark that arises with this scenario is if Stoudemire will be willing to accept this secondary role. Stoudemire is only 29 and may feel that he still is the max contract player the Knicks signed him to be. Dealing with all the knee injuries he has however, Stoudemire should be content with this role—at least for this season—as long as the team keeps winning.
What might make this transition easier is I do not believe it is imperative for head coach Mike Woodson to bring Stoudemire off the bench. Starting lineups in the NBA are often overrated, as what really matters is who is playing at the end of the game. Woodson could start Stoudemire, let the game play out with the strategy above and then decide on a situational basis who the best five for that specific night are.
By starting Stoudemire it also allows the team to keep experimenting with a Chandler, Stoudemire, Anthony frontcourt lineup at least for a few minutes each game and see if there are still possibilities for success, especially with Stoudemire’s continued improvement from the perimeter.
If the Knicks plan on reaching their full potential, they are going to need Stoudemire to be a part of their rotation once he returns. The importance of having that extra offensive force might not be evident on a nightly basis, but come springtime it may just be the difference between a trip to the NBA Finals or another early exit.