Amar'e Stoudemire is inching his way back to a return to the floor and could be back as soon as this weekend.
When he does come back, the red-hot 18-6 New York Knicks will have a big question: to start Amar'e or keep him on the bench.
For his part, STAT is willing to do anything. As he told Fred Kerber of the New York Post:
“I’m totally open to it,” he said. “I’ve been here for three years now. You should know how much of a team player I am. In Phoenix … it was a team-oriented game and the same applies here in New York."
He's saying the right things, but surely, deep down, he wants to start. You can't blame him. He's due $65 million over the next three years and wants to earn his keep.
But what's the right basketball decision for the Knicks? The answer is pretty clear.
With Stoudemire injured, the Knicks have gotten off to a historic start. The driving force behind it is Carmelo Anthony, who is having a MVP-type season. Melo is averaging nearly 28 points per game and is shooting an unfathomable 45 percent from three-point land.
He's doing it while playing the power forward position, which also happens to be Stoudemire's spot. Melo is generally facing less athletic forwards than he would at the 3, and has an easier time on the perimeter against guys who are used to banging in the post.
This spreads the offense and is a main reason why the Knicks are shooting 40 percent from distance. The Knicks are a stellar passing team, and use good ball movement to find the best shot available.
While STAT has plenty of talent, he is not a perimeter player. He does his best work on the pick-and-roll. The pick-and-roll is great, but it will take away attention from shooting the three, which has been the Knicks' bread-and-butter.
Additionally, with STAT being most comfortable from the free-throw line in, the lane will be more clogged for dribble-drive penetration. Less open shots will happen, and Melo especially will suffer as a result.
STAT, in fact, would be a big boost off the bench. One of the Knicks' weaknesses has been a lack of frontcourt depth and a general rebounding deficiency. STAT, who can play power forward and center, would provide needed versatility while also helping out in the rebounding department.
In addition, Stoudemire could form a nice pick-and-roll tandem with J.R. Smith, the team's sixth man. When Melo is not on the floor, the Knicks could switch it up a bit, which would keep defenses on their heels.
Stoudemire coming off the bench brings a top player going up against second units, a recipe for big numbers for STAT.
The Knicks need more big men, and getting STAT back is going to help a lot. But simply inserting him back into the starting lineup and ignoring the basketball implications would be foolish. Having Stoudemire come off the bench is the best decision for the team and will help them down the stretch.