Amar’e Stoudemire’s first appearance this season will be off the bench, and if the New York Knicks keep winning, hopefully it will stay that way.
Already, Stoudemire’s return has been pushed back several times. The latest delay came this past Sunday, a day Amar’e was supposed to play. Christmas against the Los Angeles Lakers is out now and the rest of the Knicks’ West Coast swing is a no go, so no Phoenix Suns or Sacramento Kings, either.
The earliest the injury-riddled power forward will return is after the New Year, maybe against the Portland Trail Blazers on the first or the San Antonio Spurs two days later. The Daily News explained the delay and other durability concerns:
Stoudemire, according to sources, is eager to return to action but admits that his knee is taking longer than usual to get loose. The grind of an NBA schedule is a concern for the Knicks and it remains to be seen if Stoudemire can be effective playing on consecutive nights, or when the Knicks play three games in four nights.
The fact is, even when Stoudemire is ready to take the court, he’s still not going to be healthy for a start. And it looks like there might be some limited playing minutes for him going forward in an effort to preserve him for the duration.
The best way to assimilate Stoudemire back into the Knicks’ lineup, and keep him playable for the remainder of the season, is to have him come off the bench.
With the Knicks maintaining the pace in the East still, New York does not need Stoudemire in for 30-plus minutes. Too many minutes too soon will surely muck up the Knicks' current Carmelo Anthony- and Mike Woodson-concocted chemistry.
Inserting Stoudemire directly into the starting lineup would also not solve one of the Knicks’ more pressing problems. Right now, this team needs bench help and Amar’e is perfect for the role.
According to nba.com’s Adam Zagoria, Wallace has suffered a “stress reaction” in his left foot and will be “out [a] minimum three weeks.”
To begin, the Knicks need Stoudemire to fill these gaps. He can play upward of 25 minutes a game resting Anthony at the four and Chandler at center.
This is a better strategy than moving Anthony back to small forward, where he has been relatively less effective, and jamming the Knicks' Big Three on the court at the same time, a scenario that hasn’t worked well for New York yet.
Anthony has also been battling some nagging wounds. A sprained ankle and finger laceration have kept him out five games recently. He leads the team in minutes played, too, at 35.7. Stoudemire coming off the bench for Anthony will preserve both players in the long run—necessary for any real shot at coming out of the East.
But more than just filling in where the Knicks need him most and preserving Anthony and Chandler, Stoudemire off the bench works strategically—it makes the Knicks a better team.
Stoudemire coming in for Chandler while Anthony is on the court essentially creates the same effective small team the Knicks are fielding now, except perhaps one that is more potent on the offensive end.
With Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd directing traffic and Stoudemire posting up or down low out of Anthony’s way at the point, outside or in the lane, the two superstars should finally be court-compatible.
To be sure, there are times when it might be nice to have Stoudemire on the court for longer time, necessitating a start alongside Anthony and Chandler. Small ball was not very effective against the Memphis Grizzlies, for instance, who tossed the Knicks around.
Like any other bench player Stoudemire can occasionally get the spot start. There will be injuries to Anthony and Chandler as the season wears on, too. What team wouldn’t want a backup-starter like Amar’e Stoudemire?
But it’s already been proven the Knicks can win—and so far play better—when Stoudemire is not in the starting lineup. It only makes sense to beef up the bench with a player who likely could wind up being the best sixth man in the league.
Now all that’s left is to see is if it (finally) works on the court.
All stats in this article are accurate as of Dec. 23, 2012