The New York Knicks must inject more Amar'e Stoudemire into their diet. Like right now.
This is not to say that Amar'e should immediately be inserted into the starting lineup. Numerical evidence actually suggests he's most dangerous when coming off the bench. Those numbers also suggest he needs more playing time.
And per Jared Zwerling of ESPNNewYork.com, Stoudemire is ready for more minutes, too:
Amar'e Stoudemire has accepted his role off the bench since returning from knee surgery, not complaining about the 30-minute restriction on his playing time.
But according to a source close to the Knicks, Stoudemire is "ready" and "healthy" to play more minutes to help the team.
"He's in tip-top shape," the source told ESPNNewYork.com. "He wants to play; whatever it takes for [the Knicks] to win."
Quite fittingly, what it's going to take for the "Knicks to win" is more of Stoudemire. Partly because Carmelo Anthony is battered beyond comprehension, but mostly because Melo or no Melo, New York needs him.
Before our ode to STAT and all his Hakeem Olajuwon-esque glory (yeah, I went there) continues, we must first understand we can't ignore that 30-minute restriction the Knicks have imposed. A few minutes more on occasion (like those no-Melo occasions) is fine, but neither the team nor Stoudemire should want to compromise the strength of his knees.
Misusing him, however, shouldn't be an option either, which is exactly what head coach Mike Woodson has been doing. Being wary of his minutes is acceptable and even encouraged, but mitigating his potential on the court is inexcusable.
Over the last 10 games, Stoudemire has played more than 25 minutes just three times, and he's logged fewer than 22 six times. During that stretch the Knicks are an unimpressive 5-5.
Had New York remained even a semblance of the dominant force we saw upon the season's inception, STAT's limited use would be easy to overlook. Playing .500 basketball isn't dominance. It's barely mediocre. And it's definitely unnerving.
These aren't blowouts in which Stoudemire is being saved for a later date. He played fewer than 20 minutes against the Golden State Warriors, a game that essentially came down to the final buzzer. It was also a game that saw Amar'e absent down the stretch, despite scoring 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the floor.
All of the same can be said for New York's gut-wrenching loss to the Miami Heat. The Knicks fell apart in the final minutes and let a 16-point lead slip away.
Where was Stoudemire? On the bench. Again.
Not because he had exceeded or even come close to eclipsing his 30-minute cap either. He totaled just over 21 minutes, shooting 5-of-7 from the field. Which landed him on the bench. Crazy, right? With Anthony being double-teamed to no end, the Knicks' second-best scorer and six-time All-Star was riding the pine like he was some kind of liability.
That's exactly how Woodson has been treating Stoudemire (for the most part), like a liability. Someone who impedes New York's ability to win.
Meanwhile, the facts tell us otherwise.
Though it has taken almost 30 games, the Knicks are finally scoring more points when Amar'e is on the floor. Surprising as it may seem, it really shouldn't. He's still one of the best scorers (have you seen his footwork?) in the game.
Stoudemire's 13.9 points a night hardly do said assertion justice, but bear in mind that total comes in just 23 minutes of burn. He's the only player in the NBA to be averaging at least 13 points while playing fewer than 25 minutes.
Got a hankering for even more perspective? Then get the fancy China out of the cabinet, because we're about to feast on a five-star helping of enlightenment.
Amar'e is one of six players presently averaging 13 or more points while shooting 55 percent or better. The others include Dwight Howard, Al Horford, Serge Ibaka, J.J Hickson and (you guessed it) LeBron James. He's also (once again) the only player in the league to be scoring at least 13 points per bout, but attempting fewer than nine shots per game.
Extrapolate Stoudemire's current numbers and the results are even more impressive. His average of 21.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per 36 minutes makes him one of just four players presently posting at least 21 points and seven rebounds within said time constraints.
The other three? LeBron, Kevin Durant and Brook Lopez. Wow.
Still, there has to be some sort of reasoning behind Woodson's decision to diminish STAT's usage. He's infamous for his matador defense. Maybe that's it.
Except it's not.
No one (including an oft-contrarian like myself) could sit down with a straight face and praise Stoudemire's defensive savvy. Doing so would be the equivalent of wearing socks with sandals or a white shirt to a spaghetti and meatball potluck. You just don't do it.
What we also can't do, though, is recognize that Stoudemire has made some improvements. Spotty enhancements, yes, but tactical advancements all the same.
Naked eyes will see that his rotations have gotten better. Not perfect, but better. He's also not as prone to suffocating bigs on the perimeter to the point where he allows them to dribble around him. He's instead allotted them space, either forcing them to pass or goading them into shooting outside of their comfort zone.
New York's defensively challenged forward is also holding opposing centers and power forwards to a combined average PER of 14.1. All-Defensive team worthy? Of course not, but such marks are below the league average of 15.
In the interest of full disclosure, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required) Stoudemire is allowing one point per possession. The Sacramento Kings, who rank last in defensive efficiency, only relinquish 0.93 as a team.
Concerning as that is, I hope you left enough room for a fresh batch of even more context.
We can't define Stoudemire, we can't berate him for his defense (much). They key is how his offense stacks up against his defense; how he is able to offset his deficiencies.
To do that, I point you to fellow versatile forward and perennial All-Star Tim Duncan. We wouldn't dare downplay his importance to the San Antonio Spurs, and we shouldn't. Just as we (and Woodson) can't do that to Stoudemire.
Duncan is allowing 0.91 points per possession on defense, exceedingly better than STAT's one. On offense, he's averaging 0.95 points per possession, a difference of plus-0.4. That's significant, namely because he's such a vital cog in Gregg Popovich's well-oiled machine.
By comparison, Stoudemire is posting 1.11 points per possession on offense. Not only does that rank 16th in the entire league, but it's a difference of plus-0.11, almost triple that of Duncan's.
This doesn't mean Coach Pop should play Duncan less. It's meant for us to gain an understanding of both how important Amar'e is and how effective he can be for the Knicks.
Knowing this, there isn't any justifiable reason for Woodson to be burying Stoudemire in his rotation. The liability prophecy has been disproved, leaving Woody with what? Rotational separation?
Ah yes, the adage that hypothesizes Stoudemire cannot be productive alongside Tyson Chandler or Melo. Or, as I should say, the aphorism that has been completely and utterly bankrupted.
Of the 10-most used two-man combinations that include Amar'e, a duo of he and Chandler ranks first. New York is outscoring opponents by 15 points per possession when those two are on the floor.
Alongside both Chandler and Anthony, that number actually increases. The Knicks' best three-man outfit (that includes Stoudemire) consists of these three. When these three are playing together, New York is outscoring the opposition by an average of 16.4 points per 100 possessions.
So, what's for Woodson to cite?
Nothing. And he knows it. He already admitted as much (Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork):
Stoudemire sat for the final 7:56 of the Knicks’ loss to the Heat. New York missed 8 of 12 shots with Stoudemire on the bench.
Woodson on Tuesday admitted that Stoudemire should have been on the floor down the stretch against the Heat.
“Bad coaching. You can blame that on coach,” he said on “The Stephen A. Smith & Ryan Ruocco Show.”
Perhaps we can give Woodson a pass, for now. Pressures of coaching in New York are impossible to navigate infallibly. He's expressed remorse and indicated he's aware of the situation, so it's time to move on.
But we can only move on knowing that we're going to see more of Stoudemire. One 30-plus minute performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers isn't going to be enough.
Not when the Knicks are 2-1 when Stoudemire plays at least 28 minutes. Not when they're 2-3 when he sees fewer than 20 minutes of action. Not when they're 8-3 when he scores at least 15 points.
And most certainly not when New York's livelihood depends on it.
“Hey, you live and you learn,” Woodson said (via Begley). “I learned from it.”
Let's just hope Woodson has indeed "learned" from it, and he knows more Amar'e is a necessity.
Because the Knicks need more Amar'e, STAT.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com unless otherwise noted, and are accurate as of March 5, 2013.