It was the best of STAT, it was the worst of STAT. Last season was truly a tale of two Amar'es. The Amar'e Stoudemire of November slumped off the bench, shooting free throws about as well as a fourth-grader. The Amar'e Stoudemire of March and April sparkled as a starter in the end-of-season winning streak, shooting 57.5 percent from the field.
How will he contribute to the Knicks in 2014-15? That rather depends upon which Amar'e shows up to training camp.
He might still be best used as a trade asset. Stoudemire is entering the last year of his contract. Depending upon his performance this fall, Phil Jackson and Co. may either pay him the last $23.4 million he's owed or trade him to the Philadelphia 76ers midseason.
How could Amar'e contribute—considering his end-of-season play, the style of the new offense and the relative health of his fellow center-forwards?
He could be starting center.
|Amar'e Stoudemire Per-Game Stats, 2013-14|
|November 2013, off bench||14.9||5.0||42.6||36.4||0.1||3.1||1.0||-7.6|
|March-April 2014, as starter||28.1||15.7||57.5||81.9||0.8||6.0||1.2||+3.0|
But He's Injury-Prone!
Yes, yes, we all know that Stoudemire's body is like a retired minefield. It looks great, but something terrible might still lurk just beneath the surface. Yet there are two reasons not to let fear of exploding patellas keep Stoudemire out of the starting lineup.
For one, take a look at the two other center-forwards on the roster. There's newly acquired free agent Jason Smith, who hasn't played since he got a season-ending injury in January, and Andrea Bargnani...who hasn't played since he got a season-ending injury in January. And neither of them wrote a cookbook about nutrition for athletes.
If one's going to fret over busted bodies in the frontcourt, STAT's health might not be the one to worry about.
Besides, treat Amar'e like he's broken, and he'll play like he is. Treat him like an NBA starter, and he'll play like one. Although he was frequently rested and held to minutes restrictions, he played better with no rest than on one day of rest and with more minutes instead of fewer. The stats show it. His words corroborate.
"Once I got into the starting lineup, then my leadership qualities [resurfaced]," Stoudemire told reporters in April, per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com. "So next year, we should be focused a little bit more and it'll be a much better year."
What About Dalembert?
For argument's sake, let's assume that the Stoudemire who shows up to training camp is sound of mind and body.
New head coach Derek Fisher might decide to put Stoudemire in the same place he was at the March/April winning streak: starting at power forward, with J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony, a point guard and a true center with a defensive mindset.
(Of course, Fish might want to differentiate himself from last year's coach by making his starters a combination of offseason acquisitions and Knicks City Kids.)
If Fisher wants to recreate the one lineup that worked in 2013-14, the best 5 to Amar'e's 4 would be Samuel Dalembert—a great blocker, but not much of a scoring threat.
Yet, that might not be the right type of center for the triangle offense.
Stretching the Floor
The triangle is built to create shot opportunities all over the floor. So having a center who could not only get open for those shots but also make those shots would stretch the floor, keep the offense moving and keep the defense flustered.
Dalembert averaged only 5 points per game last season, 89 percent of which came in the paint. He's not the guy to stretch the floor. What other options does New York have at the 5?
There's Cole Aldrich, the team's only other "true center," yet Aldrich can't stretch the floor either. Only two of his 61 shot attempts last season were outside the paint. (He made one of them.)
That leaves the center-forwards: Jason Smith, Bargnani and Stoudemire himself.
Bargnani is the stretchiest because he has what Smith and STAT don't: a three-point shot. Granted, it's a three that runs hot and cold, and he only averaged 27.4 percent from behind the arc last season, but neither Smith nor Stoudemire have sunk a trey in over two years. Bargs' shot selection breaks down to roughly 40 percent in the paint, 40 percent mid-range, 20 percent behind the arc.
So all three center-forwards could stretch the floor more than Dalembert or Aldrich, but only Stoudemire is a real threat at the rim.
Therefore, if paired with Bargnani or Smith, Amar'e is the better choice to play the 5 spot. Not only can he be a threat in the mid-range, he can power his way to the bucket and own the rim.
If All Else Fails
Amar'e could also contribute to the Knicks by being traded—possibly to Philadelphia for young prospects. The Sixers are the likely candidate because while most teams wouldn't accept an uninsured contract like Stoudemire's, the contract is expiring and the Sixers have to reach the minimum salary cap. Yet, surely Amar'e's strict diet does not allow for Philly cheesesteaks.
Besides, there are reasons to think that he could contribute greatly to New York while he is still in New York. By spending more time at the 5 spot, using his mid-range jumper to stretch the floor and outmuscling defenders in the paint, he can fortify the triangle.
One hopes Amar'e will also work on his defense, though he would probably be shunted out of a defense-first starting lineup by Dalembert, anyway.
At the very least, if he continues his careful devotion to training and nutrition and the upbeat attitude that won New Yorkers' hearts, Amar'e Stoudemire can lead the team in spirit, if not on the stat sheets.
Follow Sara Peters on Twitter @3fromthe7.
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