The New York Knicks are the best team in basketball.
There I said it.
Mike Woodson has them playing the best basketball this city has seen in over a decade. Every player he has put on the court has checked their ego at the door and is playing for the name on the front of their jersey; not the back. From Carmelo Anthony to Pablo Prigioni, every man on the roster is giving Knicks fans a reason to be proud and cheer.
Not every player on this Knicks team has suited up yet though.
The big elephant in the room is the question everyone is asking; will the Knicks continue this success when Amar’e Stoudemire comes back?
Woodson has a big task on his hands that can either keep this train rolling with full steam or put the brakes on. He will have to decide whether to start Stoudemire or play him off his already deep bench. How many minutes will he play? Who is going to be the odd man out of the rotation? This would be easier to do if the Knicks were struggling and off to a rough start but they are playing the best basketball in the NBA with a 19-6 record.
So how should Woodson handle the return of Stoudemire?
First of all, Amar’e is not just an ordinary player coming off an injury. Before Carmelo came, Amar’e was the king of New York basketball. He was the first player to say, “Yes I want to be a New York Knick.” Amar’e is also getting paid close to $20 million this season so you don’t sit him on the bench. The Knicks offense has played very unselfish and smoothly this season. Jason Kidd looks like the glue to all this and has been a great leader and teammate the Knicks brought him into be. People will be questioning Stoudemire’s commitment to this new team-first motto but I don’t see that being a problem.
Amar’e should realize this team is built to win right now. They have been playing fantastic in his absence. Carmelo is the front-runner for MVP so far and owns the spotlight. Tyson Chandler is making the case for the title as the NBA’s best center and is the heart and soul of this Knicks team. With Melo and Tyson playing at an All-Pro level, Stoudemire has to know his role. These three on paper are the best frontcourt in the NBA. Amar’e worked with Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon to improve his post-game. Amar’e was all in for this season. He now needs to blend in with his teammates and be the leader he came to New York to be, and I don’t think he will have a problem doing that.
Woodson now has to decide how he will inset STAT in his rotation. Chandler will obviously not see his minutes decline but other big men will. Veterans Kurt Thomas and Rasheed Wallace will likely get the short end of the stick when STAT returns. I can see Woodson rarely using Thomas once and using Rasheed sporadically off the bench. It will be very interesting to see what Woodson does when Marcus Camby is good to go. Woodson has great depth with his big men but can’t play everyone the minutes they hope to.
The Knicks forwards and big men have seen a lot of court action. Woodson has plenty to choose from: Chandler, Anthony, Ronnie Brewer, Steve Novak, Wallace, Chris Copeland, and Thomas.
Novak is one of the best three point shooters in the league and it would make no sense to not see him on the court when STAT comes back. Brewer has been a good role player and does the little things as the Knicks starter and can defiantly see his minutes being cut but I expect him to see the court less when Iman Shumpert comes back hopefully next month.
Copeland has seen his minutes increase and showed he can score without a problem when he scored 29 points with Carmelo out with an injury, but he is still a rookie and will have to take a step back in Amar’e’s return. I also expect Thomas to see the bench a lot more and Wallace being used in different spots when Stoudemire is back.
The last big question Woodson has to figure out the answer to is if he wants to start Stoudemire or use him off the bench. The Knicks starting lineup has mostly been Raymond Felton, Kidd, Brewer, Anthony, and Chandler.
Brewer is likely the odd man out if Woodson chooses to start Stoudemire but this would have to move Carmelo back to the small forward spot. Carmelo has been the definition of dominant while playing the 4 and this should be Woodson’s main reason not to start Stoudemire. Amar’e would be playing mostly in the post and sometimes stretching out to hit the mid-range shot. This might clog up the court for Carmelo to do what he does best – play bully basketball.
Amar’e obviously has the talent to start but he might be used better off the bench. Added to Sixth Man of the Year candidate J.R. Smith, the two of them the Knicks instant offense and be lethal off the bench together.
Woodson would have a great second unit with Prigioni, Smith, Novak, Stoudemire and Wallace. Stoudemire can be the leader of this unit but of course still play with the starting unit and probably be in at the end of the game. Stoudemire has openly said he will come off the bench if that is what is asked of him, which is already a great sign that Stoudemire is all-in.
Woodson has done a great job and is in the running for Coach of the Year. He will have a big coaching decision coming up and has to decide what he will do in the next week or two. Having the problem of how to use a six-time all-star on your team isn’t a bad problem to have but still calls to push the right buttons. Stoudemire can either take this team to the next level or be the bump in the road that Knicks fans are praying it won’t be.
Which Stoudemire will show up? The one that cut open his hand in a playoff series out of frustration or the one that averaged over 21 points in his career?
I have full trust that Woodson will handle this the total right way.