Amar’e Stoudemire’s beginning to the 2012-13 season was less than inspiring. He missed time in training camp with various sore limbs, made his preseason debut late – in which he scored 18 points on 8-11 shooting and showed immediate chemistry with Raymond Felton and the rest of the team – and then missed two months’ worth of action while recovering from surgery in his knee to remove a ruptured cyst. When he returned to the court, he looked… rusty.
In his first six games back, Stoudemire played under a 20-minute limit, and took some time to get adjusted. He bricked bunnies at the rim, couldn’t time his rebounds and jumps correctly, and looked even flatter than normal on defense. He averaged 9 points per game on 44% shooting with just 3 rebounds per game.
However, over the previous seven games, Stoudemire is starting to show glimpses of his old self. While he still lacks his normal explosion, a consistent jumper, and a competent sense of what to do on defense, Stoudemire is finishing around the basket much better, fitting into the offense, rebounding at a better rate, and at least giving effort on the defensive end. In the last six games – in which the Knicks are 5-2 – Stoudemire is averaging 15.8 ppg on 64.9% shooting, with 5.4 rpg, while attempting 6.3 free throws per game in just 23.9 minutes per game.
Per 36 minutes, Stoudemire’s numbers look like those of an All-Star forward. His scoring per 36 is up to 20.2 ppg from last year’s 19.2, and his FG% is better as well. He is averaging less rebounds per game and less blocks, but overall, Stoudemire is starting to look like a consistently valuable member of the Knicks’ rotation.
Likewise, as has been discussed, Stoudemire is blending in with his fellow frontcourt co-stars, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler. When the three have shared the court this season (granted, in just under 108 minutes so far – a small sample size), the Knicks are a +31. According to nbawowy.com, on offense, when the three have played together, each player is shooting above their season average FG% (well, Tyson Chandler is 66%, down from 68% on the season, but hardly anything worth complaining about). As a team, in 120 possessions, the Knicks are shooting 49% from the field and averaging 1.15 points per possession.
Equally as encouraging, Stoudemire, Anthony, and Chandler are blending in defensively. In 120 possessions – again, a small sample size – opponents are shooting just 41.9% from the field and averaging only .94 points per possession.
To put it simply: the Knicks are out-performing opponents on both ends of the floor when Stoudemire, Anthony, and Chandler are playing together. Who could’ve seen this coming a month ago?
Mike Woodson also deserves credit, though. Woodson, so far, has successfully mixed three players that had far more detractors than supporters. Of course, a big difference in Stoudemire’s ability to function between Anthony and Chandler stems from the fact that the Knicks now have Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, and Pablo Prigioni at the helm as opposed to Toney Douglas, Baron Davis, and Mike Bibby. However, Woodson encouraged Stoudemire to seek out Hakeem Olajuwon’s help this summer. Thus far, Olajuwon’s lessons have helped turn Stoudemire into an effective post player (nearly 31% of Stoudemire’s possessions come in the form of post-ups). Many people doubted Stoudemire’s ability to change his stripes after ten years in the league, but he is proving them wrong.
Woodson has also managed Stoudemire’s minutes nicely. He is yet to play over 30 minutes in a game and has yet to start a game. Stoudemire, of course, deserves a ton of credit for accepting a role off the bench (something another power forward is having trouble with), but Woodson seems to have Stoudemire in a perfect rhythm as of late.
Stoudemire has done a near 180-degree turn through the course of January and it still seems as though he has work to do. He likely will still regain a little bit more explosiveness around the basket which will help his rebounding and ability to finish, and he is learning the defensive schemes and rotations. If his improvement on the offensive end in recent weeks is anything to be taken seriously, we should all be excited about having Amar’e Stoudemire back on the court.