10:44 am Oct. 19, 2012
Fans of the New York Knicks can be forgiven for putting their focus everywhere except on Amar'e Stoudemire.
The endless discussion about Carmelo Anthony, his ability to raise his game, his inability to co-exist with Jeremy Lin, and whether he will play defense and pass the ball for coach Mike Woodson has only seemed to subside long enough to wonder if the Knicks are too old, or whether Raymond Felton can accurately replicate Lin's production from last year.
Yet somehow, the highest-paid Knick, the Knick with the best season of anyone on the roster on his resume and who still should be in his prime, is getting almost no attention.
Expect that to change, starting Friday night, when Stoudemire makes his preseason debut for the Knicks against the Toronto Raptors in Montreal.
For all the discussion of Anthony as front man for the Knicks, it is worth keeping in mind that Stoudemire, at his most effective, has been a better offensive player than Anthony. Anthony's best season Player Efficiency Rating is 22.2; that's Stoudemire's career average P.E.R., with Stoudemire besting that mark in five different seasons, most recently for the Knicks in 2010-11.
With both players on the court and scoring, defenses simply will not be able to focus on Anthony the way the Miami Heat did in last season's playoffs. The fact that the Knicks haven't had both Stoudemire and Anthony excelling on the offensive end at the same time is accepted at some level as how it will always be, simply because since the Knicks acquired Anthony in March 2011, that is how it has been.
But the sheer number of interruptions to their ability to coalesce as teammates is staggering, from Stoudemire's back injury, to the N.B.A. lockout costing them a training camp, to Linsanity, to a coaching change, to another Stoudemire injury. There is no guarantee that the two can work seamlessly together; but we just don't know if that will happen or not yet.
For his part, Stoudemire managed to find his 2010-11 form last season, improving month-by-month last season as he got into playing shape. (He'd been forced to rest throughout the offseason last year, to help his ailing back recover.) By March, he was dominant; then came another back injury.
He's missed a couple of weeks, thanks to a knee injury, but looked fit and ready in practice this week. There's no guarantee that he can stay healthy. If he can, though, he's a huge upgrade to the Knicks' offense as individual talent.
The Knicks should have stability in both the coaching staff with Woodson, and at the position of point guard, which was largely rudderless last season, both before and after Linsanity.
If enough people have forgotten Stoudemire's ability, lost in the haze of an injury-plagued 2011-12 season and unwarranted attacks on fire extinguishers, that is to be expected.
But Stoudemire, back and healthy, is a really big deal for the Knicks. And he might be their best chance for a dominant scorer to lead them deep into the playoffs, Anthony or no Anthony.