2:23 pm Dec. 21, 2012
The return of Amar'e Stoudemire, whose season has been delayed due to knee surgery, could be just days away.
But things have been going really well for the Knicks in Stoudemire's absence. And, as Howard Beck reports, the team doesn't really know what to do with him now, going so far as to explore trading him over the past year.
It's not surprising the Knicks weren't able to deal Stoudemire in the end, given his recent injury history and his large, uninsured contract with three years to run.
So the situation is this: A team that has been one of the best in the N.B.A. without Stoudemire needs to figure out how to be better with him.
It shouldn't be that hard.
Despite their strong start, there's little question that the Knicks can use another scorer. When Carmelo Anthony leaves the floor, or misses time due to injury, the Knicks rely heavily on the streaky shooting of J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton. Tyson Chandler is a hyper-efficient scorer, but he does not create his own shots. Rasheed Wallace and Chris Copeland shoot at will, but don't pose enough of a threat to produce the open perimeter looks the Knicks get when Anthony is in the game.
Stoudemire, however, is a threat defenses need to account for. Putting him on a second unit with Pablo Prigioni, Smith, Steve Novak, and Wallace, Chris Copeland or Marcus Camby will provide Stoudemire with perimeter spacing like the kind Anthony enjoys around Felton, Jason Kidd and Ronnie Brewer.
Moreover, Wallace and Camby are dealing with foot injuries, so while a frontline of Novak/Copeland/Stoudemire is a potential defensive nightmare, mixing and matching more with Tyson Chandler should mitigate that until either Wallace or Camby returns.
Ideally, of course, Camby would be the defensive anchor on that second unit, with Stoudemire taking the free-shooting minutes that Wallace has occupied for much of the year. Wallace has been shooting plenty, but not well, with a 38.8 percent accuracy on the season. Stoudemire, in easily his worst season last year, checked in at 48.3 percent, and is a 53.3 percent shooter for his career. That's a massive improvement by itself.
Should Camby continue to miss time, Wallace can simply assume the role of defensive center, while Stoudemire plays the second-unit Anthony role.
And while much has been said about the failures of Anthony and Stoudemire to work well together, consider whether the Knicks are really worse off offensively with Stoudemire at the four and Anthony at the three, positions they both play well, or with Anthony at the four and Brewer at the three. Brewer is a strong defender, but his offense is subpar. And there are no shortage of teams who lack a pair of forward matchups that can take full advantage of Stoudemire and Anthony, out of position, defensively.
So the opportunities to play Anthony and Stoudemire together shouldn't be impossible to come by. And the two of them will finally have a stable point guard situation to take advantage of, with Raymond Felton's lobs a natural fit for Stoudemire's finishing, and Jason Kidd around to find looks for both of them.
Things could go wrong. The fans could turn on Stoudemire if the team's first rough patch of the season appears to coincide with his return. And for all we know, Stoudemire could have a bad attitude about playing a backup role, however sportingly he discusses the proposition in public.
But is it really not worth it to the team to try to figure this out? Is it so crazy to think that adding a world-class offensive player to a basketball team might make it even better?