Great win last night. Best and most meaningful I've seen in a long, long time. Years, easily. No Stat, no Shump, Melo 3-12 for 9 points (!), and they still manage to come back in the 4th to beat a perennial contender on their home floor. The Knicks are building something very positive here. For the first time in twenty years it can be said with a straight face: in this young season, our New York Knickerbockers are the best team in the NBA.
But in light of how they won last night—and the game before against a far less accomplished Magic squad—I can't help but wonder how Stat, upon his return (and who knows how long that will be—the organization and Stat himself have been disturbingly mum on his injury), is going to affect outcomes.
Now, I am a big Stoudemire fan and I am convinced that his return will only make the Knicks better, whether as a member of the starting lineup or as a beast off the bench (can you imagine a second unit anchored by Earl and Amar'e?). He should get his 35 minutes. He deserves them. But I'm beginning to think that in a game like last night's, Stat should not expect to be on the floor in the final four or five minutes of the 4th and/or OT.
Think: who comes out for him last night? Not Felton, not Kidd, not Melo, not Tyson—JR. Taking JR out for Stat collapses the floor on offense (possibly closing lanes for Felton); it takes away a three point shooter (no Melo-Felton-JR fast break three pointer); and removes an able and active perimeter defender on defense. In fact, it removes an able and active defender, period.
I hope Woodson can figure it out, and I think he will. Kidd's value here can not be understated—he is a coach in his own right (according to the Daily News, Kidd and Chandler basically had to tell Woodson to chill last night—after which Kidd hit those threes and they were on their way). They have to be reminded at all junctures, especially critical ones in 4th quarters, that they are an insanely deep team. Once fully healthy, theirs is an embarrassment of riches. Back to back games like SA and MEM will be easier to handle for this very reason—Brewer's tired? Put in Shump. Chandler's in foul trouble? Put in Camby. Melo can't guard PFs two nights in a row? Put in Stat, or Kurt, or Sheed—but figuring it all out will be a challenge for sure.
My advice—unless Stoudemire shows in practice that he has finally figured out how to stick his man and box out, and also that he has once again become a better than 50% shooter from the elbow extended past the free throw line—sit Stat for the end of games. Get use from him early and often, especially in the 20 minutes or so between the 1st and 2nd and the 3rd and 4th. After that, let the lock-downers, boxing-outers, put-a-dude-on-his-ass-hip-checkers, and passing-lane-defilers (of which, unbelievably, Melo is now a member) do their things and put games away.