Somewhere along the way, Amare Stoudemire went from being the most important free agent signing in Knicks history, and the record-holder of the most consecutive 30-point games in team history, to a man doomed to injury, a shadow of his former self, and resident chemistry buzzkill. Now, I know that this community is diverse, and while there are probably varying opinions of Amare's role on the team, and his value, I'm guessing that more people still see STAT as a net plus in the grand scheme of things.
It wasn't all that long ago that Carmelo Anthony was a flawed player with selfish tendencies, and a knack for destroying chemistry. Remember that whole Linsanity thing? Maybe someone has been reminding you of it recently. It seems to be on people's minds suddenly. Melo supporters wanted to point out what a great passer he's always been, despite the iso tendencies. Melo detractors wanted to emphasize the fact that, whatever his passing prowess, he didn't tend to do very much of it. His defense was questioned. His ego was questioned. In short, Melo wasn't the most popular guy in the world around Knicksland.
Fast forward to this year. Amare and Melo both acknowledged the need to work out their games to create better chemistry. The coach said as much in the off season. While there are probably some structural issues related to their positions and their favorite spots on the floor, recognizing it is the first step to solving it. Enter Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, and Pablo Prigioni. The change in Melo's game this season can be attributed to a combination of factors, including his willingness to buy into the team concept, his intensity on defense and on the boards, and his always supernatural ability to get any shot he wants. Alongside those positive developments we see the effect of savvy point guards who can either penetrate and find open men (Ray Ray) or make the extra pass where it improves the shot quality for a teammate (Kidd/Prigioni). Melo is benefitting from the extra space and from the changes in defensive scheming that occur for the opposition in accounting for the wide open threes our ball movement tends to create.
Amare Stoudemire may not be the explosive guy he once was, and his defense will never be a plus, but there's one thing that the guy will always be able to do as long as he's in the league - score. At times this season, we've seen Raymond Felton step up in the absence of Carmelo Anthony, taking what defenses give him and fearlessly taking the open shot. To his credit, we tend to win games when he's making good decisions and hitting those shots, but we've also seen him tested when the shot isn't falling and opponents are making him be "the guy." J. R. Smith is the designated #2 scorer in the absence of Melo, but he's about as streaky as them come. J. R. tends to dribble way too much, which I argue is the catalyst for 99.9% of all his problems on the court. If he dribbled less, he'd be much more efficient and possibly unstoppable. Ray Ray and J. R. can win games for the Knicks. Each guy can be the offensive leader of the 2nd unit, if need be. With Amare, suddenly those two players become better.
No one can convince me that Melo, the man many loved to hate a year ago, can buy in and make his teammates better...mainly via trust...and Amare can't. Amare has shown nothing in New York if not the ability to defer to the team concept. He's a leader. If you want to tell me that STAT and Melo have chemistry issues when it comes to their floor games, maybe you have something. If you want to tell me that they might have some trouble sharing the leadership voice and the spot as the "face of the franchise," I might buy it...begrudgingly. If you want to tell me that STAT coming back is going to hurt the Knicks because he hasn't bought in, or that his game is hopelessly flawed...I'll just point you back to whatever people were writing last season when Melo was out and Jeremy Lin was going off.
I've always been a big Amare fan...since Phoenix. I love the guy. I love his heart, his versatility and his personality. He's probably not the face of the franchise that he was when he first signed up, but he's 1a. His leadership in that first training camp had a new attitude in effect and the team came out competing hard every night. In the lead up to the Melo trade people were up in arms about giving up so many good young players, but the fact is those guys weren't as good as they performed for the Knicks until Amare Stoudemire became the anchor and the leader. When he comes back, and it seems his return is imminent, he's going to fill right in on the 2nd unit, make it his own, and dominate the league from the bench. He'll be on the floor in big moments, and so we'll have to see how he and Melo work things out, but Jason Kidd knows better than anyone alive, perhaps, how to do that. If you can't believe that, you haven't been watching this season.
Melo is the MVP of the league so far. He might end up being the MVP at the end of the season too. He won't get there unless Amare comes back to drop 15-20 points and grab at least 8 rebounds. He'll wear down from the heavy load, and we've already seen what kind of beating he's taking 23 games in. Sheed won't hold up and he's already out again from bearing too much of the post burden. If Amare is energized and healthy (as healthy as he can be in 2012), he's going to be a dominant force whose greatest importance won't be measured in his own statistics, but in the share of the burden he can carry in this new team concept.