Amar'e Stoudemire is a complex figure in NBA history. Like Monta Ellis, Vince Carter, and other stars more known for their skills on the offensive end Amar'e is constantly over- and underrated. It can be difficult to gauge the value of all the excellent things Amar'e brings to the table against all the things he removes. I pose this question: How will the league remember Amar'e Stoudemire?
The man nicknamed STAT was considered one of history's great draft steals, once upon a time. Taken by Phoenix 9th overall in the 2002 NBA Draft behind such names as Dejuan Wagner and Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Amar'e toiled under Suns Head Coach Frank Johnson before Steve Nash and Mike D'Antoni were brought aboard. During the mid-2000s, Stoudemire cemented himself as one of the league's very best big men and a franchise center. It was then, alongside Leandro Barbosa, Boris Diaw, Shawn Marion, Raja Bell, Joe Johnson, and others that Amar'e helped anchor one of the most devastating offensive schemes ever seen in the NBA. D'Antoni and Nash are often credited with the creation and execution of this ground-breaking offense, and deservedly so, but rarely is credit given to Stoudemire. There are several possible reasons for this, but that somewhat unsavory subject isn't the focus of this piece.
I'm far more interested in Stoudemire's legacy as arguably the best pick-and-roll finisher in league history. It is no exaggeration to say that D'Antoni's offense, now fairly well known as Seven Seconds or Less, changed the landscape of the NBA. Stoudemire was the primary weapon in that offense. After missing most of the '05-'06 season due to microfracture surgery, Amar'e returned with a more confident jump shot to pair with his fantastic athleticism and the Suns prospered. Things happened, the Suns did not win the NBA title, and eventually Amar'e left Phoenix for the contract offered by the New York Knicks.
We all probably know this part of the story well. Stoudemire came to New York and fit in seamlessly. His fashion seemed to match the metropolitan area well, and he quietly embraced the leadership role left wide open by Nate Robinson and David Lee. There was concern that Stoudemire wouldn't be able to dominate without the guiding hand of Steve Nash, and STAT quickly buried that with his play during the first half of the 2010-2011 season. Stoudemire threw down thunderous dunks, bellowed after flying in for blocks, and generally made me and other Knicks fans excited about New York basketball again. The Knicks weren't that great of a team, but they were fun to watch. Alas, the story takes a downturn after that blaggart and possible anti-Semite Carmelo Anthony was brought aboard mid-season in a blockbuster trade. It's possible that Melo isn't actually anti-Semitic, but the interwebz has taught me to always expect the worst with the 6'8" forward. Back to Amar'e: His play took a step back after teaming up with Anthony. Not quite the misstep it is often contrued as, mind you. STAT averaged 23.5 and 7.3 on 49% from the field after the trade. Still, the Knicks suffered unfortunate injury at the tail-end of the season and lost in the first round against the Boston Celtics.
The following off-season, Amar'e announced he was working out to bulk up and practicing 3 pointers in preparation for a strong year. The lockout fogged things up a bit, but STAT emerged indeed bigger. Unfortunately, despite his talk of an improved jump shot, the season saw Stoudemire posting the worst shooting numbers since his rookie season. He countinued to disappoint on the boards, and just seemed *tentative* all season. It was as if he didn't know his place with Carmelo assuming the role of franchise forward. The offense struggled with spacing issues, and D'Antoni resigned, and Jeremy Lin was a thing, and Carmelo reminded us that he's still one of the most electrifying scorers in the league, and through it all we've sort of forgotten exactly what Amar'e Stoudemire means to us, much less to the league at-large.
And here we are. Another first-round exit, another long off-season filled with timid hope. Some fans erroneously mark Stoudemire as washed-up, as an almost-was. There are still pages left in Amar'e's book, and gas in his tank. He is still one of the most dominant roll men in the NBA. He may not dunk as often (don't sleep on him), but STAT still possesses that catlike agility that made him such a good candidate to finish out of the pick-and-roll in the first place. He is still above-average from the charity stripe, and has quietly lowered his turnover rate while increasing his assist rate throughout his career. Amar'e is still a powerful weapon on offense, when used properly. Unfortunately, he is still a terrible defender, and when his scoring is off Amar'e contributes very little to this team. Last season, the Knicks performed on average 8.8 points worse when Amar'e was on the floor. That is inexcusable. I don't necessarily blame STAT for this. There was a monumental coaching failure and Amar'e was one of the most noticeable casualties. But he needs to do better if the Knicks want a chance at serious post-season success.
There is hope for a brighter future. I explained in a previous post the huge benefit Marcus Camby brings the Knicks, and Stoudemire in particular. I find it difficult to believe Amar'e can replicate his woeful jump-shooting from the 2012 season, given his historical superiority. Carmelo is one of the best passers and scorers out of the PnR at the 3, and should really be spending time running screens with Amar'e. Despite STAT's defensive ineptitude, the Knicks still found themselves a top 5 defense in the NBA, with no small credit given to DPOY Tyson Chandler. The remainder of this contract will likely set Amar'e's legacy in stone. If he helps lead the Knicks to a championship and a couple of Finals berths, Amar'e could find himself a candidate for the Hall of Fame. It wouldn't be completely irresponsible, given his contribution to modern NBA offensive schemes. It would take great luck for that scenario to play out, and it is more likely that he will end his career bereft of that elusive NBA title. When we look back upon these Knicks teams and upon Amar'e Stoudemire: Will we remember him as a franchise F/C scorer who brought excitement back to the Big Apple? Or will we curl our lip in disdain at the memory, sneering that he was just another foolish contract offered by a front office incapable of making prudent decisions? I'd hope for the former for the Renaissance Man, but expect the latter. Like so many other stars, Amar'e kind of gets a raw deal. Instead of focusing on the things he can't do so well, I choose to look to all the things he can do. Amar'e deserves it.