I often find it difficult to listen to The Michael Kay Show on ESPN Radio in New York. Kay and his sidekick, Don La Greca, often come across as pretentious, self-righteous, and myopic and the pair is usually dismissive to any opinions that don't mirror their own. However, as I found myself tuning into Kay's show Wednesday evening, it was the callers rather than the host who were making Kay's show such a difficult listen.
I actually agreed, wholeheartedly, with Kay's salient theme of tonight's show: The Knicks are better off if Amar'e Stoudemire does NOT return to the team this season. During the course of my thirty minute drive home I heard caller after caller apply different ways to accuse Kay's stance of being foolish. Many of the callers justified their views by stating that STAT is still a strong offensive player and wouldn't be much worse on defense that a player like Steve Novak or Chris Copeland. I like to believe that New York has one of sports' most knowledgeable fan bases but these callers clearly have little to no comprehension of how the Knicks have been successful this season.
In a bubble, is Amar'e a better offensive weapon than Novak or Cope? Yes, of course he is, even as the shell of a former All-Star that he has become. The ramifications, though, his return could have on New York's offense could be catastrophic.
We all know that the Knicks have won this year due to their "small ball" approach. They use a unique blend of exceptional spacing and very good ball movement to get good looks for Melo and open looks for any number of riflemen that are stretched across the three-point line. Due in part to the prominence of switch-heavy, Thibodeau-style help defense, solid floor spacing has undoubtedly become one of the most precious commodities for NBA teams to have in 2013 and the Knicks have some of the best spacing in the business. Their entire half-court offense depends upon it.
What Novak and Cope can allow the Knicks to do, that Amar'e cannot, is maintain excellent spacing while they are on the floor. Defenses know that either of them can nail an open three and realize it's a gamble to rotate off of them. Amar'e, obviously, is not a threat from distance and putting him down low while Chandler or Anthony is on the court would severely limit the team's offensive flow (and let's face it, Melo will likely be playing 40+ minutes in the playoffs which doesn't leave much of a role for STAT).
Some may suggest that Amar'e could serve as the center in the Knicks "small ball" attack, giving Chandler and Kenyon Martin a rest. The Knicks defense, though, with both Tyson and Kenyon on the bench, would be historically bad. Imagine a front-line defense of Amar'e teamed with Anthony, Copeland, or Novak. It's scary just thinking about it. Most people reading this could probably score a few baskets against those guys. The truth is that New York NEEDS either Chandler or Martin on the floor if they want to see any sort of success on the defensive end in the playoffs.
When people discuss things like chemistry in sports, it often comes across as an obligatory talking point. This year's Knicks, though, have tangible chemistry and they are thriving off it. They are proof that putting the five most talented guys on the floor isn't always the best strategy.
They have been able to put together a magical blend of under-sized passers and shooters who need to click in order for the team to score consistently. What would the Knicks offense become upon STAT's potential return? How would his teammates and coaches adjust? More importantly, is it worth having to make such drastic adjustments to a successful game plan during the NBA playoffs?