Recently, Amar'e Stoudemire made the momentous decision to stop missing basketball shots entirely. According to my sources within the Knicks organization, Amar'e came to this decision after carefully scrutinizing the following chart:
The message is clear: if you wanna be phenomenal, you gotta accentuate the phenomenal and eliminate the non-phenomenal. And STAT has been nothing if not phenomenal.
How good has he been? Well, even with his slow start, Amar'e is averaging 13.5 points per game on 58.5% shooting. That field goal percentage is a little crazy -- let's bring it down to 54%, not far off from his career mark of 53.5%. How many players in the NBA can give you so much as 12 points per night while shooting 54% from the field? Let's rank them in terms of win shares / 48 minutes:
That's some pretty august company right there. How great is it to see Dwight Howard all the way down at the bottom?
The next question is: can STAT keep this up? Of course he can. He's done it before...several times, in fact. The per-minute production and efficiency numbers aren't particularly out of line with some of his better seasons, and, at 30 years of age, the guy isn't exactly a dinosaur. The question with Amar'e, as always, is health. It is a ginormous question, no mistaking that, but as long as he's on the floor, I see no reason STAT can't keep on doing what STAT do.
It's hard to understate the importance of a healthy, effective Amar'e to the Knicks' playoff chances. With STAT playing at his current level, the Knicks have a championship-level offense.
...wow, I can't believe I just used the phrase "the Knicks have a championship-level _________". But it's true! The Knicks have been involved in a season-long battle with the Heat for the title of Best Offense in the East...and that was before Amar'e. The pre-Amar'e Knicks had one notable weakness on offense -- their lack of inside scoring. Their over-reliance on the three, their lack of offensive rebounding and their inability to consistently get to the line were all symptoms of that main weakness. What kind of impact has Amar'e had in these areas?
- Before his return, the Knicks' team offensive rebounding percentage was 23.8%, among the lowest marks in the league. In the 15 games since, the Knicks' team ORB% has jumped to 28.3%, above league average. You know what that means: it's finally time to put the tired old "Knicks can't rebound" trope out of its misery. The Knicks are now above average on the offense glass. And what about defense? I dunno...how does number one in the NBA in DRB% sounds to you? That's right, the Knicks are the best defensive rebounding team in the NBA. It's hard to get better than best, people. So rest in peace, Knicks-Can't-Rebound Trope...I do believe Charles Barkley should deliver the eulogy.
- Amar'e's 4.9 free throw attempts per game would be among the twenty-or-so best rates in the NBA, if he had enough minutes to qualify. It never hurts a team to add a player who is top-20 in the league in an important skill the team itself doesn't do particularly well.
- Uhhh...they still shoot a lot of threes. But they probably don't need to.
The integration of STAT into the Knicks offense is far from a finished process, but you have to be encouraged by how well the pieces are fitting together. If you want the low-down on the STAT-Melo-Tyson numbers, check out this joint by P&T Pope Seth I, who beat me to the punch with that fine article (I'LL GET YOU FOR THIS, YOU BASTARD!!!). Watching these three execute so smoothly, after so many months of endless "THEY CAN NEVER PLAY TOGETHER" conjecture, is rewarding beyond belief. I believe the positive impact on Carmelo Anthony's offensive game has been readily apparently in the last two game -- Melo struggled with his shot in both games, and it didn't really matter. STAT's return to form, along with the return of Ray Felton and the rebirth of the Knicks pick-and-roll game has taken much of the scoring burden off of Melo and allowed him to work as a facilitator from time to time, a role at which he excels. Seth and I have talked about this ad nauseum, but it bears repeating: Melo has been quite good at moving the ball most of this season, despite what the numbers might say.
The impressive presence of Amar'e down low is beginning to lead to what I call self-perpetuating offensive awesomeness. Perimeter players - even Melo and J.R. - feel compelled to feed the ball inside to STAT instead of passing aimlessly around the arc or going iso. Amar'e, in turn, recognizes the quality of shooters around him, understands that he no longer needs to force his way through double-teams, and he has been passing out of the double better than he has at any time during his Knicks career. This team has faced the same pressing question since the Melo trade: can two alpha-dog scorers coexist? Despite nearly two years of hand-wringing, the answer always seemed clear enough: unless Melo and Amar'e score their points in the exact same way (they don't), or are complete assholes (they aren't), then they should be able to find a way not only to coexist, but to thrive as a unit. We might finally be seeing that, Knicks fans. Hallelujah!
Now that we've established that Amar'e has been great, we are left with another question: to start or not to start. Personally, I would leave Amar'e where he is for three reasons:
- We all know the Knicks have been struggling out of the gate, but I don't think Amar'e is the answer to those struggles. They're falling behind early in games not because they lack scoring, but because they have inexplicably decided not to defend opposing guards until the third quarter. Somehow, I fail to see how adding STAT to the lineup will make much of a difference there.
- I think Amar'e's presence is having a good effect on J.R. Like Melo, J.R. can lose his game (and his mind) when he feels the need to assume too much of the scoring load, chucking contested long twos like they're going out of style (and, when you think about it, they are going out of style). Something has changed over the past few games -- he's catching and shooting from behind the arc more often. Waaaay more often. I say, let the man shoot those threes off the catch -- he's good at it. I defer to Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal and Twitter feed on this one: "J.R. Smith has shot 43% from the 3-pt line when he does so w/o dribbling. When he dribbles once or more: 8.3%."
- As a bench scorer, Amar'e is unique. Check out this list of the top per-game scorers who've started less than 10 games. You'll find a whole bunch of wing players...and Amar'e. The only reserve big who can even approach STAT as scorer is Carl Landry. No Eastern Conference team has a player like STAT coming off the bench, which can't be easy to game-plan.
- The shot selection from the first four minutes of the second quarter against the Bucks, when Melo was sitting on the bench:
- S. Novak misses 3-pt shot from 25 ft
- J. Kidd misses 3-pt shot from 25 ft
- A. Stoudemire makes 2-pt shot from 4 ft,
- J. Smith makes 3-pt shot from 22 ft,
- J. Smith misses 3-pt shot from 23 ft,
- Offensive rebound by A. Stoudemire,
- A. Stoudemire misses 2-pt shot from 2 ft,
- J. Smith misses 3-pt shot from 25 ft,
- A. Stoudemire makes 2-pt shot from 4 ft
Please, don't take Amar'e away from that group. Keep the man on the second unit, let him dominate. And for the love of God, give him a standing ovation every time he steps off the floor in the fourth quarter. This guy has been through hell, and his only crime was getting paid and getting hurt. Amar'e Stoudemire is the man who made the Knicks relevant again, and he might just be the final ingredient of the kind of playoff run Knicks fans have been craving for over a decade. Nothing would be more fitting.