We do not yet know for sure whether Amar'e Stoudemire will start or come off the bench this season, but one thing seems certain: He won't be held back because of any minutes limit. Head coach Derek Fisher made that very clear on Sunday: "Right now there aren't any minute restrictions, or he can only play the front of a back to back, or any of that."
While STAT will have to sit out certain "rest days," Fisher certainly seems optimistic about his ability to shoulder a heavy load:
"If we can find ways to be consistent in [scheduling the rest days] then we don't have to judge in the game whether or not it’s too many minutes or whether he can start or [not based on minutes restrictions]," Fisher said. "So we're excited that we can go into the season with an open mind in that regard and it's worked well so far. The days we've had as recovery days for him, he's looked great coming back the next day and we think it's something that will work once the season starts."
Amar'e's knees have been a source of constant agony, both for him and the organization, since 2011. Fisher's proclamation sounds promising, but questions remain:
1. Can the Knicks medical staff pull off another miracle?
Whatever medical techniques they've been using -- bloodletting, phrenology, wine baths -- certainly worked last season. Amar'e was held out of the lineup 10 times last season as a healthy scratch (the Knicks went 7-3 in those games). His only true injury-related layoff was a seven-game stretch in late January, during which the Knicks went 4-3. Take those records however you'd like, but at the very least we can say that the medical staff nursed him through the season in exemplary fashion.
That said, this franchise doesn't exactly have a sterling reputation when it comes to keeping players healthy. Can they keep their mojo working in 2014-15?
2. Seriously, though...are the red wine baths responsible for this?
Unequivocally, 100 percent yes.
3. Now that Amar'e has found the Wine Tub Time Machine, how old is he?
Because he is fully healthy this year, Amar'e says "My joy is there. My love of the game is there. I feel like I’m 19 again." #Knicks— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) October 20, 2014
So he is a soon-to-be-32-year-old man with the knees of a 70-year-old who feels like he's 19 again. Yeah, that sounds about right.
4. Did Amar'e play better with more minutes last season?
March 3 was a turning point for Amar'e. Before that date, he was on a more strict minutes limit, averaging 19.9 minutes per game and cracking the 30-minute mark only twice. STAT played 32 minutes in the March 3 loss to the Pistons -- on the second night of a back-to-back, no less, and didn't really look back from there, averaging 28.4 minutes per game from there on out.
Here is the statistical breakdown:
And here's what it looks like per 36 minutes:
Amar'e certainly played a cleaner game after March 3, fouling and turning the ball over much more rarely while hitting a much higher percentage of his free throws than he did earlier in the season. Otherwise, his late-season numbers are a slight improvement over what he had been giving New York. It is impossible to know for sure whether that difference can be attributed to the minutes increase or simply finding his groove late in the campaign.
For what it's worth, the Knicks had a +4.2 net rating with Amar'e on the court after March 3 -- good, but down from their +5.6 overall net rating during that period.
5. Should Amar'e start?
Damned if I know. If he is going to start, however, I'd prefer it be at the power forward spot. He was significantly worse at the 5 last season, per 82games.
You might as well go ahead and start the guy for the season opener. He is the longest-tenured Knick, after all, and this is probably his final season at MSG. Just be ready to pull the plug on this thing should the team falter in November. Amar'e Stoudemire is an important part of the Knicks' past, and this season should be all about the future.