The Bee’s Knees: A Resurrection in the Big Apple
USA Today Sports
If you’ve watched the New York Knicks as of late and somehow, someway avoided or at the very least ignored the J.R. Smith circus you’ve probably noticed two resurrections taking place in the Big Apple.
The first is the New York Knicks season. The once disappointing Knicks have climbed back into the Eastern Conference playoff race with an impressive run as of late. The Knicks, winners of six of their last 10 including a current five-game win streak, currently hold the 8th seed. A big reason for the Knicks return to relevance is their highest paid player, Amar’e Stoudemire, returning to relevance of his own.
After eight fairly successful (ignoring his injury-plagued 2005-06 season) seasons in Phoenix alongside Steve Nash, Stoudemire came to the Knicks with tremendous expectations to continue his standing as a top power forward in the NBA.
Through his first year (2010-11) it looked like a reality, Stoudemire averaged 25.3 points per game in former Suns’ coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense. Things were certainly looking up.
In February 2011, the Knicks acquired Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets and while I don’t mean to correlate Carmelo’s arrival with the eventual decline of Stoudemire’s career, its a nice reference point. The two didn’t work well together but Stoudemire’s body betrayed him. After seven relatively healthy seasons in Phoenix, Stoudemire began looking like a 45-year-old playing rec center open gyms, the explosive lift of his earlier years was completely gone. The games missed piled up and the production when healthy continued to trend downward.
Never was this more evident than the first five games of this season when Stoudemire was on a strict 10-minute a night restriction but was producing quite poorly in his limited time.
By the end of November, it appeared that any chances of Stoudemire returning to anything close to his old form were out the window — he was only averaging 5.0 PPG while shooting a measly 43% from the field. He was coming off his minute limit but it was hard to justify any more playing time for someone producing to his level. His minutes increased slightly, but he was an afterthought on the Knicks offense. When the offense did center on Amar’e, the results weren’t pretty.
Take for instance this November 25 against the Portland Trail Blazers. You’ll see from the clips and the screenshots that Stoudemire’s once elite athleticism is nowhere to be found. He was barely getting above the ground and it was leading to multiple Blazers including LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez and even Damian Lillard getting a piece of Stoudemire’s shot.
The second clip in particular shows that Stoudemire still has the moves of his past. He got to the basket like the mid-2000s version of himself but when he got there, there was no lift, no drive to the hoop and his shot was immediately contested by Aldridge and Lopez.
Save for a small run in early December, Stoudemire was toxic to the Knicks production with averages of 8.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG. The combination of Anthony and Stoudemire was -12.8 while scoring only 96.8 points per 100 possessions. Oye.
This was the Knicks “big two”, over $42 million in salary producing Milwaukee Bucks-level offense. Is it any surprise the Knicks were out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture?
Then, Stoudemire received something of a Christmas miracle. Seriously, the turnaround seems to coincide with Christmas when Stoudemire put 22 points on the Oklahoma City Thunder in a losing effort.
After a bit of a stinker two nights later against Toronto (7 points), Stoudemire put 23 on the Raptors the next night. These were two 20-point efforts in three games after not scoring 20 up until this point. What were we seeing?
The streak continued, Stoudemire was starting to open some eyeballs. For the first time in some two years, Amar’e was a hot commodity in fantasy basketball. Since Christmas day, the combination of Anthony and Stoudemire, once averaging 96.8 points per 100 possessions is now averaging 114.6 points. That’s more like it.
After a 21-point effort against Philadelphia, Stoudemire was asked by the New York Post’s Marc Berman what had gotten into him:
“I‘ve been feeling pretty good all year,’’ said Stoudemire. “My explosiveness has been there, it’s coming together as a whole. I’m feeling great.’’
It’s coming together alright, his performance against the Sixers was downright shocking given what we saw in the earlier video against Portland. Put-back dunks, explosion to the hoop and more than anything lift.
Anthony noticed as well:
“He took it one day at a time. He had so many injuries over the last couple of years that could mess you up mentally. He’s just starting to bounce back and getting confidence in his legs and games.’’
Compare Amar’e’s vertical leap from November 25 to these clips from January 11:
There are some different plays and some slightly more open looks there but the first clip in particular shows the tremendous difference. A similar move to what we saw during one of the first clips. Solid defense from Spencer Hawes doesn’t matter because Stoudemire out jumps him. He couldn’t do the same to Lopez prior.
This new rediscovered explosion has allowed Stoudemire to convert 61.1% of his shots around the basket since Christmas Day. Not the elite level we use to see from Stoudemire, but certainly nothing to slouch at.
Is Stoudemire back for good? It’s too early to say that and there are still restrictions.
He’s still not permitted to play four games in five nights, so there’s still some caution in going all out with the 31-year-old but there’s definitely reason for optimism.
Statistical support for this piece provided by NBA.com, unless stated otherwise.