He hops through the lane, catapulting his 6’10″ frame towards the rim with as much ferocity as anybody the league’s ever seen. It used to be getting the ball while in motion was Amar’e Stoudemire’s greatest strength. It’s why people figured once he left Phoenix—Steve Nash’s pin point pick and roll capabilities missing from his luggage—he’d struggle creating on the offensive end for the first time in his professional career. But since coming to the Knicks he’s proven doubters wrong with what could end up as a career year in several offensive categories. His usage rate is the highest its ever been (31.4%), his points per game (25.8, third highest in the league) is 0.2 below his best, and as of today he’s made more field goals than any other player.
More importantly, though, the percentage of his shots that are assisted is noticeably down from what he did last year in Phoenix. Let’s dive into the statistics, shall we? In 2009-10, Stoudemire averaged 6.7 attempts per game at the rim and was assisted on 62.6% of them. This year its been 6.3 per game with 56.5% of them coming from direct passes by teammates. From 3-9 feet the difference grows wider: Last season Amar’e took 3.3 shots from this distance every night with 49% of them coming by way of the assist. Right now it’s five attempts a game with just 35.5% of them assisted. (His field goal percentage in both shots at the rim and shots between 3-9 feet has dropped from last season to this one.)
Now here’s what interests me the most, driving the point of this piece home: Last year Amar’e took 3.9 shots a game from 16-23 feet. This year? 5.5. And, most importantly, his field goal percentage is actually higher (45%) than last season (42%). It’s a slight differential in a very focused statistic, so there might not be too much to read into, but I will anyway.
There have been several instances this season, most notably the near buzzer beater against the Celtics, where Amar’e has taken, and made, a three-pointer by design. By that I mean plays that weren’t broken, but actually called for an Amar’e Stoudemire three-pointer. This year he’s taken 22 threes and made 10 of them for a 45.5% average. Obviously, he isn’t Ray Allen (or even Al Harrington), but what if Amar’e Stoudemire could develop a respectable shot from deep? With insurance inducing creaky knees, he won’t be pogo sticking through the paint forever. For all we know, Stoudemire won’t produce half as well as he’s doing today because his legs won’t allow it. Take the bullying, inside presence aspect out of his repertoire and what we have is someone incapable of living up to the $83.5 million dollar he’s due over the next four years. The wear and tear simply won’t allow it. If you think this train of thought is a tad overanxious, just ask yourself how many 28-year-olds in the prime of their career have been called out as “tired”, by their coach, during a playoff push? (And it wasn’t meant as a motivating tactic or a public insult! Just straight, honest analysis.) This isn’t to say all the explosiveness is gone from his system, but it is trickling from the reserves.
If Amar’e can drain shots from beyond the arc he’ll lengthen his career, spread the floor even further than he’s been doing with his precise mid-range jumper, and make the league’s second highest scoring offense that much more threatening. At this point, it seems like Amar’e should just forget about learning how to play defense. He’s 28-years-old and a nine year veteran; if he hasn’t yet learned how to rotate effectively, prevent his man from gaining low post position, or take the basic principles of big man defense to heart by now, he never will. What he can do, however, is continue to evolve on the offensive end. Already loaded with an unbelievable arsenal of ways to put the ball in the basket, the next step should be his addition of a three-point shot. It’s crazy to think about. But crazy in a good way.