For the future in sight, Amar’e Stoudemire will remain coming off the bench, playing with about a 20-minute cap each night until his surgically-repaired knee is healed and he’s back into game shape. But what happens from there?
Stoudemire, who until last week had not played a real NBA game (excluding preseason) in nearly seven months, still needs some time to work himself back into shape. Mike Woodson has been managing his minutes off the bench with about 20 per night, dispersing his playing time between minutes with the bench crew and with the starters. Currently, Stoudemire is not fit to be playing huge minutes in a game; his lag time in running up and down the court is noticeable in changes of possession, and he still lacks his usual explosiveness, as noted by his very lower total rebounding percentage – 7.4% and only 4.6 rebounds per 36 minutes – and the five shots he’s had blocked in three games. Stoudemire is simply still very rusty.
However, the question begs to be asked: where will Stoudemire fit when he returns to full health, capable of playing big minutes? As mentioned, thus far, Stoudemire has come off the bench and seen minutes with the bench unit and starting unit. Much of the fan base and many basketball analysts believe Stoudemire is better suited coming off the bench with a pick-and-roll point guard in Pablo Prigioni, two floor-spacers in J.R. Smith and Steve Novak, and a lack of paint-bound big men (Tyson Chandler) and ball-dominant scorers (Carmelo Anthony). Other pundits believe Stoudemire should play in the starting lineup and be forced to jell with Chandler and Anthony, as the Knicks’ ultimate success will be reliant on the Big Three’s ability to coincide.
Interestingly enough, +/- stats indicate that the Knicks’ most effective lineups with Stoudemire have come with a blend of starters and bench players. The top five-man combinations including Stoudemire are as follows:
- Kidd, Anthony, Chandler, Smith, Stoudemire = +10 in 11 minutes
- Smith, Novak, Copeland, Prigioni, Stoudemire = +5 in 8 minutes
- Chandler, Anthony, Smith, Prigioni, Stoudemire = +5 in 8 minutes
It is clear to see that any five-man unit including Stoudemire has not seen a ton of playing time together because Stoudemire has only played three games, and Woodson tends to play a nine- or ten-man rotation which means there are substitutions often, thus not allowing any real longevity to one certain five-man unit. However, by narrowing the Knicks’ +/- stats down to three-man units, the samples become larger, and even more interesting.
The Knicks’ top three-man combinations including Stoudemire have consisted of Stoudemire, Chandler, and Smith with a +15 in about 19 minutes of playing time. The other combination with the same +15 in the same amount of playing time was the grouping of Stoudemire, Chandler, and Anthony. In general, the Knicks’ most productive lineups with Stoudemire have included either Anthony or Chandler, thus hinting at hope of a successful blend of all three players.
With Stoudemire on the court, the Knicks have been affected in different ways. They have become a better rebounding team and passing team with Stoudemire playing, and they’ve shot better from the corner three and the restricted area. However, in total, the Knicks’ have become an overall worse offensive team with Amar’e on the floor, with lower FG%, TS% and on offensive rating of 101.8 with him playing versus 109.9 with him on the bench. The defensive rating, meanwhile, has hardly been affected by his presence.
Working a player like Stoudemire into a team that has been rolling for two months will be difficult. There is new chemistry to be found amongst different combinations of players, and as the statistics show, there are surprising numbers for the Knicks’ coaches to look at to determine where he’ll fit best. For now, the Knicks are 2-1 since Stoudemire has returned, and there is statistical evidence to show (despite the very small sample size) that he can make the Knicks a better team.