By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Training camp is rapidly approaching (less than three weeks away!), so we're addressing the storylines that have developed over a busy Knicks offseason.
Next up: What's in store for Amar'e Stoudemire this year?
The Knicks sent two players to the All-Star game in Houston last season -- NBA scoring champ, Carmelo Anthony, and 2011-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Tyson Chandler. They solidified the point guard position with Raymond Felton, welcomed Iman Shumpert back from injury a few months into the season to lock down opposing wings, and rode J.R. Smith's success as the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year to the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
On the way to their best record in 16 years, the Knicks were able to find just the right role for each player on the roster.
As they look to build on last season's success, the challenge will be to find the delicate balance between sticking with what worked and integrating new pieces; while Amar'e Stoudemire is by no means a "new piece" as he enters his third season in New York, his game has changed and it's up to his coaches and teammates to maximize returns from the six-time All-Star.
Preservation is a necessity in the NBA. The process of aging is inevitable, so in order to capitalize on the skills and experience accumulated over the course of a career, teams and players learn to manage the physical toll of a long season to achieve the best results.
As is often the case for freakishly athletic big men, Amar'e Stoudemire's knees have precipitated a transformation as he enters his age-31 season. In this regard, there are two incredibly positive signs for S.T.A.T. and the Knicks:
1) There is a long list of great players that have transformed their games to be wildly successful in spite of health issues and/or declining athleticism. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Vince Carter stand out as supreme athletes that reinvented themselves to protect their bodies and became more economical scorers as their careers progressed. Former Knicks Larry Johnson and Antonio McDyess and Karl Malone, to name a few big men, all developed into deadly jumpshooters/post scorers after entering the league as high flyers.
2) The Knicks have been proactive in facilitating Stoudemire's evolution.
For his distinguished career, Stoudemire has averaged 34 minutes per game. He's logged 36.8 a game in three seasons, including his first as a Knick, when he played in 78 games. But over the past two seasons, the knee trouble that dates back to microfracture surgery in 2005 has persisted.
To get a glimpse of what to expect this year, we can look back to last season. Even though S.T.A.T. missed the majority of the year, Coach Mike Woodson and his staff discovered that by judiciously monitoring his playing time, he could be as effective, if not more, than ever -- when he plays.
Coming off the bench in all 29 games he played, Stoudemire's workload dipped to 23.5 minutes per. The result: a career-high 57.7 field goal percentage and production levels that ticked up as he went along.
He was getting stronger, and the numbers reflect that; nine of his 29 games played came after the All-Star break and his overall effectiveness increased during that time. He was a more efficient scorer -- 15.7 points per game on 61 percent shooting, up from 13.6 and 56 percent before. He got to the free throw line at a higher rate than he did the previous season (6.9 times per 36 minutes, up from 5.7), and as a 76.3 percent career free throw shooter, was able to add value that way.
As it relates to this season and beyond, the positive effects of the minute limit became most evident in his ability to bounce back with limited rest. It's a small sample, but he played in five back-to-back games last season and responded by shooting 61 percent and averaging 22.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per 36 minutes on the second nights.
What became clear was that, when used in this way, he has the potential to contribute significantly to the Knicks' offense. In order to replicate the success of last year, Woodson needs his bigs to draw defenders to the paint, and like L.J., Malone and McDyess, he has the face-up game and back-to-the-basket skills to create space for shooters around the perimeter.
The mission is to maximize his talents, and to do that, the Knicks will do what they need to do to keep him on the floor. With the flexibility to play power forward or center, the hope is that keeping him fresh will translate to more rest for Tyson Chandler and a potentially devastating 1-2 inside punch when they are on the floor together.