As NBA players get older and their athleticism wanes, they look for new ways to improve their games. Dwyane Wade, for instance, is currently searching for a shooting coach given his relative struggles in this past postseason. Over the past few years, the most high-profile efforts to improve have involved visiting a different sort of coach: retired Rockets great and master of the post Hakeem Olajuwon. Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and LeBron James have all worked with "The Dream," and each has developed an expanded game in subsequent seasons. If you watched these NBA Playoffs, you know that LeBron might not have led the Heat to victory without his expanded work inside.
This summer, another notable player has plans to work with Hakeem. Except this one is a little different than Kobe and LeBron — it's Amar'e Stoudemire, Knicks forward and inappropriate tweeter. From Jared Zwerling for ESPNNewYork.com (via SLAM):
Olajuwon will fly to New York in August to train with Stoudemire. The source also said Tyson Chandler might join Stoudemire for the workouts, but that hasn't been confirmed.
Olajuwon, 49, has previously worked one-on-one with three of the best players in the game: Kobe Bryant (2009), Dwight Howard (2010) and LeBron James last summer. Each player showed immediate improvement on the block in the following season.
Stoudemire's future work with Olajuwon could signal Mike Woodson's coaching strategy to use him more in the low post and have Chandler become the team's main high pick-and-roller with Jeremy Lin and Carmelo Anthony. (Stoudemire has more of a foundation in the low post already.)
In this scenario, the Knicks could have more defined roles and less crowding on the court, which would lead to better ball movement and scoring opportunities. They also need to score more in the paint and have more bodies for offensive rebounds besides Chandler, as they finished this past season in the middle of the league in both categories.
Amar'e has always been a pretty great scorer, but his arsenal of moves and shots hasn't involved many back-to-the-basket options. Instead, he succeeds in the face-up game: taking jumpers, moving off screens-and-rolls, and driving in isolation. A move to a more traditional role would be a pretty big change for his game, though he still figures to use his past style as a foundation.
In truth, that change wouldn't be the worst thing for Stoudemire's career. As he gets older and his long history of injuries takes its toll, Amar'e has lost much of his elite (i.e. among the all-time best for a big man) athleticism. With lingering back and knee problems, he's not the explosive dynamo who terrorized defenses in Phoenix for so many years. Relying more on a back-to-the-basket game would help keep him relevant as his ailing body limits him. That should aid the Knicks, too, if Woodson can get all the parts to fit.
The shift will be difficult for Stoudemire, surely. However, he's had to change his game before, most notably after returning from microfracture knee surgery in 2006-07. Once a demonic attacking force, Amar'e reined in his explosive tendencies and became more reliant on his jumper and creativity. The capacity to change is there. And if it all works out, Stoudemire might be able to rid himself of the bad vibes that have attended his last few months with the Knicks and become one of New York's favorite residents once again.