April 11, 2011
In December, Knicks big man Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) averaged just under 30 points and 10 rebounds per game. In January, those numbers dipped to 26 and eight. In February and March? Twenty-four points and just over seven rebounds during both terms. April? The Knicks have played only three games, but he's at 23 points and six boards. You can love Amar'e until your cab comes, but you can't deny the trend.
No matter, because Amar'e needs you to know that he brings what counts once the sticky-tape with the NBA Playoffs logo goes down on whatever court he's calling home. He always plays better in the playoffs, worry-wonks.
Stoudemire, still wearing a walking boot on his sprained left ankle, will sit out his second straight game tonight vs. Indiana as he heals. Stoudemire won't commit yet to playing the last two games -- Tuesday vs. Chicago, Wednesday in Boston -- as he gauges whether it's best to rest up for Game 1.
"That's the whole goal now," Stoudemire said. "I always play better in the postseason. I want to be 100 percent healthy to keep that trend going. The good news is it's getting better by the second. I'll play sooner than later."
Historically, Amar'e has played better in the postseason than he has in the regular season. Spot-on assessment, there.
"Always," though? That's not the case. Because Stoudemire's last two trips to the postseason have resulted in a sharp downturn in production from his regular-season numbers.
You may have quibbles with John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating. Even John does, as do we. But it's also a good pace-adjusted per-minute catch-all way of looking at a player's performance. And with someone like Stoudemire who, eh, doesn't often apply himself to the defensive side of the ball? It's a great way of gauging production levels.
In going over Stoudemire's last two trips to the postseason, we can see (HUBIE BROWN VOICE) that last season his PER fell from 22.8 in the regular season to 21.2 in the postseason. In 2008? From 27.6 to 18.9. That's a huge drop-off.
But overall? Though Amar'e has struggled, relatively, over his last two postseasons, he has played better during his five playoff appearances as compared to his regular-season turns. His PER in 2005 shot up one point. In 2007, it made a massive six-point jump, as Stoudemire led all postseason participants in PER.
Which brings me to the point of this post. It's not about Amar'e casually pointing out that he "always" plays better in the playoffs. It's about the idea of improving during the playoffs as a generality.
Because NBA history has proven that merely approximating your regular-season numbers in the playoffs is a sterling accomplishment. That isn't slim praise. Just coming close to repeating those regular-season numbers -- in games with slower paces, better defense, better competition and up against coaching staffs that can prepare to face you seven times in 13 days? That's the mark of a real prime-time player. Baby.
Keep this in mind the next time you read a columnist or listen to a TV and/or radio wonk talk about a player that is "only" averaging 19 points per game (down from 21 in the regular season) and shooting 43 percent (down from 45) in a five-game sample size. That guy is playing against the Celtics for those five games, as compared with an 82-game sample that features all-expenses-paid trips to Minnesota, Golden State and Washington.
And to Amar'e? Get that ankle together, brother. See you, and your 30-and-10, in a week. Looking forward to it.