COMMENTARY | With a lackluster performance this past season, Amar'e Stoudemire sure has a lot to prove to his current teammates and the New York Knicks organization.
The six-time NBA All-Star certainly did not seem worthy of his titles after averaging only 3.8 points per game in the 2013 postseason, ultimately proving to be more of a liability than an asset to his playoff team that was desperately seeking someone to take the burden off of Carmelo Anthony.
In preparation for the 2013-14 season, Stoudemire is to begin working with Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon again in hopes that his expertise can help Stoudemire with low-post offense and key defensive movements, where Stoudemire can complement his teammates. Olajuwon, who has worked with the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwight Howard, worked with Stoudemire last season, but his techniques and mastery didn't pay off as Stoudemire suffered a knee injury early on in the season.
Let's hope this proves to be a better season for Stoudemire, who despite showing an admirable willingness to adjust his game has some major work to do to validate that he is worthy of being the $100-million man.
With New Yorkers being the some of the most passionate fans out there, they will be particularly paying attention to the progress of Stoudemire and will not accept mediocrity.
Here are some reasons why he has a lot to prove to win back the loyalty of his fans and teammates, and to ensure a successful season:
He is Injury-Prone
It seems that every time we turn around, Stoudemire is out indefinitely for another injury-related reason. His back and knee problems over the years have taken a toll on his overall physical domination, to the point where the deterioration of his body seemed to catch up with him once and for all last season.
He appeared sluggish and looked slow and old running the court, not the healthy and vibrant slam-dunking athlete that was once Amar'e Stoudemire. His knees are so fragile, putting him at a major disadvantage for rebounding. He is going to have to learn how to successfully play solid defense, but not an aggressive one in hopes of lengthening his season and avoiding injury. The Knicks were in a difficult position last season as Stoudemire was locked into a very large contract, putting them way over the salary cap, yet they didn't have a star player to show for it.
It was rumored that the team tried to trade Stoudemire to gain roster flexibility, but his contract was too toxic and not desirable. After sitting out for most of the regular season, a rusty Stoudemire returned in the postseason, the most crucial time, playing limited minutes and not making much of a contribution to the team at all.
It is questionable at this point whether the Knicks can ever expect another dominant season from the power forward who had a killer debut season with his team, averaging 25.3 points per game. It is imperative that he rest up and strengthen his ticking time-bomb knees, contribute to the offense and learn how to shift his game play in order to play to his maximum potential. We understand that injuries do happen, but Stoudemire needs to play cautiously and not do anything stupid like punching the glass of a fire extinguisher case, causing him to miss games and put even more stress on his teammates.
His On-the-Court Chemistry
Or should I say lack of? It's been no secret that Stoudemire has a hard time finding his flow with the other two members of the Knicks' "Big Three," Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony. Two good players, Stoudemire and Anthony have always had a hard time meshing together and have a losing record when they are both on the court simultaneously.
This past season, the Knicks took home the Atlantic Division title, and Stoudemire played in only 29 of the regular-season games. The Knicks showed that they could win without Stoudemire and that the playing styles of Anthony and Chandler appeared to be seamless together. The Knicks had a good shot at the Finals, and Stoudemire returned for the last four games against the Indiana Pacers but demonstrated what seemed to be pitiful athletic behavior. The Knicks were tired, and Stoudemire did not have what it took to revive them.
Coach Mike Woodson used Stoudemire strictly off the bench in hopes of minimizing his minutes with Anthony and perhaps giving his team a fresh chance at a big player dominating the court. But it didn't happen. Woodson also found it difficult to play Stoudemire and Chandler together, especially against small lineups.
In Stoudemire's absence, Anthony has been at his best when playing power forward, Stoudemire's natural position. And since Anthony seems to be the star of the team and a beast on the court, it is doubtful that their coach is going to change up a lot in regards to him. Anthony seems to play better when Stoudemire is not around because he has more room to create. Woodson has some serious decisions to make and plans to execute in order to figure out where Stoudemire fits in best with his fellow teammates. If Stoudemire can remain reasonably healthy and the Knicks can find a way to use him in a frontcourt-scoring capacity, then they might just be able to make this work.
His Limited Playing Time
Stoudemire averaged 23.5 minutes per game in the regular season and only 8.3 in the postseason, something you would expect to see from a second-year player, not a six time All-Star. With a contract as large as his, fans would expect for a player to be athletically explosive and to posses an all-encompassing dominance that they would be playing with such ferocity for about 40 minutes per game.
It's rumored that Stoudemire will be restricted to a 20-minute time limit this upcoming season, something that he is not happy about. The decision to trade for Andrea Bargnani had a lot to do with the minute restrictions for Stoudemire, as the Knicks needed a player to score big and rebound hard. Stoudemire will also not be allowed to play in back-to-back games in order to protect his health and avoid injury. The real goal is to limit his playing time and make a big impact with a great reward during his short bursts on the court.
Fans are hopeful that Stoudemire will strengthen his knees and rebuild his stamina enough to eventually play more minutes and have an impact on the court. Knicks GM Glen Grunwald told ESPN, "Amar'e can definitely return to All-Star level play. We will see how it all plays out when training camp rolls around. He works hard. " Grunwald also insisted that Bargnani and newly acquired Metta World Peace will not impact Stoudemire's role and, "They're all good players and good players will play."
Stoudemire is one of the biggest unknowns for next season who has the ability to take the Knicks to another level. Only time will tell if the one-on-one coaching of Olajuwon will pay off, re-introducing Knicks fans to the Stoudemire that successfully claimed, "The Knicks are back!" There's no doubt that Stoudemire has a lot of work to do and no doubt that fans will be watching his moves under a magnifying glass, but with the right attitude, game play, good health and hard work, Stoudemire can be back on his way to proving why the Knicks wanted him so badly in the first place.
Amy A. Christine is a professional writer, journalist and sportswriter from NY who is following the development of all NBA teams and keeping a watchful eye on the New York Knicks.
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