Amar’e Ain’t Done Yet, Folks

The 2011-2012 NBA season was an utter disaster for Amar’e Stoudemire. Whether it was on the court or off the court, the Knicks $100 million man could not seem to catch a break. Between the chronic back injuries, the death of his older brother, his sub-par performance on the court or his karate chopping of a fire extinguisher, nothing went right for Stoudemire in 2011. Across the board, his statistics fell to their lowest figures since the 2004-2005 season (I am discounting the 2005-2006 season in which Stoudemire played 3 games). Stoudemire averaged just 17.5 points per game, his lowest since his rookie season, and shot just 48.3%, his third lowest percentage of his career. More frightening than those statistics were the fact that Stoudemire averaged a career low 7.9 rebounds per game. However, I believe 2012 will be different for the Knick power forward and I’ll tell you why.

The crux of Stoudemire’s problems has been his health. The Knicks star was hampered with various medical deficiencies in Phoenix and they have carried over to New York. Whether it has been due to the pulled muscle in his back suffered in Boston, the bulging disc in his back from this season or his going Kung Foo Panda on a fire extinguisher, Stoudemire has missed 15 games due to injury  in the two seasons he has dawned the orange and blue (playoffs included). In each of the Knicks two playoff appearances during Stoudemire’s tenure, he has been hampered with injuries, one self inflicted and one freak injury. So why should things be different this season?

During the 2010-2011 season, Stoudemire’s inaugural season with the team, he participated in 78 of New York’s 82 regular season contests. Although he played in 78 games, it was quite obvious that head coach Mike D’Antoni’s speed ball offense combined with Stoudemire’s average of 36.8 minutes per game wore Stoudemire down. In the season prior, his final season in Phoenix, Stoudemire played a full 82 game slate and played big minutes in each of the Suns 16 playoff games. The 2009 Phoenix Suns were coached by Alvin Gentry, not Mike D’Antoni. Gentry played Stoudemire 34.6 minutes per game and as a result Stoudemire participated in all 82 regular season games. Obviously there are other factors involved, but I do think Stoudemire will benefit from not having D’Antoni as a coach. Not that D’Antoni’s style is detrimental to players, but the coaching change may benefit Stoudemire’s health.

Amar’e Stoudemire had the best seasons of his career playing in Mike D’Antoni’s offense. However, at age 29, I believe a slower paced system would be preferable in keeping Stoudemire healthy. D’Antoni is also notorious for riding his stars for big minutes, which also does not benefit a 29 year old Stoudemire. Not only is Woodson’s system slower paced than D’Antoni’s speedball offense, but Woodson did well to manage Stoudemire’s minutes during the 11 regular season games and 4 post season games he coached him. In the 11 regular season games where Stoudemire was healthy under Woodson as the coach, he averaged 29.9 minutes per game (MPG). In the playoffs, Stoudemire averaged 34.8 MPG in 4 games. Next season, I expect his MPG to be at about 32-33, which is less than the 36.8 he played in 2010 under D’Antoni.

I believe that if Woodson keeps Stoudemire under 35 MPG next season, STAT can have a very productive season. In 4 seasons in which Stoudemire has averaged more than 35 MPG, he has averaged 66.5 games played out of an 82 game season. In 4 seasons in which he has averaged less than 35 MPG, Stoudemire has averaged 81.25 games played out of an 82 game season. *In those numbers, I chose not to include this past season’s numbers due to the factors of a shortened schedule, his missing of games due to his brother’s health and the impending impact of the lockout*. Again, there are other factors involved when determining his health, but Stoudemire’s minutes are going to be a big factor in his success next season.

In addition to regaining his health, Stoudemire must also improve his game on the court. His effort on defense and on the glass were very poor, as was his mid-range jump shooting. Not to beat a dead horse, but I believe that these will all improve if Stoudemire can increase his health.

Is he ever going to be a great defender/rebounder? No. That isn’t who he is and that has never been a strong part of his game. I think he can improve in both those areas with some hard offseason training, something he was devoid of last season due to the lockout. We saw flashes of improvement in his rebounding/defense under Woodson’s first 7 games as coach, prior to Stoudemire’s bulging disc injury. His effort was clearly more focused and he was actually productive on the glass and adequate defensively. I’ll be pleasantly surprised if Stoudemire can turn himself into an above average rebounder/defender, but we have definitely seen flashes that he can at least help the team in those departments. I’d be satisfied with a more focused effort on the glass and defensively from Stoudemire. I think he has to find other ways to help the team win other than scoring and grabbing a few more boards and blocking a few shots would go a long way in helping the Knicks win games.

The Knicks pay Amar’e Stoudemire to put the ball in the net. Honestly, if Stoudemire isn’t scoring at a high level than he’s pretty much useless, given the fact that he is below average in defending and rebounding. Last season, Amar’e Stoudemire did not score at a high level which contributed to many of New York’s problems.

First off, Stoudemire seemingly forgot how to shoot a mid-range jump shot, one of the staples of his offensive game. According to Hoopdata, Stoudemire’s percentage on jump shots 10-15 feet away from the rim dropped from 38.3% in 2010 to 30.9% in 2011. His field goal percentage on shots 16-23 feet dropped from 44% to 35%. In layman’s terms, the guy couldn’t shoot last season. Without his jump shot, life was very difficult for Stoudemire with Tyson Chandler in the fold. Stoudemire is best at the center position where he has the room to roam around the paint area without much interference. With Chandler on the team playing center, Stoudemire was forced to play the power forward spot. It isn’t that Stoudemire is a bad power forward, but with Chandler in the mix Stoudemire had to rely more on his mid-range game. Chandler is not a shooter and therefore does not space the floor all that well, leaving Stoudemire less operating room to get to the rim. With many of his driving lanes taken away, Stoudemire had to shoot jump shots. Obviously that did not work out well for him and the Knicks offense struggled. So how can this be changed?

I think this all has to go back to his health. It clearly took Stoudemire most the season to regain his legs and his explosiveness. He never regained his 2010 form, but as the season progressed there were clear signs that Stoudemire was beginning to regain his athleticism. Thanks to hoopdata, we can see Stoudemire’s splits from each of the months this season. Notice how his FG% increased as the season wore on:

 Here are the numbers for his FG% as it pertains to shot locations

These two sets of data indicate a few things to me. To me, it is obvious that Stoudemire’s body was not in basketball playing condition heading into this season. His legs were not underneath him and his mid-range shot, actually his entire offensive game, was horrible because of it. These numbers above, as well as my own eyes, indicate to me that Stoudemire did regain athleticism throughout the duration of the regular season.

Now, he never found his jump shot, but his FG% at the rim improved as the season wore on. This indicates two things to me. The first is that he was more explosive. With his increased explosion, not only getting to the rim was easier for Stoudemire, but so was finishing at the rim at that elite level that had made him a great player in this league. His higher percentage of shots at the rim also indicate to me that Stoudemire had better adjusted his game to play with Chandler. The fact that his mid-range shots decreased while his shot attempts at the rim increased shows me that he was able to find room to operate in the paint even with Chandler on the floor. Don’t get me wrong, Stoudemire is still going to have to re-learn that jump shot, but these numbers give me some hope that he and Chandler will be able to co-exist together on the court.

In conclusion, Stoudemire’s health dictated his entire season in 2011. His body was never in prime condition and he was never able to perform at the MVP level we saw in 2010. Given Stoudemire’s rash history of injuries, one can assume that this problem will only persist on and plague the former all-star in the future. However, I think if Mike Woodson can effectively manage Stoudemire’s minutes and not run him into the ground, Stoudemire can have a very productive season. Given the fact that he’ll have a full off-season to improve both his health and his game, Stoudemire should be a much improved player than what we saw last season. If Stoudemire can improve that mid-range jump shot, its hard for him to get any worse at it, then he can be that dominant 2nd fiddle to Carmelo Anthony. Will we ever see the MVP caliber 2010 Stoudemire? Probably not. But I still think he’s got enough spring in those legs to be successful and I think he’ll work as hard as anyone this off-season to improve his game. I haven’t given up on Stoudemire and I think he is poised to have a strong comeback 2012 season.

… And also, Toney Douglas not being the starting point guard will probably help as well.

Follow Taylor Armosino on Twitter @tarmosino

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