Dec 20 2012
At 19-6, the New York Knicks have been just fine this year without Amar’e Stoudemire. New York runs the second most efficient offense in the NBA, scoring 110.5 points per 100 possessions. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a clear role or a need for Stoudemire in the Knicks offense. The monkey in the room looming over New York’s dream season has been the issue of whether the Knicks $100 million big man would accept a role coming off the bench. Over the past few weeks, Stoudemire has indicated that he would be accepting to come off the bench. Mike Woodson has indicated he will bring Stoudemire along slowly in terms of minutes played. All signs point to Stoudemire as a bench player, which is a really good sign for the Knicks.
In today’s NBA where player athleticism allows defenders to cover ground quicker than ever before, offensive spacing has become increasingly important. Teams are getting smaller and smaller with lineups, featuring more “stretch fours” (power forwards that can shoot and stretch the floor) than ever. The Knicks are no different. It is no secret that Carmelo Anthony is far more productive as a power forward, and has excelled to arguably an MVP caliber of play in New York’s wide open attack. New York employs a “four out” offensive system, based around four shooters and a big man setting pick and rolls.
The 4-5 tandem of Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler is about as good as it gets in the league and offensively both players compliment each other quite well. Anthony’s versatility makes him a weapon from any spot on the floor, meaning he can stretch the defense in pretty much any way that you want. Chandler is absolutely dominant in the pick and roll game as the roll man, 1.41 points per possession, ranking 1st in the NBA. Because Anthony can play above the three point line and there isn’t another big on the floor, Chandler and the point guards have more than enough space to operate. When opposing defenses collapse to try and stop the Knicks pick and roll game, shooters are left open outside the arc, where the Knicks hit at a 40.4% clip, ranking 3rd in the NBA. It is a simple offensive philosophy, yet an extremely difficult one to defend. The Knicks are playing the Mike D’Antoni spread offense, but just at a much slower pace. So if they’re playing D’Antoni ball, Stoudemire should be a perfect fit right? Not exactly.
Stoudemire has a perfectly carved out role on this team, but it’s not playing alongside Chandler and Anthony. In this style of offense, the center is the player delegated as the roll man. The 4 man should be a guy who can stretch the floor, preferably outside the three point line. That isn’t Amar’e Stoudemire’s game. In Phoenix, Stoudemire made his money as the center in D’Antoni’s spread attack. Because the floor was spread, he had all the room he ever needed to create havoc as the roll man. With Chandler, the defensive player of the year, in the fold, Stoudemire doesn’t have that luxury. In order to play alongside Chandler and Anthony, Stoudemire needs a more refined post game and a dominant mid-range jumper. He would have to play more as a weakside offensive player. Not necessarily a role he cannot excel in, but it isn’t a role for him that puts the Knicks in the best offensive situations. He needs to play center where he can get a healthy amount of pick and rolls to get him moving towards the hoop. Coming off the bench will allow him to do this.
New York’s second team is well equipped to feature Stoudemire as the main cog in the offense. Waiting for him on the bench is a great pick and roll point guard in Pablo Prigioni and a plethora of floor spacers. New York’s second team has been pretty decent offensively for not having a dominant offensive big. Rasheed Wallace and Kurt Thomas have been featured playing center in this scheme. Thomas is basically a non-factor on offense while Wallace is better suited as a pick and pop big who can step out and shoot the three ball.
This is the kind of offense you’ll most see with Stoudemire on the floor. Stoudemire will be playing the Kurt Thomas (40) role in this play. As I discussed earlier, you see the three floor spacers with a pick and roll happening in the middle of the floor. Notice all the space in the paint area. Given how dominant Stoudemire is in these types of situations, teams will have to pick their poison with the Knicks offense. Either they’ll have to collapse hard to impede Stoudemire at the rim, or they’ll tend to stay with the shooters and give him ample space to operate.
So that’s mostly what you’ll see when Stoudemire comes off the bench. However, as Zach Lowe alluded to on the Bill Simmons podcast yesterday, there will be about 6-10 minutes a game (situation dependent) when Stoudemire will have to share the court with Chandler and Anthony. These situations will likely come at the end of games, so the Knicks do need to iron out a way for these three guys to co-exist. I think they can do it, but as I mentioned earlier, Stoudemire has to expand his game. He worked on his post game in the off-season, but how effective it will be is anybody’s guess. What the Knicks really need is for Stoudemire to re-gain his mid-range jump shot.
When Stoudemire, Chandler and Anthony are on the floor, the Knicks will not be running the “four out” offense as much as we’ve seen them run. They’ll run more set plays, featuring a lot of screens, off-ball screens and post ups. Stoudemire will be used as an off-ball screener. If you look at situations where Kurt Thomas has been in the game alongside Anthony and Chandler, you get an idea of what the Knicks will try to do. Take this play for example:
The Knicks use Thomas and Chandler as off-ball screeners, first for Anthony then Brewer. After setting the second set of screens, Chandler dives to the hoop while Thomas spaces himself along the baseline. Chandler’s quick dive to the paint essentially ends up screening Thomas’ man, Keiff Morris, in the paint. Brewer finds the wide open Thomas along the baseline who nails the jumper. What we can draw from this play is the idea of off-ball screening for Stoudemire. This isn’t a new concept. Turn on a Knick game this season, and you’ll see all sorts of screens going on. You see cross screens to get a wing player an open jump shot coming across the set, as you see twice in that video above. You see pin down screens to open up spot up shots for Novak or JR Smith. Screening is a big part of the Knicks offense. Stoudemire can excel on these kind of plays. In 2010, his first year with the Knicks, Stoudemire shot 48.3% coming off screens.
This is a great example of how Stoudemire can be used on the weak side of the offense. The play starts out with a pick and roll at the top of the screen, with Thomas at the opposite elbow and Anthony in the opposing corner. Watch Thomas’ man completely leave him to collapse on Felton in the paint, thus cutting him off from shooting. Thomas gets a wide open shot and Felton does a great job to get him the ball. Don’t expect Stoudemire’s man to often completely leave him like we saw in that play, but that’s a look Stoudemire will get and we know that is a location Stoudemire likes to operate in.
These are Stoudemire’s shot charts from the past two seasons, 2010 being on the left and 2011 on the right. As you can see, apart from at the rim, that left side elbow area is Stoudemire’s favorite position to work on offense. As rough a season as Stoudemire had last season, you can see that he still shot 52% from that area.
The wild card with Stoudemire’s offense would be his new post up game, simply because we’ve never seen it in game action. In the one pre-season game Stoudemire played in, his post up game looked hit and miss. Woodson has alluded in interviews that he’d like to use Stoudemire in post, but to what degree and how that will look, we have no idea.
To reiterate, Stoudemire should see pretty limited time sharing the floor with Chandler and Anthony. Offensively the Stoudemire-Anthony front court can work, but then the Knicks will get killed on defense. Stoudemire and Chandler are a far worse fit, which is why we’ll likely rarely see them on the floor together. However, Mike Woodson will have to figure out how to use all three players together because they’ll likely be on the floor at the end of games.
Overall, Amar’e Stoudemire should provide a huge boost to an already great Knicks offense, provided that he comes off the bench. He should fit in seamlessly to the Knicks “four out” offense. I really like the pieces the Knicks have on their bench and how New York can create an effective second team offensive environment built around Stoudemire. They can also play more defensive minded lineups around Stoudemire, featuring Shumpert or Brewer or Wallace. Stoudemire being in the lineup will really help Pablo Prigioni reach his full efficiency. Prigioni is already a really good defensive point guard and having a great pick and roll big will help expand his offensive effectiveness. Although they won’t play a large amount of minutes together, Tyson Chandler, Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire will likely play important late game minutes together. Mike Woodson will have to figure out how all three guys can excel together. If Stoudemire can come back and be the dominant force off the bench that we all believe he should be, this Knicks team can be special. As long as Stoudemire comes off the bench, I believe the risk with him is small. If he struggles or gets injured, the Knicks will be where they were in the first place which isn’t so bad at 19-6. The risk comes if Stoudemire is inserted into the starting lineup and then he struggles. Mike Woodson has pushed all the right buttons this season and I think he’ll continue to do so and play Stoudemire off the bench. I think STAT will be great in his new role and he truly has the potential to push this Knicks team to the next level.
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