Coming into the 2012-13 season the New York Knicks and their fans want nothing else but to start out fast and strong and healthy. The reality is, that's not going to happen. While the team still has hopes of racking up more wins than losses their health simply isn't ideal. Iman Shumpert is still recovering from his knee surgery and shouldn't be expected till January or February. Ronnie Brewer unexpectedly needed minor knee surgery and has already recovered but wont be at full strength for at least a couple weeks. What's most concerning is Amare Stoudemire and his ailing knee. However, is it possible that missing one of their best players could actually help the Knicks get off to a fast start this season?
Before making the point, lets get this out of the way. Amare Stoudemire is an offensive beast. He can be dominant. When he's right he's explosive, he's elusive, he's athletic and he can be borderline unstoppable around the basket. Quite frankly, he's the best pick-and-roll roller in the game, period. He's also developed a wonderful mid-range jump shot. He certainly has his flaws and isn't a strong rebounder or defender but this writer is a big fan.
With that said, Carmelo Anthony is the present and future of the New York Knicks and he's shown that be may be a miscast power forward. Anthony is a five time NBA All-Star (2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012) and he may have been playing the wrong position his entire career.
Anthony has played small forward his entire time in the NBA. However, playing small forward has kept him largely on the perimeter where he's prone to a poor shot selection. He's also prone to losing his man on defense, who is often quicker than he is.
However, last season after Linsanity ran wild over the NBA, Anthony played a lot of power forward. Stoudemire was out hurt and the Knicks were playing a smaller lineup. Anthony thrived. In his power forward role, Anthony improved both defensively and offensively.
Most experts will tell you that the numbers don't lie. Well, the numbers back up the assertion that the Knicks are better off with Anthony as their power forward. 82Games.com reports that Anthony posted an impressive 29.5 player efficiency rating at power forward and only a mediocre 17.4 player efficiency rating playing small forward.
Granted, it was a small sample size (26 games). However, if such a small sample size warrants enough time to make a proper judgment on Jeremy Lin and his future it should in turn be enough to judge Anthony's play. Furthermore, Anthony's power forward production passes the eye test. If you know basketball it isn't hard to see the advantages playing Anthony at power forward gives the Knicks and how and why he's able to succeed in the post at a traditionally more physical and harsher position than his normal perimeter perch.
Why has the transition to power forward been such a good one for Anthony? First of all, he's stronger than your traditional small forward. At 6'8", 230 pounds he can hold his own and not get pushed around like a rag doll like you see when other small forwards attempt to play with the big boys. Instead, Anthony's brawn allows him to stand on equal ground with the bigger and slower opposing bigs and his quickness allows him to dominate them. Playing closer to the rim has allowed Anthony to optimize his skills and talents.
Antony's natural position didn't allow him to take full advantage of his arsenal because his strength didn't matter much on the perimeter. Playing closer to the rim also put Anthony in position to take higher percentage shots and utilize the best spin move in the game to get easy lay ups against slower defenders. Because of collapsing defenses, playing in the post often forces Anthony to make quicker decisions instead of stalling the offense like he often does on the perimeter. Playing down low also gives Anthony more second chance opportunities.
Now, if Stoudemire was his young dominant self that we once saw during his Phoenix Suns days it would be easier to justify keeping Anthony at small forward. However, Stoudemire sadly isn't the player he once was. His body is failing him. He's beginning to look older and older as he becomes more injury prone as the tread begins to wear off his tires. Want proof? Remember, numbers don't lie!
Stoudemire's two highest field goal percentages came when he was 24 and 25 years old. During the 2006-07 season (24 years old) in Phoenix he posted 57.5 percent from the field. During the 2007-08 season (25 years old), also in Phoenix, he converted 59 percent from the field. In his two season with the Knicks he's never come close to replicating those numbers. At age 28 during the 2010-11 season, Stoudemire posted a 50.2 field goal percentage. At 29 years old in the 2011-12 season he converted only 48.3 percent from the field. Stoudemire is still a good player but he's no longer a difference maker and not the man the organization is paying for.
What are New York's options? Well, they can't move Stoudemire to the center position when they are paying Tyson Chandler so much money and Stoudemire is such a defensive liability. There's no getting around it, if they want to play Stoudemire it has to be at Anthony's expense. Or does it?
Stoudemire's recent knee ailment may give the Knicks the political capital and leverage to cut its losses and play him less. There's almost no way New York can move its $100 million power forward in a trade at this point but they may now be able to justify moving him to their second unit.
Playing Stoudemire off the bench could help reduce the wear and tear on his body. At the same time, while it strengthens the first squad because of Anthony's dominance, it also gives the Knicks second unit an elite scorer as well. Right now they mainly rely on the streaky J.R. Smith for their scoring punch off the bench.
This configuration would give both Stoudemire and Smith another offensive player to play off of and it would give Stoudemire more time playing with the crafty Jason Kidd who is an elite passer and thrives behind the three point line where he'd surely get more open looks with Stoudemire on the floor. Plus, with Marcus Camby around Stoudemire would still have a center next to him to help cover up his defensive and rebounding short comings. It would also cut down Kurt Thomas' minutes and help keep him healthy.
The benefits of moving Stoudemire to the bench just go on and on. It really is a win-win move for the Knicks. It would help the players produce and stay more healthy and help the team put more checks in the win column. It would also allow the team to side-step the fact that Anthony and Stoudemire are yet to truly find a way to thrive with one another on the court at the same time. Furthermore, it really doesn't matter who starts the game but more who is in for the last few minutes and if Stoudemire warranted being on the floor with Anthony in crunch time Mike Woodson wouldn't hesitate to play him.
It remains to be seen how New York handles Stoudemire as his injuries pile up but his current ailment should allow the team to do well in the first few weeks of the season with Anthony at his optimal position. In that time, hopefully Anthony can open the eyes of the front office and the coaching staff and allow the team to truly transition to being his.
Bringing Stoudemire off the bench is not a slight. By all accounts he's a good man and a student of the game. He's constantly looking to improve and truly tries to keep himself in wonderful shape year round. However, the move would help New York make the most out of its roster.
As much as it made some Knicks fans very happy and excited (including this one), the Knicks made a large error when they gave Stoudemire that contract. It's not so much about the money, it's the amount of years that hurt so badly. James Dolan is a wealthy man and can afford to give Stoudemire $100 million but in out-bidding Phoenix in years the Knicks ultimately hand cuffed themselves and prevented further roster moves. It also left them stuck with a player who is prone to injury and making the some of the most money in the entire league.
That money is guaranteed. He's getting paid no matter if he plays throughout the contract or if he becomes Eddy Curry. However, the team can choose to stop paying for it on the floor and optimize his value from here on out.
Both the Knicks and their fans wish they weren't put in this position. It would be ideal if everyone were healthy and the Anthony-Stoudemire mix worked like everyone hoped it would. However, it's time to stop hoping and take the proper steps to optimizing the chances for the team to win in their small window for success for this roster. That means it's time for the Knicks to make the rest of the NBA pay for having no answer for a first unit led by Anthony and second unit led by Stoudemire.