Despite Carmelo Anthony clearly being the straw that stirs the drink for the New York Knicks, Amare Stoudemire is still a very important piece of the puzzle. Stoudemire has been on a minutes limit since returning from injury to protect him from himself. However, with his knee holding up and the Knicks knowing they'll need him to play major minutes during the home stretch of the season and in the playoffs it may be time to increase his work load. Is Stoudemire ready to play more minutes?
Amare Stoudemire has been nothing but a professional this season. Last post-season Stoudemire lost his cool and cut his hand badly on a fire extinguisher. However, this season he's accepted his role coming off the bench. He's been willing to play power forward or center when asked and hasn't complained about the 30-minute restriction on his playing time.
Jared Zwerling of ESPNNewYork reports that it may be time for Stoudemire's minutes to increase to prepare him for the end of the regular season and the post-season.
But according to a source close to the Knicks, Stoudemire is "ready" and "healthy" to play more minutes to help the team.
"He's in tip-top shape," the source told ESPNNewYork.com. "He wants to play; whatever it takes for [the Knicks] to win."
"Now is the time to be giving him extending minutes to see how his body reacts to it," the source said, "especially when you're not on [a] big winning streak. … Something has to shake up."
Against the Miami Heat Sunday, Stoudemire sat out the final eight minutes of the game. He only played 21 minutes and the Knicks' lost. The loss certainly cant be blamed solely on Stoudemire's minutes but his scoring presence was exactly what the Knicks were missing down the stretch.
Stoudemire's game has changed. He use to only be a pick and roll, isolation and jump shooting player. This summer he spent two and a half weeks with Hakeem Olajuwon and developed a post game. Now, it was only two and a half weeks. Stoudemire clearly has much more to learn and develop in his low-post game. However, his ability to score down low has changed his game and given the Knicks a new element to their roster. It will be fun to see how good he can get in the paint with more time with "The Dream".
Without that weapon in the game, the Heat were able to apply more defense on Carmelo Anthony and make the Knicks look for more options that simply weren't there. Stoudemire can be a defensive liability but in close contests like that one he needs to be in the game to give the Knicks another scoring option and give their opponents another weapon to worry about.
If Stoudemire is truly healthy and his body is ready, his minutes need to increase. It's important to increase his minutes now so he's ready for the playoffs. The Knicks don't want to do it too early so he doesn't get too much pounding on his knee. They also can't afford to do it too late and not have him ready. The team would be in big trouble if Stoudemire was to re-injure his knee in any way.
It's during this part of the season that coaches shorten their rotation to focus on their best players. For Mike Woodson that means almost no playing time for Pablo Prigioni and Chris Copeland and more time on the floor for his main rotation players like Stoudemire.
What the Knicks do on offense isn't that difficult to figure out. They tend to rely on perimeter play and three point shooting far too much. In fact, you could say that the Knicks will only go as far as their three point shooting takes them. Playing like that can be a double edge sword though. When shots are falling your team looks unbeatable. When they aren't, it is very difficult to get wins.
Getting Stoudemire additional touches and opportunities could be a solution to that problem. He takes more efficient shots and has been very effective this season. He's shooting nearly 60 percent from the field thus far. He also draws double teams and prevents opponents from double teaming Anthony. Additionally, he needs to be used in the pick and roll more often. He's shown great fusion with Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and J.R. Smith as a roll man.
Furthermore, Anthony and Stoudemire could be the most deadly pick and roll duo in the entire NBA. Either can set the pick, either can roll to the basket and either can make the pass to the roll man. That is a combination that Woodson need to utilize more often and take advantage of his two best offensive weapons working together.
Increasing his minutes doesn't mean that Stoudemire should be a starter. In fact, Anthony has been dominant this season playing power forward and Stoudemire's best minutes have actually come as a center. Plus, burning some of his limited minutes in the first few minutes of the game isn't a wise decision. Beyond that, the Knicks need his low-post scoring on the second unit.
That being said, it is important that Stoudemire gets 10 or more attempts each game. He needs to prove that his body can handle playing 30 or more minutes. He needs to be able to finish games and not have to sit on the bench when his skills are needed. That means he'll have to rebound and play more defense to prove to Woodson that he belongs in games when it means the most. It also means he'll have to prove he can play along side Anthony and Tyson Chandler at the same time.
Without production from all of their best players the Knicks will remain closer to a .500 team than the first place squad they were to begin the season. That means the team needs maximum effort from all of their best players on both ends of the court.
They need to move without the ball and move the ball around the court to keep the defense on their toes and find the open shooter. They need to stop relying on jump shooting so much and start driving to the rim more. Most importantly they need their best players to step forward and decide if they'll just be an entertaining team or a true contender. That means more minutes for al of their main weapons, including Stoudemire.
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