According to the New York Post, Amare Stoudemire is expected to make his return to the Knicks sometime this month.
When he returns from his knee surgery, the question will be how best to use him. Much has been made of his return disrupting the chemistry of a team that is playing so well (15-5, first place in the Eastern Conference), leading to speculation Stoudemire could be used as an option off the bench.
Counterintuitive as it may seem, there is merit to using their star as a substitute.
Doing so would allow Carmelo Anthony to continue to get minutes at the power forward spot, where he has excelled. Last season, the four was Anthony’s best position, as he posted an offensive player efficiency rating of 29.5 at PF, compared to one of 17.4 at small forward.
In 2011-12, the Knicks outscored opponents by 84 with Anthony at power forward, compared to just 13 when he was at small forward.
This season, the difference has not been as pronounced, with Anthony’s offensive PER at SF just slightly better than his PER at PF.
Still, he has played the majority of his minutes at the four in Stoudemire’s absence this season, as in the process, the Knicks are outscoring their opponents by 155 when he is at the position (compared to a +6 differential when he is at SF).
Also, last season the Knicks were better with Anthony at PF and Tyson Chandler at center than when Stoudemire tried to fit into the lineup in addition. The Knicks best two five-man units (that played more than 29 minutes) last year in terms of winning percentage had Anthony at PF and Chandler at center. These units had scoring differentials of +44 and +17.
When all three were playing together, the Knicks were not productive. Consider: During the 2011-12 Knicks season, eight 5-man units recorded a positive adjusted plus-minus, according to BasketballValue.com. Of these, not one included Stoudemire. Stoudemire’s best unit did not include Anthony, but rather Bill Walker at small forward.
The best 5-man unit that had Anthony, Stoudemire, and Chandler together posted an adjusted plus-minus of -5.56. This was the 2011-12 Knicks’ 11th best unit, one spot worse than the combination of Jeremy Lin, Landry Fields, Walker, Jarred Jeffries, and Chandler.
Looking at this season, a front court of Anthony, Stoudemire, and Chandler would risk jeopardizing the ball movement that has allowed the Knicks to be so successful thus far (the Knicks currently have the NBA’s second most efficient offense, according to NumberFire). It would also be cause for concern defensively, considering Stoudemire’s relative weakness on defense.
That said, Stoudemire can be a deadly weapon off the bench. He offers the opportunity to spell Anthony with a fellow elite scorer, as the ability to bring someone who has averaged more than 20 points per game in his career off the bench is a luxury few teams possess.
Another intriguing option would be to use Stoudemire at center, with Anthony remaining at power forward. This pairing would be a major liability defensively and from a rebounding standpoint, but used in spurts, it has the potential be very useful offensively.
Last season, Stoudemire was a much better offensive option at center than power forward. His offensive PER at center was 25, while his PER at PF was 14.7. At center, he shot a higher field goal percentage, and averaged almost four more rebounds and 8.4 more points per 48 minutes.
There remains the much-talked about “chemistry issues” between the two players, but with a fully functioning point guard playing with them for essentially the first time,* perhaps these problems will subside (Chauncey Billups was hardly a fit for Mike D’antoni’s offense, and Jeremy Lin was learning on the job last year).
Again, on the surface, it seems absurd the return of a six-time all-star could do anything but help a team. Still, there is some valid cause for concern, considering how well the Knicks are playing and Stoudemire’s track record when playing in a frontcourt with Anthony and Chandler. That said, used properly, Stoudemire’s return can be a boost for the Knicks, and it is possible the right usage would be using him off the bench.
Advanced stats and positional stats via 82Games.com, unless otherwise mentioned.