Let’s add everything up. The Knicks are 21-9 without Amar’e Stoudemire this season. Carmelo Anthony is having the best year of his career and is a legitimate MVP candidate, all while playing most of his minutes at Stoudemire’s position.
But now Stoudemire is close to returning, and the Knicks are finally presented with the potential issue fans have been kicking around for weeks. Do they start him or do they bring him off the bench? Ian Begley of ESPN New York provides some insight:
“As long as injuries don’t necessitate otherwise, New York Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire will come off the bench when he returns to the team, league sources with knowledge of the Knicks’ thinking said.
The Knicks hope Stoudemire will return to the lineup Tuesday at home against the Portland Trail Blazers.
The team would like Stoudemire to come off the bench initially, though sources cautioned there is a possibility he will have to return as a starter because of injuries. Carmelo Anthony was to miss his second consecutive game Friday night against the Sacramento Kings with a left knee ailment, and Raymond Felton is out four to six weeks with a fractured right pinky finger.
“It’s a fluid situation (because of injuries),” one source said. “But they want him to come off the bench to start.”
At this point, there is a fair amount of data that suggests Carmelo Anthony is a more productive player when he plays at the 4. It makes sense — he’s a very good post player, and he’s a guy that needs space to operate. A smaller lineup provides him the freedom to back his man down low or slash and kick off the dribble. While Chandler can take a backseat to the Melo show just fine and still be a very effective offensive player, it wasn’t as easy for Stoudemire to do the same last year.
Although it may take some creative lineup juggling by Mike Woodson once everyone is healthy, it’s not like the Anthony-Stoudemire-Chandler frontcourt trio is a death knell for the Knicks’ chances — in certain matchups, that lineup can work. Can Amar’e Stoudemire occupy Ronnie Brewer’s spot and shoot at least 37 percent from the field like Brewer has this year? I would say yes.
Stoudemire may not be “stretchy” per se, but he’s posted really good numbers from 16-23 feet over his career, usually checking in at around 45 percent from that range. He can make that shot with consistency The days of Stoudemire being the linchpin of a pick-and-roll attack, however? Those are gone — at least while he’s wearing orange and blue. This is Carmelo’s show offensively, and you can’t argue with the results produced so far this year.
Ultimately, it’s a good problem to have. Adding another productive player to your rotation always helps, especially when your roster is old and injury prone. Stoudemire may not fit well next to Anthony and Chandler in the starting lineup, but you could find much worse players to act as your third big man — so long as Stoudemire is amenable to being that.