The Phoenix Suns made the right move when they held onto Amar’e Stoudemire at this year’s trade deadline. Amar’e is absolutely one of the best offensive big men in basketball, and he’s been a crucial part of Phoenix’s run to the Western Conference Finals. However, now that Phoenix has reached the Western Conference Finals, it’s beginning to look like it might not be possible to win a championship if your superstar power forward does not play a lick of defense. And Amar’e Stoudemire does not play a lick of defense.
Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook put together some clips of Stoudemire’s pick-and-roll defense, and they’re not pretty. There’s Amare jogging back to his man after showing on the pick-and-roll. There’s Amar’e hedging out to give a weak double on Kobe at the three point line and giving Pau a wide-open lane to catch the pass and get the layup — it’s as though Amar’e forgets a basketball can move through three dimensions sometimes. After the game, Amar’e said that he was simply following the gameplan, and that the help defender was the one failing to do his job. That simply isn’t true — Amar’e wasn’t feeding his man to the helper, he was hanging the helper out to dry. Between that comment and calling Lamar Odom “lucky” after Odom destroyed Stoudemire in game one, the fact Stoudemire doesn’t seem to understand he’s bad at defense is almost as disturbing as his bad defense.
Stoudemire is one of the biggest free agents available this summer, and somebody will give him a max contract. What will be interesting to see is if Amar’e will ever become a decent defender. For all the praise Alvin Gentry’s (rightly) received for the job he’s done in Phoenix this year, he’s not a defensive mastermind, and that is, was, and shall be an offense-first culture. (For all the lip service paid to defense by Terry Porter, he’s no defensive whiz either.) What would happen if Stoudemire played for a coach with a good defensive system who would hold him accountable on that ends of the floor at all times? Would that be enough, or is Amar’e a lost cause on defense? Would a frontline featuring Stoudemire and an elite shot-blocker with enough athleticism to clean up Stoudemire’s messes be passable defensively?
These are the questions any team considering signing Stoudemire has to ask itself. Because if Stoudemire continues to play defense like this, there’s going to be a glass ceiling over any team that employs him.