Of the many questions surrounding the New York Knicks coming into this season, perhaps the biggest was whether Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire could function together in the frontcourt. The evidence up until this point doesn’t make for pretty reading for those dreaming of a cohesive Anthony-Stoudemire-Tyson Chandler frontline.
The Knicks played some of their best basketball last year when Stoudemire was hurt—with Anthony taking full control of the offense—and it seems like no coincidence that Stoudemire was at his best in a Knicks uniform before the trade that brought Anthony to MSG.
As much as the players and management have waxed lyrical about Stoudemire’s importance to the team’s offense, many Knicks fans won’t have been too devastated with the news that Stoudemire was going to miss the first 6-8 weeks of the season. And the fact that the Knicks have looked fantastic in their victories over Miami and Philadelphia won’t have changed many people’s perceptions about the Knicks looking better without Stoudemire in the starting line-up.
Granted, we’re only a few games into the season—a ridiculously small sample size with which to make sweeping judgments about any team—and the Knicks won’t always hit as many shots from downtown as they’ve done in their first two games, but the Knicks’ frontcourt issues have been evident for more than a year now. It’s obvious to anyone watching , unless you bet on NFL football, that Anthony is best suited to the power forward position. At the 3-spot he gets exposed on defense, trying to chase down quicker, more agile, small forwards. At the power forward position he’s far more comfortable defending his opposite number. He’s strong enough to post-up on offense, and possesses a speed advantage over most opposing players at the 4-spot.
To put it simply: Anthony’s a better power forward than Stoudemire. The Knicks benefit on offense from having their best player function in his preferred spot—whatever he says publicly—while on defense, they’re far more solid with Anthony at the 4. It’s well known that Stoudemire is a frequent proponent of matador-style defense, and with Anthony getting exposed at small forward, the pressure on Tyson Chandler to bail the team out is huge. While accepting his Defensive Player of the Year Award last season, Chandler jokingly (but somewhat truthfully) acknowledged Anthony and Stoudemire’s role in his success—having to bail them out numerous times can’t help but make you look like a hero.
But the Knicks can’t just rely on Chandler if they’re serious about contending for a championship, which is why having Stoudemire and Anthony start together is a risky proposition. The Knicks just have too many players who coast/are generally horrible on defense—the likes of J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton and Steve Novak—so allowing Anthony to play with defensively solid frontcourt players enables him to do what he does best, and limits the damage defensively. So far this season they’ve started Ronnie Brewer at small forward, an elite perimeter defender who has given them the stability they need on defense, and has allowed Anthony to concentrate on offense, and defend slower power forwards.
It’s difficult to imagine Mike Woodson benching Stoudemire for long when he does return. He was moved back into the starting line-up fairly quickly last year after returning from injury. However, if the Knicks are still looking cohesive by the time he’s ready to return, Woodson should give serious consideration to playing Stoudemire in a 6th man role. Stoudemire won’t like it, of course, but for the good of the team, it would be the correct decision.
Stoudemire is still above average on offense, despite his alarming decline over the past two seasons, and he can offer the Knicks that scoring punch off the bench. If Woodson wants to continue getting the best out of Anthony, on offense and defense, keeping him at the 4-spot is essential.
Like the old adage goes: if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.