Once upon a time there was a freakishly gifted NBA forward who lit up arenas on a nightly basis. His violent, thunderous dunks made opposing defenders appear as if they were moving in slow motion. His sculpted body was a scout’s dream. Showered with accolades, record-breaking contracts and lucrative endorsement deals, he was Hall of Fame bound. Nothing and no one was going to get in his way. And then, suddenly, he was irreversibly broken.
Grandma-Ma, meet STAT. STAT, meet the Artist-Formerly-Known-As-Larry-Johnson.
We sports fans live to compare. We compare players, we compare teams and we compare eras. We argue over the G.O.A.T. and why our guy is better than your guy. But drawing parallels — like Drew Paff did — occasionally leads us to conclusions we’d rather avoid.
During last night’s MSG telecast of the New Jersey Nets (10-24) vs. the New York Knicks (16-17), the esteemed Alan Hahn also wondered publicly what many in the blogosphere have suspected all season about Amar’e Stoudemire: he’s either playing hurt or last season’s back injury has forever robbed him of the explosion that was once feared across the league. Either way, STAT is simply no longer the player who was legitimately mentioned as an MVP-candidate just one year ago.
In fact, per 82games.com, Stoudemire’s inside shots (24% of his total shot-attempts can be characterized as close, dunks and tips) are being blocked a mind-blowing 11% of the time. For comparisons sake, 47% of Blake Griffin‘s shots are inside, yet just 4% are blocked. Chris Bosh takes 36% of his shots inside, but is only blocked 6% of the time.
The Larry Johnson who was acquired by the Knicks in 1996 — despite having his moments and playing an integral role in the ’99 NBA finals run — was a shell of himself in New York. After spraining his back in December of 1993, the former No. 1 overall pick progressively lost his ability to elevate, and as such, he was forced to rely on a bevy of low-post spin moves and an inconsistent mid-range jumper.
Unfortunately for Amar’e — whether due to disinterest or inability — he doesn’t have a post-up game to fall back on, and when his jump shot isn’t falling (his 34.1 eFG% this season outside the paint is absolutely dreadful), he doesn’t bring much else to the table, and even less on the defensive end of the floor.
Might the tragic and untimely death of Stoudemire’s brother be a factor here? Is it possible that he simply needs more time to be confident that his back is healed? Is there reason to be optimistic that the explosion and lift will return? Anything is possible, but anyone watching these games would be hard-pressed to place a bet on STAT’s vertical increasing anytime soon.
Maybe Stoudemire is destined to “star” on Broadway as the Knicks’ new version of the old Larry Johnson. And for the untradeable bargain price of just $83,251,385.00 (the remainder of STAT’s contract), at that. Oh well, no biggee, especially since JD and The Straight Shot can always go back on tour to offset that gloomy return-on-Stoudemire-investment forecast.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
- Speaking of comparisons, broadcasters and fans alike seem obsessed with labeling Jeremy Lin as the next [insert great PG here], but the best comparison might actually be Jason Kidd. Both hail from Northern California, where they led their high school teams to State Championships — Kidd, back-to-back in 1990 and 1991, Lin in 2006. Each checks in at 6’4, 200 lbs., yet neither would be described as particularly impressive as far as the measurables go. Both possess uncanny court vision, body-control and questionable shooting prowess (especially from the foul line and from beyond the arc). Kidd and Lin each have a proclivity to turn the ball over — although it should be noted that Kidd’s career Turnover Percentage (an estimate of turnovers per 100 plays) of 18.9% stands alongside a career Usage Percentage (an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player when he is on the floor) of just 19.6%, whereas Lin’s ratio is 22% to 31.1% (over his 9 career games started). Clearly Lin’s usage has been greatly skewed by the absence of Amar’e and ‘Melo, but these numbers are striking in that one can make a legitimate argument that Lin takes better care of the ball than the future HOF’er Kidd does/did. Kidd’s career-high in Usage Percentage was 25.2% with the Nets during the 2002-03 season – which was coincidentally his career-year. Last night against the Nets, Lin coughed up the rock just three times (all in the second half) and just missed a triple-double (21 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, 4 steals) despite playing limited minutes (for him) due to foul trouble. Admittedly, player-comparisons are usually flawed endeavors, but if Lin were to emulate Kidd’s career-arc, an already unfathomable story would become that much more unprecedented.
- Baron Davis made his long-awaited Knick-debut, and the results were decidedly-incomplete. Playing just 10 minutes, Davis (1-of-2, 3 points, 1 turnover, 2 fouls) looked fairly rusty, especially on the defensive end while trying to chase an incredibly sneaky Deron Williams (38 points, 8 treys, 6 assists) around screens. It’s going to take some time to determine just how much Baron has remaining in the tank, but apparently there’s plenty left in his I-just-made-a-shot-so-now-it’s-time-to-puff-puff-give arsenal.
- Jared Jefferies (4 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks in just 24 minutes) continues to make those who
criticized hated teased booedfailed to support him look foolish. If Landry Fields is the Knicks’ ultimate “glue guy,” I guess that means Jefferies is their “welding guy.” The only thing more surprising than his play might be the fact that gritty, gutty Gothamites — who oft-cite those rough and tumble 1990’s teams — have taken this long to appreciate the guy. Credit Tommy Dee for championing Jefferies value back when most thought he belonged in Romania’s Z-League.
- Mike Bibby and Toney Douglas did not play.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
- Sooner or later, the Knicks are going to have to start beating the league’s bad teams. Ranked dead-last in the NBA in strength-of-schedule, that New York finds itself one game below .500 midway through the season is as surprising as it is discouraging. Sure, their early season woes, the compressed schedule, extended absences for Amar’e and ‘Melo, and their overall roster-discombobulation are reasonable Knick-excuses, but going forward, Mike D’Antoni must find a way to keep his team focused and disciplined regardless of the opponent. On most nights, the Knicks will find themselves the more talented and deep team on the court — who could have predicted that a month ago? — but wins don’t derive from talent and depth alone; they come from focus, determination and attention to detail. All three were missing from the Knicks’ approach against the Nyets.
- Iman Shumpert (knee) did not play and his defensive intensity was “sorely” missed. For all of Lin’s gifts, chasing more nimble PGs around isn’t one of them. Deron, who was clearly miffed by “Linsanity,” was a man on a mission last night, but Shumpert, at the very least, would have made it harder on him.
- Carmelo Anthony Returns! Knicks Lose! I half-expected the NY Post’s back cover to read that way, but “correlation does not imply causation” in this case. ‘Melo (11 points on just 11 shots, 3 rebounds, 6 assists and 6 turnovers) was by no means good in his return to the lineup from a strained groin, but he was hardly the reason why the Knicks lost. In fact, despite the apocalyptic predictions that Anthony and Lin would be unable to coexist, the former seemed to go out of his way to defer to teammates. ‘Melo made several fantastic passes last night, and he beautifully converted on an early-game Pick-n-Roll play with Lin at the top of the key. Yes, he took some bad shots in the fourth quarter as New York tried to mount a double-digit comeback attempt, but Rome wasn’t built overnight, and the fluidity of the Knicks’ full-strength offense will take time to develop.
- Tyson Chandler has a temper. He picked up his eighth technical foul of the season last night (trailing only Kendrick Perkins, who leads the league with 10, and tied with Dwight Howard for second place), and he’s just four techs away from a mandatory one-game suspension — the threshold was lowered from 16 to 12 this season on account of the lockout-induced 66-game schedule. Chandler’s passion and energy are one of the main reasons why the Knicks are even in the playoff-picture right now, and he’s been everything ownership could have asked for and more, but he must learn how to better control his emotions on the court. Kris Humphries clearly got under the Knick center’s skin, much like he apparently got under Kim Kardashian’s, but that’s no excuse for Tyson to be wandering over to the opposing team’s bench.
- The Knicks’ schedule is about to get much more difficult with games v. Atlanta (Wednesday, MSG, 7:30 p.m.) and at Miami (Thursday, 7:00 p.m.) before the NBA All-Star break this weekend. After the break, they face Cleveland, at Boston, at Dallas, at San Antonio, at Milwaukee and Philadelphia. The Knicks should probably feel good about themselves if they are at .500 come mid-March.
- If you tuned in to the MSG-postgame show last night, you heard Al Trautwig, Kelly Tripucka and the aforementioned Hahn LOL’ing when one of my tweets was shown on-screen. The moment represents my life’s high-water mark. So far.
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