You can consider me a skeptic of the idea that Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire were best-served by playing together as often as possible. Stoudemire, for most of his career, existed in the same offensive space, and position, that Anthony has exploited during his absence to the greatest success of Anthony’s career.
And yet: it is undeniable that at least in the abstract, using Anthony and Stoudemire should provide one, or the other, with unlimited opportunities to score absent the kind of singular defensive attention each one receives alone.
Moreover, this isn’t simply a binary choice at power forward. Anthony might not be optimally used at small forward, but he has managed a fairly decent career playing that position, after all. And by splitting them up, it means at all times there’s a small forward playing with Anthony or Stoudemire who obviously isn’t close to Anthony’s caliber. The bigger question isn’t whether the two are better off on their own, but whether the Knicks are better off with Stoudemire and sub-optimal Anthony, as opposed to Stoudemire + ?????? and Anthony + ?????.
There’s another, less useful discussion, of how Chandler fits with those two. The reason I think it’s largely irrelevant is this: the Knicks simply cannot function defensively without Chandler on the floor, particularly without Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace. So sure, Chandler in theory eliminates some of Amar’e’s pick-and-roll opportunities. Then again, who cares? Chandler converts them at a ridiculously efficient rate. If the Knicks are getting a combined 17-for-18 from Stoudemire and Chandler, as they did Wednesday night against the Magic, it just doesn’t matter who gets more shots.
To their credit, the Knicks are doing a little bit of experimenting here, playing all three together, but starting with Stoudemire coming off the bench, allowing Anthony to begin games at power forward. If Iman Shumpert can recover sufficiently to improve upon his uneven defense and 10.8 Player Efficiency Rating, the equation may change. And by the way, let’s not assume he won’t. He’s six games back from missing almost a year with a major knee injury. But we also can’t assume he will. He missed almost a year with a major knee injury.
The immortal Seth Rosenthal did a great job breaking down the total Amar’e story, statistically so far.
But I wanted to point out the specific strengths that have appeared in the admittedly small sample size we have of Chandler/Stoudemire/Anthony.
The Knicks have eight lineups with an effective field goal percentage better than the team’s overall total. Two of the eight are a Big Three combination. (Three of the eight include the supposedly poor season of Steve Novak, but that’s for another time).
Of the nine best rebounding lineups, better than the team’s overall total rebounding percentage, three are Big Three combos, including the top two, one with a Prigioni/Smith backcourt, the other a Felton/Smith backcourt. That was, to put it mildly, not a strength of the early-on, successful Knicks. It showed against teams like Chicago and Memphis. So it is a necessary, welcome dimension.
As for the biggest team strength of all, keeping the ball safe, two of the top three lineups doing so include Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler.
Look, it remains to be seen how much this data means. We have 290 minutes of Stoudemire to work with, and more like half that-his past seven games- to evaluate with Stoudemire playing more like his old self.
But I’ve seen enough to at least entertain the possibility that the frontcourt the Knicks originally envisioned, but has seemed destined to be broken apart, is their best look for the greatest possible portion of the game.