So it sure does look like Amar’e Stoudemire will play in Game 3. Mike Woodson expects about 10-15 minutes from him, though I’m sure if the game turns poorly with him out there, he’ll get less.
From my perspective, the return of Amar’e Stoudemire is neither a disaster in the making, nor an immediate jumpstart to the offense, in all likelihood. But I do think the move has potential for the playoff run as a whole, and I’m curious to see it.
Let’s start with the basics. It is absolutely unfair to expect Stoudemire to come out and play as well as he did just prior to this most recent surgery, with the stipulation that if he does, the benefit to the Knicks would be enormous. Stoudemire, over his final eight games, shot 63.5 percent from the field, scored 16.8 points per game in less than 26 minutes per contest, and was a force no second team could handle. He allowed Carmelo Anthony to rest more, and shoulder less of the offensive load. And against the bench players of Indiana, who are… not great, he would be dominant.
But like I said: expecting that Amar’e, who came in games 22-29 of his season, is unfair. The Amar’e from games 1-5, back in January, was a 42.9 percent shooter, good for 9.8 points per game in just under 21 minutes. Add in his defensive shortcomings, and he was a problem. If this series goes seven, Game 7 will be his fifth game back.
The reason he kept playing was simple: once he shook the rust off, the hope was he’d once again become a good-to-great offensive player. That happened, gloriously. Then came the new knee injury.
But it didn’t take until game 22 for Stoudemire to help. And that’s where the return could potentially be huge. If the Knicks beat Indiana in seven, games 6-12 of new Amar’e will be against the winner of the Heat/Bulls series. And in those games back, during the regular season, Amar’e shot 59.3 percent, averaging 14.6 points per game in 23.6 minutes per game. That’s pretty close to where he was by the time his regular season ended, and that’s awfully helpful off the bench.
The task for Mike Woodson, then, is to maximize Stoudemire’s reps during this series sufficiently to get the rust off, but not so much, should he struggle, that there isn’t any next series. No easy balance to strike. And it will be fascinating to see how he does it.
Of course, Amar’e could return to form faster, though the fact that this is an identical surgery, just on the other knee, makes the regular season a pretty decent comp. And there’s always the chance that on a surgically repaired knee and another knee that was surgically repaired a few months before, recovery is slower, or doesn’t reach the same level.
But the Knicks’ second scorer is… who? J.R. Smith is struggling mightily right now. Pablo Prigioni is a great story, but he’ll cease getting so many open looks the moment he starts regularly looking for them. Iman Shumpert has been impressive, but can he carry a bigger scoring load than he has over the past few games? All of these players are possible answers. But Amar’e Stoudemire is, too. And with so many questions, it never hurts to have another potential answer in the mix.