When news broke that New York Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire had punched a fire extinguisher and caused lacerations to his right hand after the Knicks' Game 2 loss to Miami, it very well may have seemed the team's fate this season was sealed. After all, lead guard and defensive stopper Iman Shumpert suffered a torn ACL in a woeful 33-point drubbing by the Heat in Game 1. But there are two sides to every story, and Stoudemire's injury may have been a blessing in disguise in terms of New York's chances in this series.
During this season, Stoudemire missed 19 games; the Knicks went 14-5 during that span. As offensively gifted as he is, Amar'e -- not unlike Carmelo Anthony -- is better suited when the offense is run through him and him only. In those 19 games without him in the lineup, New York was a far more efficient team both in the half-court and in transition, where it maintained a staggering plus-7.5 per 100 possessions, per ESPN Stats & Info. Anthony's shooting splits and overall production meanwhile, skyrocketed. His best month of this season by far was April, when Stoudemire missed nine of 13 games. Anthony shot over 50 percent from the floor and averaged 30 points per game in that span, leading the Knicks to impressive victories over Chicago, Boston and Orlando.
The other key factor to consider is defense, where Stoudemire has long been known as a matador in the paint. Some of these deficiencies have been masked under interim head coach Mike Woodson, who was brought in initially to be the team's defensive mastermind.
Against an elite triumvirate like Miami's Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, however, the Knicks surrendered an average of 102 points and 51 percent shooting in the first two games in South Beach. While Anthony himself is far from a lockup artist, Stoudemire's defensive metrics are miserable. According to Synergy Sports Technology, in jump shots and non-post-ups -- the two areas where he is most exposed volume-wise -- Stoudemire ranks in the 23rd and 50th percentiles of the NBA. The Knicks, who went just 22-25 this year with him in its lineup, are better served playing the offensively inept Jared Jeffries at power forward alongside Tyson Chandler. Jeffries is an elite defender who can guard multiple positions and, because he doesn't need the ball on offense to be effective, allows Anthony to maintain his normally uber-high usage rate (29.2 percent) in the half-court.
To be sure, Anthony and Stoudemire's utter failure to coexist has little to do with their basketball abilities. It's just that both possess the same exact game, albeit at different positions. Both are premier offensive talents who need the ball in their hands as shot-makers, but neither -- especially Stoudemire -- are good at consistently creating for others. Anthony had the same issues earlier this season before Jeremy Lin took over the team's main distributing responsibilities; driving lanes were clogged with Stoudemire on the floor and he wasn't comfortable in the point-forward role running high ball screens.
Whether or not Amar'e returns for Game 4 at the Garden, as he proclaimed he will on Wednesday, remains to be seen, but if the Knicks have any chance at prolonging this series, it is with him out of the lineup.
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