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Rider in the Storm: The Not So Curious Case of Amar’e Stoudemire

In midst of trade rumors and speculation regarding his future with the Knicks Amar’e Stoudemire’s star has waned from that of a fearless saviour leading a Garden Revival to that of rumored trade fodder in Gotham’s ever revolving grandiloquent dreams for quick fix domination.  Whether Stoudemire added an extra inch in height to his already intensely imposing presence matters little. What all who witnessed last year’s revival cannot deny is that Stoudemire’s  stature grew when he not only became the first Star talent to embrace a fickle Garden rather than shying away from it. But more importantly his stature grew as his unrelenting efforts in the midst of crisis cast back a culture of losing while making Gotham’s team competitive and relevant after a decade’s long slumber.

With all that said every observer of Stoudemire’s career and life will tell you that he is a warrior. If you were to think of what sort of legendary combatant Stoudemire reminds you of while on the hardwood, what image would come to mind to you? For me, I recall the mounted archers of the Asian Steppes or the mounted indigenous horsemen of the great plains.  Lethal light calvarymen adept in their use of the long bow or musket while on the move on horseback. Fleet and uncluttered by the weight of heavy armor yet dependent on their mares that set them in motion to unleash the precise killing strikes of their long bows and guns. Mounted skilled aggressive marksman roaming free over the North Asian steppes and the Great Plains. 

Stoudemire in many ways is similar to the famed Warriors from the Great Plains and the heydays of the Great Khans.  Stoudemire’s lethal forays into the paint can unleash an arsenal of posterizing dunks, power moves off glass and at the rim, which employ an adept touch on the move honed over time. Stoudemire can also strike from distance with an improved series of mid and long range jump shots that prevents opponents from cheating too close to him. However, like the famed light cavalrymen, Stoudemire’s attacks often required the assistance of a set up to initiate his forays at the point of attack. Moreover, Stoudemire is more effective in an wide open unencumbered system that maximizes space for him to fill the lane via the break or simulated secondary break.

 

You may ask what does the above analogy have to do with the current travails of the Knicks star forward, Amar’e Stoudemire. Well ask yourself the following questions? What happens when the fearsome light cavalry of  the open plains and steppes are parted from their advantage on their mares?  What if they then donned protective armor and were set to fight in engagements in close quarters absent the training to afford them such a transition? That warriors quick strike advantage in open spaces navigated by their mares would be negated, while a close quarter style suddenly thrust upon them would leave them at a tactical disadvantage. 

Despite setting a lofty performance standard for himself last year, a series of factors have brought Stoudemire down to earth as he entered the 2011-2012 season.  As the result of his rehabilitation from a back strain suffered during the course of last years playoffs, Stoudemire has added a suit of muscle to his svelte mobile physique.  A more heavily muscled yet rehabbing Stoudemire then missed his off season workouts.  The absence of an offseason workout regimen was compounded by the lockout that severely shortened training camp and a compressed regular season schedule even further curtailing Stoudemire’s practice time.

Most critically, however, the loss of an uptempo point guard in Reymond Felton and then a competent point guard in Chauncey Billups derailed Stoudemire’s rhythm on offense.  In essence he was knocked off his high horse as the open uptempto offense slowed to a crawl in the absence of a stallion at the point. That high speed open attack has devolved into a more sluggish pace. In the absence of a capable point guard to initiate D’Antoni’s offense the team has relied ever more heavily on isolations from Stoudemire and his teammate Carmelo Anthony.   The crawl of the offense has cast Stoudemire into a series of close quarter battles with teams packing the paint to deny his and Anthony’s Quixotesque forays.  A disheartening situation made worse by an often rhythmless and hurried barrage of hair triggered outside shooters apparently married to the long ball as their primary option.

Stoudemire’s woe’s as noted in previous post on this blog suggest a co-dependence built of offensive design. Absent the galloping steed upon which, his offensive production charges forward with, Stoudemire’s impact on the game this year has plummeted.  Spacing has been compromised due to defenders’ tendency to collapse in on STAT and Melo’s isolation forays in the absence of the Pick and Roll that simulates the open spacing and defensive collapse of the fast break. But spacing has also arguably been compromised with the presence of Stoudemire’s shift to the center position to accommodate the addition of Tyson Chandler’s defensive presence.

Like any warrior Stoudemire fights on and has shown glimpses of a resurgence despite his slow start to the season.  Yet, his high number of turnovers reveals a difficult transition to the trench warfare that has ensued with the offense slowing to a crawl.  Also, Stoudemire’s limited post game and the absence of half court sets — aside from the Screen and Roll — or passers capable of freeing Amar’e near the post compounds his slow resurgence.

The absence of those dimension’s may come back to haunt the Knicks and Stoudemire even if a point guard emerges this season to spark D’Antoni’s offense.  While Stoudemire’s pitched in engagements this regular season may be an aberration in the absence of a capable point guard, trench warfare becomes the norm in the playoff’s.  A time of year when better defense often negate a teams primary set/s and options. For the Knicks, who under D’Antoni continue to place all their eggs in an up tempo offense keyed by a symbiotic co-dependent set, it’s negation may prove that the Storm over Amare’s is not an aberration.

Surely Amer’e will ride high again with the return of a competent point guard. But will Amar’e the warrior and the Knicks offense be able to adapt to the trench combat they’ll encounter in the playoffs.  Is it time to close out D’Antoni’s simulated frontier?