The Knicks 113-97 win over Orlando marked the 12th game Amar’e Stoudemire has played since returning from injury. He’s coming off the bench and has excelled in that role. His per-36 numbers read 20.2 points 52% shooting and 7 rebounds. Stoudemire, who looked like a shell of his usual high flying all-star self last season, looks quick, strong and healthy. Having worked out with Hakeem Olajuwon over the summer, Stoudemire added a post-up game to his offensive arsenal. There was much skepticism around how effective his new post game would be and how often it would be used. To this point, and especially over the last 5-6 games, Stoudemire’s post game has been more effective than anyone could have expected.
According to Synergy sports, Stoudemire is shooting 18/29 (62.1%) out of post ups and draws shooting fouls 12.8% of the time. His 1.04 points per possession in post ups ranks 6th in the league. He’s not perfect yet, turning the ball over 21.3% of the time, but he’s been very effective. Though the overall sample size is small, 12 games played, it looks like Stoudemire will be used more often in post than in pick and roll. 30.7% of his plays have come in post up situations while he’s worked as the roll man just 19.6% of the time.
The NBA is evolving. Big men who operate in the mid-range are a dying breed. The mid-range shot has proven to be one of the most inefficient shots in the game. Given the ever increasing athleticism in the league and the ability of defensive players to cover larger amounts of space in shorter periods of time, spacing is more important than ever in today’s NBA. As a result of this, offenses are evolving around the idea of shooting a high volume of threes, getting to the rim and taking fewer mid-range jump shots. Prior to Stoudemire’s arrival, the Knicks were running a slower version of Mike D’Antoni’s 4-out offense. New York was hoisting a high volume of threes at near league high efficiency while Tyson Chandler was scoring at the rim at nearly a 70% clip. There was much concern that Stoudemire would mess up the Knicks spacing. He didn’t shoot the mid-range shot well at all last season, hitting at just 35%. If that continued this season, teams would pack the paint, basically eliminating Chandler’s offensive effectiveness and forcing Stoudemire into a high volume of jump shots. However, Stoudemire’s new post up game has alleviated the spacing problem all together.
Though the Knicks aren’t running as much 4-out, they’re still shooting a high volume of threes and taking a high volume of shots at the rim. What’s great about Stoudemire’s post game is that he’s not operating in the high post and he’s not taking shots farther away from the paint. He’s getting good position in the low post and getting to the rim, which is exactly what the Knicks want. If we observe Stoudemire’s shot chart, you’ll see that 78 of his 103 (75.7%) of his shot attempts this season have come in the paint.
Stoudemire has barely operated with the ball outside of the paint, which has greatly increased his efficiency, as he’s shooting 62.8% at the rim. Though the style of the Knicks offense has changed (more post ups, bigger lineups), the principles of the offense haven’t. They’re still shooting a ton of threes and they’re still getting shots at the rim. Stoudemire has fit into the offense about as well as could be expected.
Coming off the bench was seen as ideal for Stoudemire because he could play the center spot without Tyson Chandler on the court and with four shooters that could create space for him to operate.. Not only has the Knicks offense been good with Stoudemire at the 5, but it has been good with Stoudemire, Chandler and Carmelo Anthony all on the floor as well. Last season, that combination was not very good, which was a large part as to why the Knicks got off to such a poor start. In 794 minutes total, the three-man combination of Stoudemire, Chandler and Anthony had an O-RTG of 98.5 and a D-RTG of 100.3; a Net-RTG of -1.8. In 108 minutes this season, that same three-man combination has an O-RTG of 115.2 and a D-RTG of 103.1; a Net-RTG of +12.1. Granted the sample size is small, but that is an unbelievable improvement. Nobody expected this kind of progress this quickly.
Why has the Chandler, Stoudemire, Anthony three man combination been so successful? Much of the success can be contributed to Stoudemire’s post game and his offensive positioning. Rather than floating around the mid-range area and getting in the way of the offense, he can station himself down closer to the rim. Without him sitting out past the free throw line, the Knicks perimeter players have more space to operate. Chandler can set picks without Stoudemire’s defender helping off him to mess up the pick and roll game. Anthony has more space to pick and choose where he wants to set up. And instead of just sitting down in the low post area to space the floor, Stoudemire now feels comfortable when getting the ball there and he’s obviously been efficient. Mike Woodson has done a good job to get these three players playing in unison. There’s much work to still be done and the sample size is not a big one, but this development is very encouraging.
12 games is an incredibly small sample size. Stoudemire isn’t yet an elite post up threat, yet, but we need to recognize how “phenomenal” Stoudemire’s production in the post has been. This looks like it could be the focal point of his offensive game moving forward. 108 minutes is an incredibly small sample size, but we need to recognize how successful the previously dreadful trio of Stoudemire, Anthony and Chandler have been. The Knicks aren’t there yet, but they’re making really encouraging progress on offense, much in part to Amar’e Stoudemire’s incredibly effective post game. Stoudemire is playing his best basketball since 2010. He’s efficient, he’s healthy and he’s dominating. I credit much, if not most of his success to his new found post game. Right now, that $100,000 spent to work with Olajuwon looks like a great investment for Stoudemire and the Knicks.
Follow Taylor on Twitter @tarmosino