Have yourself Amar’e little Knicksmas.

Have yourself Amar’e little Knicksmas.

Dec 24

First off, I want to apologize immediately for the title of this article. If you think it’s bad reading something that dumb, imagine having stuff like that pulsing through your brain all day every day. That’s my burden, you guys. But, at any rate, I hope you’re having a nice holiday season.

As we prepare for tomorrow’s quintuple-header of NBA action, there are countless storylines worth exploring. For me the most interesting involves the Knicks and the inevitable return of Amar’e. In my opinion, the Knicks’ success – they are playing awesome, especially on offense – along with their newfound chemistry are the biggest stories in the league at this point, and the fact that the return of Stoudemire is freaking Knicks fans out, only makes this more fascinating. I don’t want to rehash the reasons for the freak out in this space; I’ll just paste some typically great Zach Lowe analysis here:

“The Knicks offense died last season when Anthony, Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler played together, scoring at a bottom-five overall rate. A healthy Chandler has emerged as one of the NBA’s five best pick-and-roll big men, outdoing Stoudemire at Stoudemire’s best skill. Anthony is dramatically more effective working the post and driving to the hoop, tougher tasks with two traditional big men around the paint. That left Stoudemire aimlessly looping around the perimeter for elbow jumpers he made a third of the time, awkwardly picking his spots to attack, and hurting the team on the other end with consistently bad defense.”

What we talk about when we talk about the 2012-2013 Knicks:

The Knicks are all of a sudden a team with a strong identity. Their roster has veterans, champions, all-stars, sharpshooters, Olympians, a defensive player of the year, and a strong MVP-candidate. They have a great offense, which is characterized by great passing and record-breaking 3-point shooting. 35% of their field goal attempts have been 3-point attempts, which is insane. Even more insane is their 3-point shooting efficiency, which currently stands at 41%. Frequent wide-open threes are indicators of a very healthy offensive ecosystem; the 2012-2013 Knicks are on pace to shatter current NBA 3-point shooting records. What could possibly spoil this beautiful Manhattan ecology?

In February of 1999, the White House released an executive order that defined an “invasive species” as “species that are non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm.” Now, I don’t believe that Amar’e will cause real-world economic or environmental harm, but many Knicks fans are rightfully concerned that he will negatively affect the style the Knicks play.  These New York Knicks love passing and 3-point shots, but Amar’e does not love these things.

What we talk about when we talk about Amar’e:

Over the last two seasons, Amar’e is a 55/43/2 player, meaning 55% of his shots are close range, 43% occur in the mid-range, and only 2% happen behind the arc. His efficiency peaked in 2007-2008, when he shot 59% from the field and got to the line 9 times per game. But his FG% has declined in almost every season since – not because he has gotten worse at shooting basketballs, but because he has less lift and is less aggressive, which manifests in him getting to the rim less and shooting midrange jumpers more. As a result, he is a 48% shooter these days who gets to the line 5 times per game. The pessimists argue he’s a player with tragic knees on the wrong side of 30. They say that when we talk about Amar’e on offense, we’re talking about a guy who has lost a step, a guy who doesn’t shoot 3’s, a guy who doesn’t pass very well, and a guy who is evolving into an average midrange shooter. They say he is Brandon Bass with a max contract. They also say he’s an awful defender.

As proven by Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan, it is possible to age gracefully as a power forward in the NBA, and the optimists argue that Stoudemire may be able to pull that off. From an offensive-only perspective late-era Stoudemire does in fact play a bit like recent versions of Garnett and/or Duncan. He is very active in the pick-and-roll elbow zones, but he can’t knock down that pick-and-pop midrange jumper like Timmy and KG can. That may come, however, and is definitely something to watch this season. If his shooting does not improve he will hurt the Knicks spacing and their overall offensive efficiency.

80% of Amare’s shots come in these four zones.

When he gets to the rim he is still effective, but as his knees continue to decline so does his ability to get close-range attempts. Going forward, I expect Amar’e to get a larger share of his chances at the elbows. My main Grizzly Man, John Hollinger suggests that Amar’e is a “good” midrange shooter, but I argue that he is only average. In fact, his chart reveals that he is very good on his left from behind the elbow, but way below average from the same spot on his right. These are the areas where he needs to improve. This is the same strategic space where players like Bosh and KG are very efficient. There’s no doubt that Amar’e has the potential to get there, but there is certainly no guarantee he will.

I’m in the camp that believes that Stoudemire should come off the bench for the Knicks. It’s obvious that their starters are doing just fine without him. I’m also optimistic that his game can provide the Knicks’ bench with additional offensive options, especially in the midrange. But, if he clogs up the Ray Felton corridor, or if he fails to improve his passing, his jump shooting efficiency or his defense, it’s hard for me to see his presence benefiting the Knicks very much.

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