Amare Stoudemire leading the New York Knicks back to legitimacy after years of failure is one of the best stories of this NBA season, except to those of us in Phoenix still longing for the glory days.
The Knicks enter Friday’s matchup against the Suns 20-14, seemingly locked into a top-six playoff seed five games ahead of Indiana and with a 96.4 percent chance of reaching the postseason, according to Hollinger’s Playoff Odds.
Much of the credit for this turnaround has been heaped on the man known as STAT. Like Steve Nash, I’ve been particularly impressed with the way Amare has embraced the bright lights of New York and become a real leader, which wasn’t always the case in Phoenix. It was just a few years ago when he told reporters to speak to the captains (Nash, Shaq and Hill) as to why the Suns were losing instead of him.
But he always spoke of wanting to be known like the LeBrons, D-Wades and Dwights of the world (ironic that two of them teamed up just as Amare became a franchise guy, no?), and he’s embracing that challenge with open arms. What was sometimes seen as fake bravado in Phoenix is seen as confidence in New York.
I still question how long this honeymoon period will last when New York fans aren’t happy with just being a fun regular season team and when not being terrible isn’t good enough, but there’s no question the Knicks are moving in the right direction.
Amid all this national talk of Amare’s rebirth in New York I kept coming back to the fact that by advanced statistical measures the Suns actually were often worse with Stoudemire on the floor than when he sat, and his plus/minus numbers once again aren’t exactly befitting of a MVP candidate.
According to Basketball Value, the Knicks are 3.76 points per 100 possessions better with STAT on the floor unadjusted and just 1.25 better adjusted. It probably comes as no surprise that the Knicks are much better offensively with Stoudemire on the court (averaging 113.00 per 100 with him playing and 102.18 when he sits) but worse defensively as well (110.39 with him but 103.33 without him).
The Suns last year were 1.23 points worse with Stoudemire on the floor unadjusted and -6.06 adjusted, playing better offensively but worse defensively with him. In the playoffs last year the Suns were 7.64 worse unadjusted and -13.37 adjusted, playing better offensively with him but much worse defensively.
In 2008-09 there wasn’t much a difference in how the Suns played when Stoudemire was on the floor and when he was on the bench but for once they were worse offensively and better defensively when he played. In 2007-08 things were a bit more normal with the Suns 6.29 points per 100 better unadjusted and -2.23 adjusted, but much better offensively with STAT and better defensively when he rested.
Wayne Winston crunched some numbers and determined Landry Fields has actually been far more valuable than Stoudemire. The Knicks are seven points better than average with Fields playing but nine points worse without him, while Winston has STAT’s adjusted plus/minus at +2. The Suns strongly considered Fields with their No. 46 overall pick in the second round and very well may have selected him if New York hadn’t already, so perhaps there should be some groans in Phoenix about his absence as well as Stoudemire’s.
As for Wins Produced, STAT has produced 3.1 wins with a 0.118 WP48, which is in the middle of what he did the last two years (0.140 last season and 0.103 the year before) but a good chunk worse than what he produced his three healthy years before that.
Amare is averaging 26.4 points and 9.0 rebounds per game but he is taking almost five shots more than his career average and is shooting over 50 percentage points worse than last year from the field.
Stoudemire’s PER (23.85) is the highest it’s been since 2007-08 and is ninth best in the NBA (just behind Nash), but his usage rate is also at a career-high level, his true shooting percentage is the lowest it’s been since he was paired with Nash (and a good chunk lower than most of his years), and his rebound rate has only been lower twice his entire career. Only Rajon Rondo averages more turnovers per game than STAT’s 3.8 per contest and his turnover ratio has only been higher once since 2004-05.
This isn’t to say Stoudemire isn’t having a fantastic season. He’s just doing the same thing he’s always done just slightly less efficiently, without Steve Nash and in a bigger market that’s craving a winner. Amare Stoudemire put up better second-half numbers than almost every player in the NBA last season as he carried the Suns down the stretch, so watching him do something similar in New York really is no surprise.
The Amare story has blown up because it’s taking place in New York where they were awaiting The King but instead got a player who has always wanted to be the king of his own castle.
The Suns have clearly missed Stoudemire as a go-to scorer, a perfect pick-and-roll partner for Nash, and a guy whose hard rolls that often took a second defender allowed the 2009-10 Suns to become the best three-point shooting team of all-time with the line at that distance (they are eighth in the NBA shooting .037 percentage points worse this year). Many of this team’s problems would be solved by STAT, as not only have they suffered the predictable downgrade in offense at the power forward spot but they never upgraded defensively and on the boards.
There’s no doubt that Stoudemire is doing great things in the Big Apple, but taking a look at his advanced stats under the microscope shows he’s just a less efficient, higher usage version of the player who made the Suns much better offensively and worse defensively all these years.