Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Analysis: A Tale of two Amar'e's

The Knicks are on a tear that has not been seen since the days of Jeff Van Gundy. They are 13-9 through 22 games, but more importantly are 10-1 through the last eleven. Starting the season 3-8, most people were ready to write off the Knicks as another failed season as the result of another failed off-season . They had failed to land LeBron, and had failed to land any of the other premier free agent guards i.e. Wade, Joe Johnson, Rudy Gay. They had just given a huge $100 million contract to Amar'e Stoudemire who was coming off an impressive second half and playoff run with the Suns, but had questions coming in.

Undergoing micro-fracture surgery several years ago, would STAT be able to stay healthy and log heavy minutes? Maybe the biggest question though was how would Amar'e adjust to an NBA life post-Steve Nash?

Well over half of Amar'e points for the Suns have come off Steve Nash assists. Would Amar'e be able to be as dominant without the guy who had created so many of his scoring opportunities?

Through the first 10 games, it didn't appear so. Amar'e was averaging multiple turnovers a game, was forcing the ball into the defense, and was catching the ball 18-20 feet from the basket. And when he did score it was usually at the expense of any type of offensive cohesion.

Then something funny happened. The Knicks suddenly found themselves in California and rattled off three consecutive road wins against the Kings, Clippers, and Warriors. This coming off of a previous 6 game losing streak. They didn't play the stellar teams of the West, but what they did do was win games - something New York had been struggling to do ever since Jeff Van Gundy left as head coach.

How did they do it? High powered scoring which involved a fast uptempo pacing of the offense, hot perimeter shooting and most importantly, Amar'e feasting inside the paint. And when I say feasting, Amar'e has been a monster during this current tear. Through the last 11 games Amar'e is averaging 29.5 points per contest. He is season average is currently 25.3 which puts him third in the league in scoring.

The increased outburst is definitely a conscious effort to not only get Amar'e more touches, but to get him those touches closer to the basket. Earlier in the season, Amar'e was catching the ball 18 feet beyond the basket and tried to beat every defender one-on-one. He forced the ball into the teeth of defense and was swarmed by rotating defenders which led to turnovers & offensive fouls.

Now, with the improved play of Raymond Felton, Amar'e is feasting on opportunities where he is catching the ball 6 feet to the basket. Amar'e is hands down the best finishing big-man in the NBA, and when a player of his talents is catching the ball that close to the basket, great things are going to happen. His dunking prowess is what has been making SportsCenter but his inside game has been the most impressive. In addition to his quickness, and jumping ability, STAT has amazing touch and can alter his shot in the air when close to the basket and still finish - something usually privy to elite guards. With his ability to finish, and the Knicks ability to continuously feed him the ball in the right manner is has opened up the offense for other players. Chandler, Gallinari, Felton, and now even Shawne Williams have been finding themselves wide open on the perimeter as the result of double or even triple teams. The Knicks high powered offense has pushed them to 107.7 points per game, third in the league.

The reasoning for the Knicks current streak is pretty clear. It's not as simple as give Amar'e the ball, but give the Amar'e the ball close to the basket. How the Knicks accomplish this is another story, but it has been largely because of Felton's ability to attack the basket and create passing lanes. Essentially, as long as the Knicks continue to create opportunities for Amar'e, they will continue to be competitive and win games. They still are yet to beat an elite team but that could change as Boston visits the Garden on December 15.

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