The six-time All-Star returned to New York’s rotation on New Year’s Day, as the Knicks fell to the Portland Trail Blazers 105-100. He played just 17 minutes, was an unimpressive 3-of-8 from the field and finished with six points and one blocks.
Naturally, the world is ending in the Big Apple after such a performance. General manager Glen Grunwald needs to hit the phones and try to deal Stoudemire to anyone who will listen once again. Obviously, if the Knicks don’t move him, they’re screwed.
Except that they’re not.
We need to slow our roll for just a second here. Bear in mind that this was Stoudemire’s first game back after a knee debridement. He was never going to return to form in just one game. It’s going to take longer, perhaps much longer. But he will get there.
What we must understand is that Stoudemire is still one of the most explosive talents in the league. And he’s now an explosive talent that feels the need to prove himself, that knows he needs to step up his play if he is to become a integral part of this team again.
The fact that he understands this is half the battle. The fact that he understands (via Zach Schonbrun of the New York Times) this quest is going to take time means even more:
“The game felt like it was going 100 miles an hour in that first half,” Stoudemire said, adding, “I’m hoping my second game will be better than my first.”
Stoudemire played only 16 minutes off the bench, scoring 6 points and shooting 3 of 8 from the field. Woodson said he would need to ease Stoudemire back into the shape; he only began practicing with the team on Sunday.
I’ve written about Stoudemire countless times over the past few weeks and each time I’ve preached patience. Just as the Knicks had to remain patient for him to get to a point where he could play, they must now wait for him to recapture his footing and master the flow of the game.
Why, though? Why must they remain patient? Why must they change their gameplan to accommodate the talents of a player they were 21-9 without?
Because he holds their ticket to legitimate contention.
Watching Stoudemire against the Blazers was arduous, to say the least. There was plenty of rotations on his shots, but the lift under his legs just wasn’t there. His defensive rotations were also rockier than normal and he just looked out of sync.
And yet, once gain, that’s to be expected. He hasn’t played in months and his body isn’t used to playing at such a rapid pace. As time goes on, however, that lift will return in his legs, the touch behind his jump shot will re-establish itself and Mike Woodson will ride him until he becomes someone who can help this team defensively, not hurt it.
Most importantly, though, Stoudemire eventually adds formidable depth. He was hesitant when setting screens and participating in the pick-and-roll against Portland, but that timing, that confidence is going to return eventually.
New York must bank on this, because for the oldest team in NBA history to contend, like legitimately contend, they need reliable depth. And Stoudemire, frail bones and all, has the potential to become a reliable source of offense—again. A source of offense that anchors in one of the best second-units in the league. A source offense that scores at will like he once used to. And a source of offense that renders his season debut at happenstance of the past.
“I almost shed a tear when I walked on the court,” Stoudemire said after his first game. “It was a phenomenal feeling. I haven’t quite felt anything like that before.”
Of course he’s never “felt anything like that before,” because he’s never faced anything like this before.
What he was feeling was a new beginning. A chance for him to shift the negative narrative that has plagued him for over a year. A chance for him to prove all his doubters wrong.
A chance for the Knicks to become even better (eventually) than they already are.
Because of Stoudemire.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.