Even as the Knicks blazed to an early 18-5 start this season the question every New York fan wanted answered was: Can Amar'e Stoudemire fit in, and accept a lesser role once he returns from injury? Twelve games into his comeback from injury and Stoudemire is making progress, so much so that many are wondering whether the former All-Star should be promoted back into a starters role, rather than the sixth, or seventh, man spot he is at now.
For his part Stoudemire said all the right things about wanting what's best for the team, and preferring to finish games rather than start them, but his play over the past few games will force coach Mike Woodson to consider tinkering with the lineup – despite Woodson's adamant stance that he will not alter his starting core.
Yesterday in the Knicks win over Atlanta at Madison Square Garden, Stoudemire had his second consecutive game where, offensively, he looked like the player that first signed with New York in 2010-11. He finished with 18-points and 9 rebounds in just under 30 minutes of court time, and Stoudemire said afterwards that he was getting more comfortable with his low post moves each game.
"Experience is always the best teacher," said Stoudemire. "The more I play, the better it [play] becomes easier for me. It's really about taking my time and progressing as the games go on."
Woodson knew that Stoudemire's offensive game would return, it's defensive intensity that he's been asking of Stoudemire and so far, he's happy with the effort that Amar'e has put forth – even though he still has lapses, like allowing Zaza Pachulia and Al Horford some easy buckets in the first half of yesterday's game. Woodson said there was still encouraging signs from his power forward.
"He's been active the last four or five games in terms of when the shot goes up. He's able to get it and score," said Woodson. "We just have to continue to ride him and push him in the right direction. He's so curious and anxious defensively in trying to do the right thing, and that's very encouraging."
New York struggled to contain Atlanta's guards in pick-and-roll defense yesterday, but Stoudemire attributed that more to sheer volume, rather than an inability to properly defend it.
"It's so many pick-and rolls throughout the game that they're gonna score sometimes," he said. "We made the proper adjustments so we were able to get some stops when we needed to. They played well, they scored well."
Until Stoudemire becomes much more familiar with the team's defensive schemes, the Knicks are more than content with the output that they've received from a guy that is still a fan favorite amongst the Garden faithful. Right now it's all about progression for Amar'e, and he's getting better each game. Plus he's got Raymond Felton out there with him again.
"It's great to be out there with Ray, he's such a great point guard," added Stoudemire.
The two even connected like the old days on a Felton drive-and dish, which resulted in a dunk to Stoudemire.
"There's going to be more of that," promised Stoudemire. "This is just Ray's second game back so I'm pretty sure there's going to be more exciting plays between Raymond and myself."
Image via: AP Photo/Kathy Willens