Now that the draft has passed, it is time to focus on attention to the event that NBA fans have been anticipating for literally years. On Saving the Skyhook, I’ll do a review a day of each of the major players who figure to command the most attention come July 1 — in no particular order. Today features Amar’e Stoudemire of the Phoenix Suns.
July 1 is only a few days away now, and teams are beginning to ratchet up their preparations for a week of free-agency mayhem. Amar’e Stoudemire figures to be another major target in that process. Stoudemire has an early-termination option, and after Steve Kerr’s dismissal, it became nearly certain that STAT would choose to exercise it.
Stoudemire’s tenure in Phoenix has been a rocky one over the past few years. His name was thrown around wildly at each of the last two trade deadlines, and there were many indications that the Suns came dangerously close to shipping him off to Cleveland in February. He ultimately stuck around, though, and his presence was critical for the team’s eventual run to the Western Conference Finals, where they came within striking distance of knocking off the Los Angeles Lakers.
When he’s healthy and focused, Stoudemire is the premiere offensive big-man force in the entire league. While his back-to-the-basket game is essentially nonexistent, his adeptness off the pick-and-roll, his ability to absorb contact, his 18-foot jump shot, and his overall unmatched explosiveness all make him nearly unguardable when he wants to be.
Of all power forwards who played more than 30 minutes a game, Stoudemire had the third-highest field-goal percentage at the rim, as he converted 67 percent of those attempts. Indicating his versatility, he was also seventh among players with the same criteria in field-goal percentage on long 2s (16 to 23 feet). He was also second in the entire league in and-one conversions per game at 1.00. The only player ahead of him was LeBron James at 1.08.
That said, many understandably wonder if Amar’e can duplicate that production in another city without the benefit of Steve Nash’s passing. That tandem’s immense success in the pick-and-roll set over the last several years is no secret, so wondering if he can be elite without it is a valid concern. Only 61 percent of Stoudemire’s field goals were assisted, though, which was nowhere near the top of the league.
But Stoudemire’s offense is not what forces NBA GMs to maintain reservations about signing him this summer. His play on defense is nowhere near the same level. He isn’t helped by the fact that he’s slightly undersized at 6’9″, so taller power forwards use their length to go right over the top of him. Furthermore, despite his superhuman athleticism, he seems lost on the shot-blocking front. Most importantly, though, his defensive deficiencies seem mostly fueled by a lack of effort to prevent opponents from scoring. Years under Mike D’Antoni’s defense-optional system certainly didn’t help Stoudemire’s attitude in that regard, but one has to wonder if a change in scenery will coerce him to abandon that apathy.
Still, there’s an even larger worry that many have regarding Stoudemire. At 27 years old (he’ll be 28 shortly after the start of the season), Stoudemire has already had microfracture surgery on both of his knees. History shows that players who undergo this surgery often have to experience it again later in their careers at the expense of mobility. As explosiveness is such a big part of Stoudemire’s game, he can’t afford to become any less physical on the offensive end. Moreover, he incurred damage to his retina, so he’ll have to wear goggles for the rest of his career. An unfortunate swipe to his head that dislodges the protective eyewear could prove catastrophic.
There is some debate over whether Stoudemire warrants a maximum contract, but hesitation over his injury history will likely dissuade any team from giving him a potentially devastating long-term, max.-money deal. Still, he’ll get a sizable sum, and should he stay healthy, he’ll more than make up for it with his dominance on the court — especially if he ends up on a team with a point guard that can get him the ball.