The Knicks have won 10 of their last 13 games and all seems right in the world, yet there remains an underlying concern — the lack of production from Amar’e Stoudemire.
The multiple All-Star hasn’t been right all season, as his points per game (17.4) and rebounds per game (7.9) are the lowest since his rookie campaign. Stoudemire has been in a funk all season, both mentally and physically.
His mental pain, due to the tragic loss of his brother and mentor, Hazell, last month is understandable. But the physical inadequacy stems from Stoudemire gaining nearly 20 pounds of muscle during the lockout and no real place to practice playing with his newfound bulk. And on top of all that, he was also trying to remedy an ailing back that prematurely ended his playoffs last season.
“Last summer I went six months without playing any kind of full-court ball,” Stoudemire said. “That was the longest time in my life where I didn’t do anything on the court. … It’ll take some time. But I’ll be OK. I feel great.”
Greatness is surely lacking in Stoudemire’s rebounding game, as the totals are miniscule for a guy who makes a living in the paint. While he was never considered a defensive force or a manic rebounder, eight boards a night won’t cut it for the 6-foot-11 big man. He had a pedestrian five rebounds in Wednesday night’s win over the Cavs, but he only had two after three quarters.
Whatever the problem is, it needs to get fixed soon because the Knicks can’t win consistently with just Tyson Chandler patrolling the interior. Head coach Mike D’Antoni thinks a cause of the problem could be there are two bigs in the starting lineup and some bad spacing. That means Stoudemire, who has the ability to step out and shoot jumpers, has subconsciously floated out to the perimeter too much and in turn has taken away the effectiveness he has down low.
While it’s not a huge concern right now for D’Antoni and his staff, it is something that the coach acknowledged that “we have to work all that out together.” D’Antoni said he thinks the slump is mostly in Stoudemire’s head and has taken the task of constantly reminding Stoudemire of his pedigree in hopes it will jolt the big man back to normalcy.
“We’ve talked about all that stuff, about getting his [confidence] back. But we expect a big second half from him. There have been a lot of changes and stuff and some of that [slumping] can be psychological,” D’Antoni said. “But I think he’s raring to go and he wants to have a great  games and get into the playoffs.”
D’Antoni also believes trying to incorporate new players mid-season is causing consternation within Stoudemire because everyone is trying to feel each other out on the fly.
“I think a lot of it, too, was him sitting around watching [Carmelo Anthony] too much, or maybe thinking about the fact we didn’t have a point guard [pre-Jeremy Lin] and you start looking for outs and you get tired. It starts to add up,” D’Antoni said, adding the increase in muscle mass also didn’t help Stoudemire’s dexterity. “But he has to understand you still have to attack and you’re still a big part of this. We can’t win without him being 100 percent and not being how he was last year. He knows that, so I’m betting he has a big second half [because] physically he’s great. He’s ready to explode.”
»D’Antoni acknowledged that his frontcourt is still learning how to play with one another, but added he doesn’t see the problems lasting much longer because each veteran will find a way to handle mismatches, while Lin will sufficiently handle the shot distribution: “Amar’e is going to get his shots, Melo is going to get his shots and Tyson [Chandler] is, I think, averaging more points this year than any time in his career. Guys will get shots. And when teams key on Amar’e and key on Melo, guys will have to be ready to knock down shots. The more they do it, the more the ball will move and the more comfortable guys will be.”
D’Antoni added he thinks they have the right mix of guys to fit his style: “Every coach has to have guys that fit your system and that’s why you draft towards that system and pick up certain free agents. Coaches like certain players, but not just because a player is good. Everyone is good at this level, but you know what you need so you get accordingly.”
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.