Apparently you can teach an old dog new tricks, as Knicks power forward Amar’e Stoudemire admitted following a spirited defensive practice that saw head coach Mike Woodson grilling the former all-star on the finer points of defense.
“Just having a defensive coach for the first time in my career is going to help,’’ Stoudemire said. “I’ve never been taught defense my whole career. To now have a coach who actually teaches defense and strategies, and knows positioning and posture, and how to guard different plays, is going to be helpful. … I’m taking it as a challenge and [will] try to improve as a player.’’
NBA fans who know Stoudemire’s game may scoff at that quote because he was never known as even a solid defender. Stoudemire has always been a credible shot-blocking presence, averaging 1.4 blocks per game for his career, but as good a weakside shotblocker he’s been, no teams have ever game planned for him on the defensive end.
Woodson said rescuing the defense is obviously not all on Stoudemire, especially since the entire frontcourt has been compromised in recent weeks with injuries to Marcus Camby, Rasheed Wallace and Carmelo Anthony. But he was happy to finally get some practice time these past few days to refocus everyone on what’s really made the team successful.
“Early on we were committed and practicing and getting after each other. But there’s been a major drop off from the time we started until three days ago,” said Woodson. “But the good thing is that we’ve had a chance to practice the last couple of days — even if we weren’t able to have everybody here to practice. It’s been a long drought from the last time we were able to practice our defense like this, so we’ve had to teach and get guys committed the best way possible. And the best way to do that is here [practice floor] and watching tape. … Sometimes it’s registering and sometimes it’s not, because we’ve had some slippage as of late and we have to get back to not having that slippage.”
The month of December (6-4) wasn’t as kind as November (15-5) was to the Knicks — specifically on defense — as they saw their points allowed average dip to 97.2, which ranks them 15th in the league.
The Knicks’ coaching staff is hoping once Wallace returns from the stress reaction in his foot (no timetable though), and Stoudemire gets back up to speed, their combined length could help plug some holes in their defense.
» The Knicks gave days off to point guard Jason Kidd, center Tyson Chandler and Anthony, in what they’ve always dubbed as a “recovery day” for veterans. Woodson assured they’d all be in the lineup tomorrow against the Spurs though.
»Point guard Pablo Prigioni was seen working on his shot a lot after practice, a sign that Woodson wants the unselfish-to-a-fault point guard to be more aggressive on the offensive end. It’s been a season-long process for the Knicks coaching staff to get Prigioni to shoot more, as he has a decent jumper. But the Argentine star made his sterling reputation in the Spanish League as one of the premiere pass-first, play-making point guards, so it’ll be difficult for him to unlearn that trait.
»Swingman Iman Shumpert (ACL) worked out with the team in defensive drills and half-court offensive sets Wednesday. He did not participate in any contact drills, though. Shumpert is still weeks away from his first action since last May, but was seen running a lot of point guard in the offensive sets, a sign that he’ll also ease the load on Prigioni and Kidd until Raymond Felton returns in 5-6 weeks.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.