Who do you want your offense to run through with the game on the line? Counting down from 30th to 1st (one per team), I’ve ranked the League’s go-to guys…
AMAR’E STOUDEMIRE, New York Knicks
The dumbest basketball argument in the world right now — which is quite an accomplishment considering some of the LeBron garbage polluting the blogosphere recently — is the one claiming Amar’e Stoudemire has been great only because he won the Arizona Lottery and got to play with Steve Nash for six years.
Never mind that Amar’e won Rookie of the Year on a playoff team, and then averaged 20 points and 9 boards in his second year as a 21-year-old before Nash joined the Suns. Never mind that Nash has nothing to do with Stoudemire’s 8.9 rebounds per game career averages. Never mind that Nash wasn’t setting the picks, executing the rolls, or finishing the buckets that Amar’e finished to become a five-time All-Star. Never mind that, while Amar’e was never better than when he had Nash on his side, Nash was also never better than when he had Amar’e. Somehow everybody forgot that the Suns’ explosive two-man game was really a two-man game, its success no more attributed to the short guy than to the tall guy.
Now that Amar’e is “on his own” in New York, he will prove that he’s pretty damn good without Nash. He’s off to a good start early, averaging 26 points through five preseason games (matching his regular-season career high) including a 39-point explosion against the Nets on Tuesday and a 30-point effort against Boston last week. Or maybe that was all because of Ray Felton.
Amar’e was not consistently the offense-runs-through-me first option during crunch time in Phoenix. That was Nash. But Amar’e definitely put in work on the big stage (24.2 ppg, 9.2 rpg in the postseason) and hit his share of big shots. In last spring’s Western Conference Finals he dumped 42 points on the Lakers in a must-win Game Three, not long after he’d closed out the Spurs with 29 points in Game Four of the conference semifinals. According to 82games.com, Amar’e scored 28.1 points per 48 minutes of “clutch time” last season, hitting 62 percent from the field, mere tenths below top-level bigs Al Jefferson and Zach Randolph, and higher than 2010 All-Star Chris Kaman.
Another misconception about Amar’e is that his game is restricted to dunks, glares, flexing, not rebounding and not playing defense. For this column I won’t go into the rebounding/defense thing too much — just know that since Amar’e entered the League in 2002, only 19 players have grabbed more rebounds, and only 20 have blocked more shots — because this is about what he brings to the table offensively.
Amar’e has much more to his game than just the business end of a pick-and-roll. In just his handful of preseason games with the Knicks, he’s shown his underrated ball-handling skills and ability to get the rim from outside the lane, plus a soft touch around the basket and an ever-improving mid-range jump shot. And when he gets to the line, Amar’e has shot 75 percent for his career, making him a reliable post player down the stretch in close games.
Taking his game to New York City was more than just a good branding move for Amar’e Stoudemire. By accepting the responsibility of being the face of the Knicks franchise and its best player unquestionably, he has the opportunity to prove he is a standout superstar regardless of who is taking the court next to him. He is The Man now. At least until Carmelo shows up.
*** *** ***
18. Monta Ellis (Warriors)
19. Danny Granger (Pacers)
20. John Salmons (Bucks)
21. Rudy Gay (Grizzlies)
22. Stephen Jackson (Bobcats)
23. Baron Davis (Clippers)
24. Ben Gordon (Pistons)
25. Andre Iguodala (76ers)
26. Yao Ming (Rockets)
27. Mo Williams (Cavaliers)
28. Brook Lopez (Nets)
29. Andrea Bargnani (Raptors)
30. Michael Beasley (Timberwolves)