New York Knicks power forward Amar’e Stoudemire made his season debut Thursday night in an 82-81 loss against the Chicago Bulls. Coming off the bench, Stoudemire scored five points and grabbed just one rebound in 11 minutes.
The 30-year-old veteran, who is coming off his third knee surgery in the last year, committed three turnovers in his first three attempts on offense, but coach Mike Woodson defended his big man after the game.
“It will come,” said Woodson. “The bottom line is we need him in uniform helping us.”
Stoudemire’s struggles weren’t limited to the offensive end. Chicago aggressively attacked Stoudemire on defense, and forward Carlos Boozer scored six quick points against him in the first quarter.
Woodson started new ‘Bocker Andrea Bargnani at power forward, signaling uncertainty surrounding Stoudemire’s productivity this season. In an attempt to keep his knees fresh, he is already reportedly on a minute’s restriction, and will split time with Kenyon Martin. Neither is expected to play the back half of back-to-back games.
Last year, Stoudemire missed the first two months of the season after undergoing preseason knee surgery, and his timing was visibly offbeat. While the slow start shouldn’t come as a surprise to fans, the Knicks will need Stoudemire to improve his game.
Despite only playing in 29 games in 2012-’13, Stoudemire produced when on the floor. His 22.1 Player Efficiency Rating was second on the team after Carmelo Anthony.
Stoudemire’s developing low post game makes him an ideal weapon off the bench, the role he thrived in last year. Even after all nine surgeries since joining the Knicks in 2010, he is still quicker than most NBA centers often requires double teams.
Late in the first quarter, Stoudemire with the ball on the low block, recognized a double team coming and quickly kicked the ball out to rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. for an open three at the top of the arc. Defenses need to account for him at all times, potentially freeing up his teammates for open jumpers.
The offense thrived early in 2010 with STAT as the focal point, and the Knicks must look for more ways to get him involved.
If the six-time All-Star can regain even a small amount of his former rhythm, it may not matter that he and Anthony can’t produce together on the court. Woodson clearly, at least early in the season, prefers to pair Bargnani and his outside shooting with Anthony, leaving Stoudemire to run his own second-string unit.
They can’t boast the same star power as Brooklyn or Miami, but the Knicks have the depth needed to compete in the east. Whether in the starting lineup, or off the bench, Stoudemire will have a lot to say about how far his team goes.