Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEW YORK — A lot of NBA stars might have grumbled and groused about being sent to the bench after returning from a serious injury.
But not Amar’e Stoudemire.
Since his return after the New Year from offseason knee surgery, Stoudemire has quietly accepted his bench role and is evolving into one of the Knicks’ most potent offensive forces down the stretch.
“It’s in my DNA,” the six-time All-Star said after going for 14 points on 7-of-7 shooting, including several rim-rattling dunks, and four rebounds in the Knicks’ 113-97 win over the Magic at Madison Square Garden.
“I’m just willing to do whatever it takes to win. I’ve accomplished a lot in my career so far and the next thing to accomplish is to win a championship. And whatever that takes, whatever role that I need to step into, I’m totally open to it.
“And as long as we win, and I’m looking forward to win a championship and that’s what I’m here for.”
After working on his low-post game last summer with Hakeem Olajuwon in Houston, Stoudemire has now posted double-figures in eight straight games and continues to be a force down low at crunch time.
He scored 10 points in the second half — often benefitting from passes from Raymond Felton (15 points, nine assists) — as the Knicks broke open a 51-all tie and outscored the Magic 62-46 in the second half.
“The work that he put in this summer trying to develop a low-post game is starting to pay off,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “It’s kind of nice when guys work on their craft and they have something to show for it. And we’re benefitting from it as a team.”
The 6-foot-11 Stoudemire played alongside 6-8 Carmelo Anthony (20 points) and 7-foot Tyson Chandler (19) down the stretch, as the Knicks scored a season-best 54 points in the paint after getting abused badly often in that category.
Not surprisingly, Woodson plans to use that big lineup more often.
“As that lineup plays together they will be more comfortable the way they play,” Woodson said. “I thought they played great off one another. Melo triggered a lot of it with the ball in his hands. STAT has become a low-post threat. When he catches the ball in there he has been able to produce and that is going to be huge four our ballclub.”
While Anthony and Stoudemire aren’t exactly playing the two-man game, Stoudemire can benefit when Anthony is double-teamed and Stoudemire can also pass when he is double-teamed.
“Amar’e has been a huge threat for us offensively on the block,” Chandler said. “He is making the right leads.”
Anthony said he imagined it might take two or three years once he joined the team for himself, Stoudemire and Chandler to complement one another and thrive.
Now, it’s starting to pay off this season with a few months to go before the playoffs.
“When I first got here I always said it was going to take maybe three years,” Anthony said. “We had two half seasons to make something happen overnight. Now this season we can go through ups and downs and try to make something happen. When the three of us are on the court we are making things happen offensively and defensively.”
Though there was much concern about how Stoudemire would fit in to Anthony’s team once he returned, the Knicks are now 7-6 since his return and appear to be finding their form with the return of Felton and Iman Shumpert.
“For him to accept a role like that, a player his caliber, everyone knows his resume, it is very professional of him,” Anthony said of Stoudemire. “We support him. WE are having fun and it seems like he is having a lot of fun as well.”
But Stoudemire could have even more fun if the Knicks make a postseason run.
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.