The Knicks Fix: STAT Ready to be Center of Attention Again

Amar’e Stoudemire is playing for his fifth different coach in seven seasons. With the Knicks, Derek Fisher is the third coach he’s played for in New York since he arrived as a free agent in 2010.

“Every year,” he said, “has been different.”

With Mike D’Antoni, it was pick-and-roll and up-tempo offense, which he knew well from his Seven Seconds or Less days with D’Antoni in Phoenix. With Mike Woodson, it was half-court offense and post-up play, which led him to developing a post-up game by working with Hakeem Olajuwon. Now for Stoudemire, it’s about the elbow/high post, facing up to the basket and passing.

As usual, Stoudemire says the latest system he is working in, the Triangle Offense, fits him well. “It will allow me to utilize all of my skills,” he said.

Amar'e Stoudemire talks about playing center in the triangle offense and the possibility of being the starter at the five for the Knicks.

Offense has never been an issue for Amar’e, whose minutes dropped dramatically over the last two seasons due to his injuries, but his production was still near his career standard. Last season, for instance, he averaged 19 points per 36 minutes.

But defense has always been the criticism of Stoudemire’s game. It’s something he is quite cognizant of and entered this season intent to improve in that area. With Amar’e, it’s never a lack of effort. In fact, Fisher noted that Stoudemire provides something on the defensive end that many coaches value.

“He communicates really well,” Fisher said. “You always hear Amar’e’s voice on the floor.”

You always hear former Bull-now-Laker Carlos Boozer’s voice on the defensive end, as well, but he, too, is usually maligned for his defensive capabilities.

And it doesn’t help Stoudemire’s mission to return to starting status when the Milwaukee Bucks come in and drop 120 points on the Knicks — including 32 in the first quarter — in his first start of the preseason. Coincidentally, Stoudemire pointed to a “lack of communication on defense” to the Knicks’ issues in that area.

Fisher didn’t quite praise Stoudemire for his performance in the game, but did note that “he tried to communicate to his teammates as much as he could on the defensive end. So I was happy. He looked good.”

Does it matter that in 24 minutes, Stoudemire finished plus-4 in a game his team lost by 13?

The better question is: Will Fisher give Stoudemire another look as the starting center? If not, what exactly will the 31-year-old’s role be for this team as he enters the final year of his contract? Stoudemire openly campaigned for minutes at the center position on a team that already has three 7-footers in Sam Dalembert, Jason Smith and Andrea Bargnani.

“I’ve been playing that position for a long time,” he said. “A lot of people forget back in my Phoenix days, against the Spurs and Lakers, that’s where I got most of my bread-and-butter from, the pinch post and also the post-up area. So I’m just going back to my old roots.”

Actually, Stoudemire’s real roots are in pick-and-roll sets and drives to the basket. He also has developed an effective curl, catch and shoot at the elbow. In an offense where holding the ball for more than two beats is considered counter-productive, the Knicks are better off keeping Stoudemire moving rather than allowing him to dig in for regular post-up situations. But can his body withstand the demands of constant motion, rolling to the rim and explosive finishes?

As far as minutes go, Stoudemire will get his share, despite the log jam of bodies in the frontcourt. Each of the four bigs have a history of injuries, which means none could be considered workhorses that can carry over 30 minutes a night.

But when it comes to supporting cast offense that the Knicks will need around Carmelo Anthony, Stoudemire has the best resume of anyone on the roster.

RIGHT ANGLED TRIANGLE

Spike Lee’s special, “What Is The Triangle Offense: A Spike Lee Orange And Blue Skies Joint,” will air Friday night at 10:30 PM on MSG Network. He spent extensive time with Phil Jackson, Fisher and the coaching staff outlining the Triangle Offense and telling it’s history. He also learned a little something about it that he hopes to share with all of you.

He also told me he doesn’t expect the Knicks to fully grasp the system – I mean have it down pat – until February. That’s over half a season into the schedule.

Spike Lee joins Alan Hahn to discuss their expectations for the Knicks this season and how first time coach Derek Fisher will fare.

But that doesn’t mean it will be a total mess until then. In fact, there is already evidence that the concepts of the system are already taking hold. The most important tenet of all is sharing the ball. After spending most of the last two seasons at the bottom of the NBA rankings in passing, the Knicks offense so far in preseason has seen the ball move frequently and directly lead to scores.

Last season, just 54.2% of the Knicks’ made field goals were assisted, which was the fourth-lowest in the NBA. After five preseason games, that number has jumped to 63.6%, a rate that would have ranked third in the NBA last season. When they scored a preseason-high 107 points against the Bucks, the Knicks assisted on 74% of their made baskets.

And that number could grow if the Knicks can improve their shooting percentage. After five preseason games, the Knicks are shooting just 43.3% from the field. Last season the Knicks shot 44.9% from the field, which was the league median.

FIXINS

Up until the poor showing against the Bucks, the Knicks defense had been effective if you consider the numbers. In the four previous preseason games, the Knicks were allowing just 86 points per game and holding opponents to 41.6% shooting. Milwaukee put up 120 points and shot 59.7% from the field, including 12-of-24 (50%) from three-point range. Fisher said the Knicks, like most teams, are not scouting or preparing for opponents in preseason play, but there are still “defensive concepts and foundations” that the players must execute. That, obviously, did not happen in that game . . .

Bargnani’s hamstring issues are enough to cause concern about his availability for the regular season, which opens next week. Fisher said it’s too early to know if Bargnani won’t be ready to play in time for the Oct. 29 season-opener against the Bulls, but did say that the big man has to practice some and be at “the level of conditioning you need to play in a game.” . . .

Jose Calderon (calf strain) seems to be OK, while J.R. Smith is battling back spasms that come and go, which leaves his availability uncertain. With two preseason games left to play, Fisher said he hoped to get into a starting five and set rotation, but won’t push minutes at the risk of furthering injuries . . .

What a thrilling history lesson writer Harvey Araton and producer Michael Rapaport created in “When The Garden Was Eden,” a 30-for-30 documentary that aired on ESPN Tuesday night. We’ve heard many of the stories, but Rapaport did a terrific job bringing them to life, not to mention unearthing video of one of the legendary moments, when Willis Reed took on the entire Lakers team. As for the current team, Rapaport told me that Phil Jackson arranged for a private screening of the documentary for the players on the eve of training camp.

He told me about that experience, plus what it was like to make that movie, in the first Knicks Fix Podcast of the season, which you can listen to below:

Actor and director Michael Rapaport joins Alan Hahn to discuss all things Knicks, both past and present, and his upcoming ESPN documentary, "30 for 30: When The Garden Was Eden," about the Knicks' championship teams in the 70s.