Timing has never been my strong suit.
Chances are, the day after the Suns get pounded at home by the Pistons isn't the perfect time to laud the performance of one of their players.
But in light of the fact that there have been some jabs thrown in this space toward Amare Stoudemire for both his defense and his very healthy self-esteem, it seems only fair to give the man known for Standing Tall and Talented (yep, that's why they call him STAT) some props when he has earned them as well. Because it has become increasingly clear throughout this season -- and especially as of late -- that Amare Stoudemire has gone from a very good offensive basketball player to a dominant offensive force.
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Amare Stoudemire has been dangerous since he entered the league simply because of his natural abilities. Given that he stands at 6-foot-10 and 245 pounds and he has excellent quickness, it has always been possible for him to blow by many big men with relative ease. He did so fairly effectively for his first two seasons in the league, and the increase in tempo with the entrance of Steve Nash allowed him more high-percentage looks and a breakout to 26 points per game in 2004-05.
Even at that point, and in the time after his subsequent micro-fracture surgery that cost him nearly the entirety of the following season, however, it was still possible for opponents to stop or very much limit Stoudemire. He could get up and throw down if he beat people to the rim, but he wasn't a particularly refined post player ,and he certainly wasn't dangerous shooting the ball from anywhere beyond very short range.
Despite the fact that Stoudemire has long been maligned by many for an apparent lack of work ethic and a not-heightened-enough sense of responsibility, last season saw the beginnings of the development of a real mid-range game for STAT. He began to step out from 12 to 15 feet and look to knock down jumpers if he got open looks at the basket. Doing so allowed him to have a very nice campaign in his first season back from the the knee injury, and he shot a very solid 57.5 percent from the field and scored 20.9 points per game even without having the trademark explosiveness that he had possessed prior to the injury.
A season later, Amare Stoudemire is a completely different animal once more. As Money from the Parking Lot's Bill Powell reminds us, Stoudemire spent the summer working with Team USA and coach Mike Krzyzewski and attributes much of what has happened this season to that work. From watching Amare of late, however, it appears that it is a confluence of factors. For starters, the explosiveness is back. Stoudemire can attack the rim without fear from anywhere he wants. He can get to the rack from a post-up on the block or from getting the ball on the wing, and he can get up and finish hard once he gets there. His ability to turn offensive rebounds into quick put-backs and thunderous dunks is more impressive than ever, and he still runs the floor like a gazelle.
But it's that influence of the work done with the national team this summer that appears to really be taking STAT's game to another level. He isn't merely competent from low to mid-range anymore. He is phenomenal. Calling his second Suns game in three days on Sunday, Mike Breen referred to Stoudemire as "nearly automatic" from the elbows and wings. He isn't taking jump shots only when he gets them completely wide open anymore but virtually any time his man tries to cheat toward the basket to prevent Amare from blowing by him and dunking. Stoudemire can catch-and-shoot or put it up off the dribble, and he has also expanded his range out to allow him to hit just about anything inside the three-point line with consistency. Corners, wings, elbows extended, straight on: you name it, Amare can hit it from inside the arc now. Combine that with the ability to get the basket and wreak havoc around there (by the way, his more traditional post moves are looking better and better) it becomes hard to deny the fact that the man has become an all-around beast on the offensive end of the basketball court.
The numbers are showing it, too, especially as of late. Amare has shot a career-best 58.4 percent from the field and 78.9 percent from the foul line this season, and those free throw shooting statistics are further testament to the work Stoudemire has put in on his shooting. Over the last month in particular, he has finally begun to put it all together. In nine February games, Stoudemire is averaging an absurd 29.4 points per game, largely thanks to four 30-plus-point efforts and the fact that he is only scored so few as 24 points one time in that stretch. He is shooting a fantastic 89.6 percent from the foul line, including going a combined 25-for-25 over a team game stretch earlier in the month.
The types of improvements Amare Stoudemire has made don't get done without a significant amount of work being put in. Whether or not it was thanks to the structure of the Coach K system isn't of consequence so much as the simple fact that the man did put in the work is. If someone could get him to do it with his shooting, perhaps someone will be able to push him to make it happen on the other end of the floor as well. If Amare can improve his defensive game to anywhere near the extent that he has improved his offensive game, the thought of opposing him will be downright terrifying.
Right now, it looks for the first time in his career like Amare Stoudemire can legitimately do anything he wants on offense. And that is more than scary enough.