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The Disappointing Amare Saga

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Amare Stoudemire's problems aren't about Mike D'Antoni.  They are about Amare Stoudemire.

A season ago, despite being only two years removed from microfracture surgery, Stoudemire closed in on regaining his untouchable status in the Suns' organization.  He posted 25 points per game on 59 percent field-goal shooting and led the league at 65.6 percent true shooting.  If he wasn't the game's single best offensive big man, he was without doubt in the discussion.

Over the summer, uptempo coach Mike D'Antoni left for New York, and Suns GM Steve Kerr brought in Terry Porter to install a commitment to defense and a more deliberate offense.  Porter's offense has been geared more toward center Shaquille O'Neal, and Stoudemire has complained on multiple occasions of his displeasure with the system

His numbers are down across the board: He is taking a shot less per game than he did a year ago, getting to the foul line less often, scoring four fewer points, grabbing one fewer rebound and still not playing much defense.  The reduced production along with the consistent complaining and hints about free agency in 2010 from Amare's corner have led to the growth of rumors that the Suns are considering moving Stoudemire this season.

The frustrating part of this for the outside observer (it's a much bigger problem for those with a rooting interest in the Suns) is that it seems to have allowed for the build-up of some beliefs that Stoudemire's past success was merely a product of the D'Antoni system.  I've even seen the word "fraud" written as description of Amare's game since D'Antoni left, and it remains my contention that this isn't true.

There is no question that D'Antoni's system helps pad the stats of his players.  A faster-paced game means more possessions, which means more shots, more rebounds, more opportunities.  He also coaches the fast break and high screen roll well, and there is no doubt that he is a good offensive coach.

But Amare Stoudemire isn't the player he was when he came into this league.  This isn't a guy who needs to be running that high screen roll or getting lobs at the basket from Steve Nash on every single set in order to be successful. 

We've watched STAT grow over the last couple of years, and his game has become so much more than that.  Yes, he is great in the pick-and-roll, but he has also added enough to his offensive arsenal that he can comfortably create his own shot.  He added consistency on his mid-range shot a season ago, putting up an eFG of 46.1 percent on jumpers and forcing opponents to come out and guard him on his 15-footer.  He handles the ball well for a big man and has the speed to attack the rim from out on the perimeter.  In addition to finishing around the bucket, he put up his first full season of 80-plus percent shooting from the foul line a year ago, removing the incentive for opponents to simply hack him.  He is comfortable getting his points at the stripe.  While it isn't as pertinent with Shaq around now, Stoudemire can also play with his back to the basket if need be.  Of course, he also remains one of the league's best bigs at running the floor.

That is a skill set that should make Amare Stoudemire dangerous no matter where he plays or who is playing alongside him.  Of course it helps to play with Steve Nash and under D'Antoni.  But this isn't a guy who should suddenly crumble because the system or the personnel changes.  He has it in him to be that good offensively.  The other end of the floor is another story right now (although he does have it in him to be a better defender than he is), but offensively, he shouldn't be having the trouble he has experienced this season.

Amare's history and the circumstantial evidence in Phoenix right now lead me to wonder if this is about him rather than Terry Porter's system.  Not about Amare in the sense that he isn't that good, but in the sense that perhaps he just hasn't put in enough to make this work.  As detailed in Jack McCallum's 7 Seconds Or Less, as talented as he is, STAT had a long-standing reputation in town for general irresponsibility and for not always being the hardest-working guy on the team.  He has spent a lot of time complaining this season and talking about how he wants to be the man eventually. 

But it's the idea that the Suns are even thinking about moving him that gives one an idea of where this situation is going.  This is a special offensive player, one who will be around long after Shaq is gone.  The Suns know what he can do.  If they're ready to dump him, the guess here is that it has a lot more to do with him not putting in adequate work to become as productive as he can be in Porter's system than it does with the Suns believing that there are smply irreconciliable differences between the coaching system and the player's skill set.  If so, that's really too bad.