In the summer of 2010, Amar'e Stoudemire arrived in the Big Apple and uttered those very words that still ring to be magical for most fans today: "The Knicks are back."
While Stoudemire certainly was not LeBron James, Chris Bosh, or any of the other more primed superstars the Knicks were gunning for when they cleaned house in hopes of a fresh start, he still represented something very positive. He was a proven NBA All-Star, and furthermore, a proven winner as well.
While the forward's Knickerbocker career indeed started off with a bang, all he's proven to be over the last (approximately) four seasons has been hobbled, limited, and inconsistent. For a guy who is so excited about achieving something special in New York, such injuries and the continued setbacks have been hard to watch. You can't help but root for a player like Stoudemire — someone who took a chance on the Knicks, just as much as the organization was taking a chance on him.
Over the last three seasons, the supposed star has only appeared in 129 of a possible 233 games.
Such progress (or a lack there of, rather) is not something anyone expected and/or hoped. STAT has put forth valiant efforts as he's attempted to return to playing at a high level, but seeing him continue to fail has been a bummer.
Having said all of this, that's how pleasantly surprising it's been to watch Stoudemire go on to play his best basketball since his first season in orange and blue over the last month.
No one can deny that Stoudemire has been the key to the Knicks' potential success since the moment he arrived. Upon making his way to New York, the (now) 31 year old was expected to be the star who led his new team back to greatness. As his Knicks career has progressed, STAT has been looked to as a potential X-Factor alongside the likes of Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler. Still, with every setback has come a more diminished role for the forward, along with a significantly decreased amount of hope and faith that things will come to a head on a high note. It just didn't appear to be in the cards any longer.
At media day this past fall, the constant cloud of negativity even had Stoudemire doubting himself. When asked by KnicksJournal.com to evaluate how he expected to make an impact this season, the forward insisted that miracles can happen every day. As Knicks fans were losing faith in him, Stoudemire was perhaps depending on a miracle of sorts to help him claw his way back. It didn't represent the most reassuring of responses.
But as we sit here in mid-March, a couple of miracles have seemed to occur. For starters, New York is currently on an eight-game winning streak, and thus, has renewed hopes for a playoff birth. Now just three games out of the Eastern Conference's final postseason spot, the Knicks have received a significant boost from Stoudemire himself.
Over the past couple of weeks, many analysts have offered various slants and splits as a way of bolstering Stoudemire's numbers and praising his recent production. A simple look at the month of March provides one with all they'd need to know — in nine games, Stoudemire has averaged 18 points (on 61% from the field) and 6.6 boards. His 27.2 minutes per games are a season-high, and the Knicks have rolled to an 8-1 record over that very span.
So as the forward continues to rise from the ashes, so do the Knicks. Ironically enough, however, perhaps some sort of praise is finally deserved by Coach Mike Woodson. In the past, whenever Stoudemire begins to get into a rhythm, New York overuses him and he burns out. Trying things in the reverse order this season, Coach Woodson neglected to (or simply opted not to) utilize Stoudemire to the fullest early on. Instead, he's kicked things up a few notches and has even inserted the forward into the starting lineup during this crucial stretch. The move is paying dividends, and Woodson is seemingly to thank.
On the flip side, why it's taken Woodson this long to figure out the best way to feature Stoudemire offensively, while he actually is in the game, is anyone's guess. But alas, the positive-thinking forward has been playing within his means, knocking down mid-range jumpers, fighting his way inside on both ends of the floor, and has even been grabbing a decent amount of rebounds on the offensive glass as well.
How long such success will last remains to be seen, but there's no denying STAT's recently elevated play has proven to be the key to his team's success as of late.