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The Forgotten Brilliance of Amar’e Stoudemire

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Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire

The story of Amar’e Stoudemire’s career seems to be written already. To many, it is a tale of occasional greatness, with injuries playing the part of the antagonist. To some, it is a cautionary tale, wherein an oft-injured, non-elite player was propped up by the greatness of Steve Nash – the terms “overrated” and “bust” play a prominent role in such narratives. For me, Stoudemire’s story is one of brilliance, where our hero is defeated by circumstances beyond his control.

It was a scant eleven years ago that Stoudemire burst onto the scene in Phoenix, the 9th overall pick that would go on to have the best career of any player from that draft class. In the 2002-2003 season, Stoudemire averaged just under 14 points and 9 boards in just over 31 minutes per game, earning Rookie of the Year honors. He showed a refined game well beyond his years, belying the fact that he came to the NBA directly from high school. His 53.0 TS% and 16.2 PER were above-average for his position, and he would only improve from there.

Over the next two years, Stoudemire steadily improved. His scoring trended upwards as his role in the offense increased, and he increased his efficiency every step of the way. Nash should certainly be credited for bringing out the best in Stoudemire, yet it must be noted that the opposite is true, as well. The future Hall of Famer would garner his first MVP award in 2004-2005 – a year in which Stoudemire averaged 26 points and 9 rebounds per game. Even more impressively, Stoudemire ranked in the top-five in the league in points, field goal percentage, PER, TS%, win shares, and WS/48. He also led the league in offensive win shares. It should go without saying that Nash’s brilliance played a large role in Stoudemire … but few players could have taken advantage of that as well as the man called STAT.

Disaster struck in 2005-2006, when a routine pre-season medical exam revealed significant damage to Stoudemire’s knee. The resulting microfracture surgery limited our hero to all of three games that season, and many felt that that may be the end of a player whose athleticism wowed the viewer at every turn. Of course, that was not the case – Stoudemire returned better than ever.

Over the next four seasons – his last four with the Suns – Stoudemire was one of the very best players in the NBA. Between 2006-2007 and 2009-2010, he was a veritable force of nature, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. In that four year stretch, 253 players appeared in at least 200 games – many of whom are surefire Hall of Famers, included the vaunted 2003 draft class. Consider Stoudemire’s ranks among those players:

  • 2nd (tied) in TS%
  • 7th in PER
  • 7th (tied) in WS/48
  • 8th in Win Shares
  • 8th (tied) in PPG
  • 9th (tied) in blocks per game
  • 19th in rebound per game

In many of these categories, Stoudemire was ranked right around (if not among) folks like Dirk Nowitzki, LeBron James, Steve Nash, Tim Duncan, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, and Dwyane Wade. For those four years, he reached the heights of the the elite, and performed like a Hall of Famer.

Things turned sour fairly quickly when Stoudemire packed his bags for Madison Square Garden. In 2010-2011, he was essentially the same hero that we had come to know and love. Sure, his efficiency slipped as he shouldered the burden of being the man in New York – but he still remained among the dozen or so best offensive players in the game. Since then, however, injuries, the arrival of Carmelo Anthony, and a revolving door roster have coalesced to reduce Stoudemire to a shadow of his former self. There are still flashes to be seen, if you look close enough, but they are fewer and further between with each passing day.

He has been an asset off the bench this season, giving us a glimmer of hope that a reinvention is just around the corner – and perhaps it is. After all, it was a scant decade ago that our hero was renowned for his polished post moves, smart off-the-ball movement, and impressive jumper. Those skills may never fade away; just ask Tim Duncan.

And that’s all I want. A few more games with those flashes. A few more surprising explosions of long lost athleticism. Just a few more years before our hero rides off into the sunset.

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