Basketball is a funny profession, in that the longer you work, the less wanted you are. Usually, a 32-year-old with impressive qualifications and several prestigious awards would be desperately sought after on the job market. Instead, the New York Knicks chose to pay Amar'e Stoudemire to go work elsewhere.
Yes, of course this is about performance, like any job. Unfortunately, the negative corollary between age and performance is just part of the business of sports. Stoudemire's six All-NBA team appearances don't shine as a model of what's to come, but are just a cruel echo of past work well done, unable to be repeated.
But while Stoudemire falls short of his former glory, he's still a capable basketball player, which brings us to the final third of the Mavericks season. How can he help? What role can he play? Those are questions Rick Carlisle and his staff are asking themselves right now.
Stoudemire has split his minutes evenly between power forward and center this season, playing 48 and 52 percent of his minutes at those two positions, respectively. While a few years have featured a strong shift one way or another1, those numbers this year line up nearly perfectly with his career -- 47 percent at the four and 52 percent as a five.
Although Carlisle will surely try it in some matchups, a Nowitzki and Stoudemire back court will struggle to hold their own defensively and on the glass. Stoudemire will play both the four and the five, but a stronger concentration will be backing up Dirk, rather than playing with him.
While their roles may initially seem similar, Stoudemire is not Brandan Wright, nor should the Mavericks ask him to be. In Dallas, 66 percent of Wright's offense came cutting to the basket or rolling to the rim, per Synergy Sports. Only 22 percent of Stoudemire's offense came from that in New York this year, while nearly half -- 46.4 percent -- were from post ups.
He's good at it, too. He's scoring 0.96 points per possession, per Synergy Sports, which is in the 77 percentile of the NBA. He'll go from the left or right block, preferring to face up and drive past his man with his still above league average athleticism, but also able to turn over either shoulder. He'll commit some turnovers if teams bring a hard double, but he's generally an able and willing passer.
This is the dilemma Rick Carlisle faces -- how do you let someone play to their strengths while still fitting into the team philosophy? The Mavericks post up fewer times than any other team in the league2. Only 4.8 possessions per game end in the post (based on a shot, turnover or foul drawn), and not surprisingly, 4.3 of those per game belong to Dirk, according to Synergy Sports. The Knicks were on the higher end of the spectrum, with 11.9 percent of their possessions ending with a post up.
The beauty of Carlisle's offensive system is that it's malleable. By its own definition, a sleek and aerodynamic "flow offense" will be bogged down by too many post ups, but there's a balance here that Carlisle can find.
Vice's Colin McGowan touched on this for a moment in a Stoudemire article he wrote Tuesday, and since his wording was perfect, I'll just quote him on this:
Rick Carlisle liberates players insofar as he considers what they do well and then tries to put them in a position where they are asked only to do those things. With the Knicks, Amar'e was defined by what he couldn't do anymore; in Dallas, he will be appreciated for what he can contribute.
Stoudemire is shooting 30.9 percent beyond 10 feet this season. He's a non-factor in transition3. He can still play above the basket, but his true athletic gift that treated him so well was his quick leaping. These days, every jump is more calculated, more precise, without the raw athleticism that once paired beautifully with a Steve Nash pick-and-roll.
But that's okay. Stoudemire is still a force around the rim, and that's all Carlisle requests from him. Sometimes, it'll be from the post. Sometimes, it'll be a roll down the lane as a Rajon Rondo bounce pass or Devin Harris lob floats his way. That's the nature of Dallas and their pick-and-roll heavy offense, as opposed to New York's triangle. The opportunities for Stoudemire to succeed in Dallas are plentiful.
His defense isn't grand -- Synergy data indicates he's a good post defender, mediocre on the pick and roll and terrible when he gets switched onto a guard. There are 27 regular season games remaining and it's unlikely Stoudemire's minutes will reach over 20 in more than a handful.
But Stoudemire still has his strengths and now, a real basketball forum (the Knicks don't qualify) to show them off. He doesn't need to channel the glory years of Phoenix to be successful. Dallas isn't asking Stoudemire for anything but what he's capable of right now, and there's no better situation to be in than that.
He played 99 percent of his minutes at center in the 2006-07 season, but has also played 83 and 84 percent of his minutes at power forward in a single year. ↩
In other terms, 4.5 percent of Dallas' possessions end in a post up. The next four -- Golden State, Philadelphia, Atlanta and New Orleans -- all fall between 5.5 and 5.6 percent. ↩
Per Synergy, only 10 of Stoudemire's 430 possessions have ended in transition. This is the aspect of his game that's probably the furthest removed from his Phoenix days, sadly. ↩