Will Amare Stoudemire maintain his usual production in New York?
If you own Amare Stoudemire in a keeper league, you had to have some trepidation when he hit the open market this past summer. Almost any destination other than standing pat with the Phoenix Suns was going to make a serious dent in his fantasy value. The worst-scenario forecast would have had Stoudemire going to the Miami Heat, where playing in Eric Spolestra's Riley-esque offense would have probably lopped 3-5 points per game off his scoring average.
In the end, you had to take some comfort that he bolted for the New York Knicks.
It's a scenario filled with question marks, but I actually think there's a chance Stoudemire could better his numbers in 2009-10.
This is more of an educated hunch than a statistical projection, because the stats all predict a downward trend in his numbers. He doesn't have Steve Nash or the stellar Suns supporting cast, and is instead going to the unforgiving, psyche-challenging confines of New York (psyche-wise, it's not like he went to Philly, but it's close).
Let's start with the negatives.
Stoudemire is leaving the NBA's top scoring offense (110.2 points per game in 2009-10) for one that barely scraped the top 10 (102.1). You look at the numbers and would assume that it points to a dip in Stoudemire's scoring average. However, pace is a better team stat to use when forecasting production, and here the numbers tighten, with the Suns (97.9) only averaging about two possessions per game more than the Knicks (96.1). The Suns kill it offensively due to their blinding efficiency (the Nash factor), but you have to remember that volume, not efficiency, usually gets the job done in fantasyland. Just ask anyone who owned anyone on the Golden State Warriors in the Don Nelson era.
Raymond Felton is a fine point guard, but he's not going to the Hall of Fame. Nash's fantasy impact on his teammates means just as much, if not more than his own stellar individual numbers. Felton has struggled this preseason as he adjusts to D'Antoni's system (though he did have a solid outing last week). And Felton is, by far, the best pure point guard on the Knicks' roster.
The Suns also had several other weapons (Nash, Jason Richardson, Channing Frye) that could take keep defenses from collapsing on the interior. The Knicks have gone through a massive amount of roster turnover this summer. They have 11 new players on their roster. Will Danilo Gallinari be able to develop into an 18 ppg guy? Will Anthony Randolph and Timofey Mozgov be able take some of the interior heat off Stoudemire? There is going to be an adjustment process, and even after that, it's not likely the Knicks will suddenly start scoring 110 points every night.
In the end, sometimes you have to look past the hard numbers and look at the overall picture. This is one of those times, a situation when the intangibles win out over the numbers.
It's fair to term Stoudemire as "mercurial." Some Suns fans would probably go as far as "head case." When you look at other parts of Stoudemire's numerical portfolio -- plus/minus, assists, blocks, rebounds -- you can see that in recent years there has been a certain trailing off in his game. The dip has been especially evident in his hustle numbers (blocks and rebounds). It's inexcusable that someone with Stoudemire's athleticism could average only 1.0 block per game, but that's exactly what he managed last season.
To get primo Stoudemire -- the 2007-08 vintage, when he averaged 25.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game -- you need a motivated Stoudemire. And all the signs say that in 2010-11, owners will be getting the most motivated Stoudemire ever assembled.
Look, Stoudemire wants this. I know it sounds flaky, but that's what it comes down to. The Knicks didn't have to lay a full-court press in their recruiting process, they had Stoudemire at "hello." He wanted to come to New York and reunite with coach Mike D'Antoni despite some historical bad blood there. So for Stoudemire to look past all the numbers, the better rosters and the rebuilding to come to Manhattan is saying something.
Stoudemire is going to be the Knicks' unquestioned No. 1 offensive option every time he steps on the floor. This offense is going to be geared to him, and no coach has gotten more production out of him than D'Antoni. With Don Nelson out of a job, D'Antoni becomes the most fantasy-friendly coach in the NBA. You have to have faith he will maximize Stoudemire's production.
I don't know whether Stoudemire is going to the playoffs this season. But I do know owners should expect at least 25 points a night, along with an uptick in blocks and boards. By the end of the season, we could be talking about Stoudemire as a top-10 fantasy player. With so many centers bearing red flags, you shouldn't hesitate to secure Stoudemire's services in the second round.
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.