Saturday, January 24, 2009

Amar'e Still Not Bringin' It

A totally uninspiring performance against the Denver Nuggets on January 15 led to an examination of Amar’e Stoudemire’s status as a franchise player, and whether he’s worthy of the humongous contract he’ll almost inevitably receive following the 2009-10 season. Starting with that game a week ago in Denver, the Phoenix Suns have lost five of six games, with the lone win coming over the increasingly disappointing Am. Ironically, it’s against this backdrop, having produced just one game in this stretch remotely resembling a star-quality performance, that Amar'e Stoudemire was named a Western Conference All-Star starter.

On the surface, Stoudemire’s 31-point game in Toronto on January 18 may have the look of a big outburst, but it doesn’t take much detective work to see that even that performance left much to be desired. Although he put up 31 points on 12-for-20 from the field, Amar’e’s less-than-stellar work on the boards (6 rebounds, matched by Steve Nash, and good for fourth best on the Raptors), combined with a single assist and no blocks or steals is hardly what a team expects from a top-flight big man. How often do Tim Duncan or Dwight Howard fill so few columns on the score sheet? However, compared to his performances in the Suns’ last three games, all losses, Amar’e looked like Wilt Chamberlain in Toronto.

In 30 minutes on the floor in the Suns’ nationally televised Martin Luther King Day matchup with the Boston Celtics, Stoudemire managed just one rebound, four turnovers and four fouls to go along with three points (0-for-7 from the field), as Phoenix was thumped by the Celtics. The game’s 104-87 final score hardly reflects the Celtics’ dominance, as the Suns trailed by thirty points early and often, only cutting the deficit under twenty in garbage time.

Two nights after being humiliated in Boston, the Suns were at Madison Square Garden to take on former coach Mike D’Antoni and the Knicks. The Suns failed to deliver again, falling 114-109 to the Knicks. Stoudemire scored 20 points on 6-for-17 shooting, grabbed just four rebounds, and committed five fouls as he was not only clearly the second best power forward on the floor, as the Knicks’ David Lee dominated the Suns, scoring 25 points, grabbing 16 rebounds, and outscoring Amar’e in the second half, but Stoudemire was not even the best frontcourt player on the Suns, as Shaquille O’Neal put up 21 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked three shots.

And in yet another sub-par showing, the Phoenix Suns simply failed to show up in Charlotte last Friday against the Bobcats, and were humiliated 98-76. The Bobcats jumped ahead early and held led by double-digits for the last two-and-a-half quarters of the game. While this was a comprehensive team defeat, Stoudemire was particularly ineffective, committing six turnovers and making just five of fourteen field goal attempts on his way to just twelve points. On this occasion he was the fourth best frontcourt player on the floor, once again outplayed by Shaq (20 points, 6-10 from the field, 8-12 FT), as well as by both Charlotte forwards, Gerald Wallace (28 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals, 2 blocks- what a line!) and former teammate Boris Diaw (26 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals).

Stoudemire is hardly the only member of the Suns who’s failed to bring his “A” game lately, so it’s impossible to lay the team’s poor play entirely on his doorstep. However, given his perceived greatness and his desire to be a team’s primary option, combined with his likely foray into the free agent market following next season, Amar’e Stoudemire should be working harder than anyone on the Phoenix Suns’ to take his game to new level.

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