Earlier today (as reported by ESPN's Ian Begley), Knicks' Coach Mike Woodson announced that the starting lineup for Saturday night's game against the 76ers would not include James White. Instead, the starting five will include a much more ideal unit of Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony, and Tyson Chandler.
Such a lineup not only allows Anthony to stay at power forward (where he's thrived all season long), but also opens up the possibility of Shumpert serving as defensive stopper to other opposing swingmen while at the three.
With Felton making his return to the court on Saturday night, the floor general will get his first chance to share the court with both Kidd and the recently returned Shumpert.
The newly formed lineup undeniably opens up a number of possibilities, and also represents perhaps the most talented and versatile lineup New York has put forth all season long.
But with Felton finally returning, one has to wonder, will his 2010 running mate, Amar'e Stoudemire soon be joining him?
Knicks fans across social media seem to be rejoicing over the just announced lineup, and don't exactly want any part of Stoudemire at the moment. But hear me out on this one.
For weeks--even months--everyone has wondered what's to become of STAT. Will he ever regain his dominant form, or will he represent just another overpaid past star? Will his stint as a reserve be a short one, or will he serve as a key cog in the second unit's engine during a deep playoff run, ala Latrell Sprewell in the past?
It was fair to have some reservations about Stoudemire's abilities upon his initial return. As expected, he looked rusty to start and his jumper was off.
But over the last four contests, some of that STAT explosiveness has returned, and Stoudemire appears to be getting more comfortable on the court. In addition to helping his team to three victories over the stretch, the forward has also averaged 14.8 points on 57% from the field and 5.5 rebounds per game.
As he regains his form a bit more, it's important to remember that Stoudemire doesn't necessarily need to feel the pressures of rising above as the full STAT of old. With so many other offensive weapons donning Knickerbocker uniforms, and the team's winning efforts often propelled by defense anyway, perhaps a 16 point and 7-8 rebound average throughout the season would be enough to justify Stoudemire doing his part to play alongside the starting the five. There's no doubt he's making progress to at the very least, play up to that type of level.
It's easy to understand why there are hesitations to bringing Stoudemire back into the starting lineup. As he's returning from a long absence, the team has gone on to succeed without him, and players like Anthony and Kidd are succeeding by playing positions they may not have, should STAT have been in the lineup from the start.
But ironically enough, since Stoudemire's season debut, he and Anthony have actually been displaying the type of chemistry fans and media members alike have questioned for multiple seasons now. More of a team player this season, Anthony seems to enjoy dishing the ball out to a player who can slam it home inside like the big man.
Stoudemire belongs in the starting lineup. He may not be ready just yet, and such a switch may not happen in the close weeks to come. But it's bound to happen, for the better of the team in fact. The explosiveness and physicality that STAT has displayed even thus far into his return represents an offensive element the Knicks can clearly benefit from having.
With a bit more time to figure things out, Coach Woodson and his staff will have to work Stoudemire into the starting five without minimizing the team's ability to reap the benefits of all the other key contributors as well.
Make no mistake, however, that's where Stoudemire belongs. He's proven to excel alongside players such as Felton before, and his chemistry with a player like Anthony will come as he regains his footing as well.
Clearly with a player like James White getting spot-starts, mixing up the lineup a spot is an available option. What's more, for those not sold on Stoudemire's prowess, it's difficult to understand why those same doubters would be currently convinced about Shumpert so soon. Both players need to continue proving they can play at the level necessary to make key contributions.
There's no need to rush things, but come playoff time, a player of Stoudemire's caliber belongs in the starting five should he continue to make progress. It's up to Coach Woodson to to make that happen, while not taking away from his team's overall steady efforts.