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Props To Amaré

I intended on going to sleep a little earlier last night, and I had ever incentive after watching the Wizards and the Phoenix Suns getting thrashed before halftime of their respective games. While I knew the Wiz had no chance of coming back from a 21-point halftime deficit in Utah, I had my doubts about the 19-point lead the Denver Nuggets took into the locker room in Phoenix.

I was rewarded for staying awake, as I watched one of the more thrilling comebacks of the season, with the Suns scoring 81 second-half points - yes, 81! - to defeat Denver, 132-117, and move into a tie for first in the Pacific Division. I also came away with more appreciation for Amaré Stoudemire.


I'm coming! (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

You might not know this, but Stoudemire ranks among the top six in the NBA in scoring (25.1 points, fifth), field goal percentage (58.6, fifth) and blocks (2.21, sixth). Yet he often gets overlooked - or forgotten completely - because he shares the floor with two former MVPs in Steve Nash (two-time winner) and Shaquille O'Neal (one-time winner). But it's time to give the man his props.

I'm not prepared to side with Stoudemire's new promoter, Shaquille O'Neal, or the fans at US Airways Center who chanted "M-V-P! M-V-P!" in the fourth quarter last night, as Stoudemire shot two free throws that gave him 41 points (He also had 14 rebounds).

Stoudemire is not the MVP this season.

The game against Denver last night was further evidence that Steve Nash is still the man who makes this team go - I know, duh! - as he completely willed back his team after Nuggets point guard Anthony Carter whacked him in the face in the second half and the referees didn't call a foul. Nash inspired that victory when he decided to become a scorer, knocking down three-pointers and finishing with 36 points. Then Nash turned into facilitator, frequently catching Stoudemire cutting to the basket for lay-ups and dunks - including a nifty behind-the-back dish that Stoudemire converted into a three-point play.

Stoudemire is, however, the league's MRF: Most Relentless Finisher.


Everybody loves Steve and Shaq. Why no love for STAT? (AP Photo/H. Rumph, Jr)

Dwight Howard leads the league in dunks, Carlos Boozer can score with either hand and Tim Duncan has mastered the fundamentals. But there might not be another player that you can count on more to get you a bucket once he touches the ball inside. Stoudemire gets it and goes up without hesitation. He gives you a lay-up, finger roll or dunk. And since he attacks the hoop so hard, he often gets to the foul line.

Stoudemire's comeback from microfracture surgery more than two years ago is one of the more remarkable stories in the league, especially since he made first-team all-NBA last season at center (Shouldn't that mean you are among the top five players in the league? Okay, the center spot was weak last year - top 10?). But that was just the first step in proving how much Stoudemire has grown into a more polished player.

At 25, Stoudemire is making more leaps. He used to just smash on guys (His dunk on Michael Olowokandi , while donning the No. 32 Shaq wears now, may have unofficially ended the former No. 1 pick's career). He might not flush as emphatically, but I don't think too many players want to jump in his path. But now Stoudemire can step out and score from anywhere 18-feet and in. "Two years ago, not as much," Suns Coach Mike D'Antoni said.

Stoudemire has improved across the board, but he still has plenty of room to get better defensively. Two weeks ago, Stoudemire expressed his frustration that he is rarely mentioned among the NBA's elite players. I asked him last week if he was upset that he isn't in the MVP discussion. "I'll never complain about it," Stoudemire said. "If it happens, it happens."

Even O'Neal sort of slighted Stoudemire upon his arrival in Phoenix, calling his new effort to raise Stoudemire to the level of previous sidekicks Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Penny Hardaway as "The Amaré Stoudemire Project." At his introductory press conference O'Neal said, "I look forward to making him the top power forward in the league."

During all-star weekend, Stoudemire had a pretty funny reaction to O'Neal's plans: "I didn't think I was that bad of a player," Stoudemire said. "I thought I was already up there. What's better than being first team All-NBA player?"


Amare, you without me is like Harold Melvin without the Blue Notes. You'll never... Shaq, I made first-team All-NBA last season. Okay, brother. How many rings? How ... Many ... Rings?!?! (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

When I asked Stoudemire last week how the project is coming along, Stoudemire gave a hardy laugh and said, "The project was already in motion for a while."

Stoudemire, the 2003 Rookie of the Year and a three-time all-star, has scored at least 15 points in a franchise-record 62 consecutive games - proof that he was well on his way before the Suns traded Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks to Miami for O'Neal. But there is no denying that O'Neal has opened the floor for Stoudemire to be a more dominant force. Stoudemire has scored 30 or more points in 11 of the 21 games O'Neal has played with the Suns. In the past six games, Stoudemire is averaging 33.2 points. "When I roll to the basket, there's less guys," Stoudemire said, smiling.

O'Neal moving him to his natural power forward has made the 6-foot-10 Stoudemire less of a liability on defense and more of a challenge for his opponents. "It feels good man," Stoudemire said. "I never felt like a center. [I was] playing the Yao Mings and Dwight Howards, even the Shaqs. I had to guard those guys. They always had 70 pounds on me and like four or five inches. It worked out offensively. They couldn't guard me, but I had to guard them as well. Being out of position, you get a reputation for not being a good defensive player."

Stoudemire can also thank O'Neal because people are starting to take notice of him again. "Me personally, I just try to improve for the sake of my teammates. I try to get better and better so that it makes it easier for everybody else," Stoudemire said. "I really haven't changed my game. I've been striving on being more versatile for a while now."


By Michael Lee  |  April 1, 2008; 11:15 AM ET
 
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Comments

Amare is a beast!

Posted by: Anonymous | April 1, 2008 12:20 PM | Report abuse

I'll take Amare over every big man except Tim Duncan today. That's Dirk, Dwight, Carlos, Yao, whoever. In two years, it might not even be a debate.

Posted by: SUNBURNED | April 1, 2008 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Amare's a hell of a player, but it's worth noting that he's only really hitting his peak now that he's got Shaq next to him. He's always been good but was never dominating until he had someone next to him to draw attention away.

Posted by: kalorama | April 1, 2008 1:23 PM | Report abuse

What about Bogut?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 1, 2008 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Everybody has this backwards. Shaq isn't making Amare an elite player. He already was one. Amare is making Shaq a serviceable player again. Don't forget that Shaq was garbage this season before teaming with Amare. Now Shaq looks like he has a pulse because teams can't focus on him anymore. It makes a difference when you go from playing with Earl Barron and Mark Blount to Amare.

Posted by: AMARE4MVP | April 1, 2008 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Mike,

C'mon, man. How can you say Amare isn't the MVP? His numbers are right up there with everybody else's - and his team is in first place. Even if he isn't the MVP, he at least has to be in the top five on the ballot.

Posted by: bigups2allmyhaters | April 1, 2008 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Both Amare and Dwight will be in the all-star games every year. I know this will sound so far out yet but I can compare Amare with Russell in terms of mobility and Dwight with Chamberlain with his brute strenght and power in the paint. They will be debated as who's better for a long time as CP and Deron.

Posted by: Dave | April 1, 2008 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Since this is a thread dedicated to another team's all-star big man:

Apparently Brand is coming back this week:

http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=3323578

The clippers are completely out of the playoff race. How is this a good idea?

Posted by: kalorama | April 1, 2008 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Stoudemire is not the MVP of his team! As Michael pointed out, Nash is the guy who makes that team go. Nash is averaging about 17 points and 11 assists, which is comparable to his numbers when he won both of those Maurice Podoloff trophies - the MVP, for you guys not in the know.

Posted by: voice o' reason | April 1, 2008 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Nash is great, but overrated. Only in New York can a point guard play with that much talent and not be a beast. Nash has played along with one of the leagues top 10 players and another allstar since Dallas and is now in the perfect system for his talent.

Posted by: Truthsayer | April 1, 2008 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Truthsayer, are you DeShawn Stevenson? Nash is not overrated. Neither is LeBron.

Posted by: voice o' reason | April 1, 2008 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Good point by Amare4mvp.

Whenever Amare is mentioned, I have to think about how the Wizards dodged a major blunder when Phoenix picked Amare in the draft. Phoenix picked Amare #9 in 2002, and then Miami selected Caron Butler. The Wizards followed that by selecting Jeffries #11.

If Phoenix picked Butler and Miami chose with Jeffries instead of Amare, there would have been next to no chance that the Wizards would have picked Amare. The Wizards had picked Kwame the year before, and with the troubles with Kwame that first year, plus the fact that Amare would play the same position, they wouldn't have picked him. Instead, MJ likely would have selected someone from this group of stars that were selected after Jeffries: Melvin Ely, Marcus Haislip, Frederick Jones, and Bostjan Nachbar. Ouch.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 1, 2008 5:15 PM | Report abuse

Wow, what an interesting note. But you know what's funny? You mentioned Marcus Haislip. Guess who picked him No. 13 for the Bucks that season? Yep. Ernie Grunfeld. At least EG brought Butler to D.C. MJ would not have done that.

Posted by: misguided bullets | April 1, 2008 5:22 PM | Report abuse

I haven't dated any former members of destiny's child and LeBron is not overrated.

But Nash is the perfect example of a system player. Credit to D'Antoni for using his players to the maximum.

Posted by: Truthsayer | April 1, 2008 8:35 PM | Report abuse

I haven't dated any former members of destiny's child and LeBron is not overrated.

But Nash is the perfect example of a system player. Credit to D'Antoni for using his players to the maximum.

Posted by: Truthsayer | April 1, 2008 8:35 PM | Report abuse

"But Nash is the perfect example of a system player. Credit to D'Antoni for using his players to the maximum."

That's the exact opposite of the truth. The Suns don't succeed because Nash fits into their system. The Suns succeed because D'Antoni built the perfect system to take advantage of what Nash does best.

Posted by: kalorama | April 1, 2008 10:55 PM | Report abuse

It's a Give-and-Take Policy at work here. Shaq is old and needs HELP on the inside. He's not the same dominant big man he was. And Amare is a terrific scorer who just needed another BIG man to support his inside game.

That doesnt make you an MVP.
Even if you are averaging 33.0 points whatever per game.

Posted by: Xerxes | April 2, 2008 2:17 AM | Report abuse

It's a Give-and-Take Policy at work here. Shaq is old and needs HELP on the inside. He's not the same dominant big man he was. And Amare is a terrific scorer who just needed another BIG man to support his inside game.

That doesnt make you an MVP.
Even if you are averaging 33.0 points whatever per game.

Posted by: Xerxes | April 2, 2008 2:17 AM | Report abuse

It's a Give-and-Take Policy at work here. Shaq is old and needs HELP on the inside. He's not the same dominant big man he was. And Amare is a terrific scorer who just needed another BIG man to support his inside game.

That doesnt make you an MVP.
Even if you are averaging 33.0 points whatever per game.

Posted by: Xerxes | April 2, 2008 2:17 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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