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Friday, December 21, 2012
Opening Tip: Amar'e as backup center?

By Jared Zwerling



Every weekday throughout the season, ESPNNewYork.com will tackle a burning question about the Knicks in our "Opening Tip" segment.

Today's Burning Question: Could Amar'e Stoudemire thrive as the Knicks' backup center?

After Thursday's practice, Stoudemire was asked if he could return to his All-Star level from 2010-11, when he averaged 25.3 points per game and gave the Knicks a playoff spark for the first time in six years.

"Without a doubt," he said. "I'm on pace to return back to dominance."

What's different now, of course, is that Stoudemire will be entering a winning culture with an offensive identity. That identity features Carmelo Anthony and trickles down to Tyson Chandler as the main pick-and-roll and 3-point shooting act. That makes Mike Woodson's job to name Stoudemire's role somewhat challenging.

Will he give the power forward a look in the starting five? This way, we'll all know if him and Melo can actually work, especially with two seasoned point guards in the backcourt -- Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd. Stoudemire could rotate with Chandler in pick-and-rolls, but he would be better suited in the post and off the ball for his midrange shooting. With Anthony's presence, and Felton and Kidd's passing and attacking, Stoudemire could be the recipient of open looks and dishes down low.

Or, will Woodson ultimately decide to use Stoudemire off the bench as a complementary offensive threat alongside J.R. Smith? While Anthony and Chandler would provide the initial inside-out scoring punch, Smith and Stoudemire would be a follow-up duo. On paper, this would spread out the offense well. And right now, the Knicks are hurting in the middle from Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace's injuries, so Stoudemire could come in handy as the backup center -- and for another main reason beyond his teammates' setbacks.

In the 2010-11 season, if you recall, Stoudemire flourished at center, because he took advantage of slower players on both ends of the floor. (That's what Melo is doing more this season transitioning to the four position.) Although STAT scored on them, he also stomped on them, averaging nearly two blocks per game. That, along with his rebounding, will be vital to the team's success looking ahead. The Knicks' interior defense has taken a slight step back -- mainly because Chandler is on his own interior island -- and they rank third-worst in rebounds per game (39.6).

What may be the final measuring stick to determine if Stoudemire should start or not? Ball flow and spacing has been superb as the Knicks' have played to an Eastern Conference-best 19-6 record. You can bet while Woodson is testing out STAT in the first unit, he will be monitoring those two things carefully. The coach won't want to take away the team's starting tempo or adversely affect the team's third-best ranking in average first-quarter scoring margin (plus-2.4).

Do you think Stoudemire could thrive as the backup center when he returns? Leave us your comments below.

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