Stats say STAT’s Decline is Exaggerated

It would be safe to say that last year was Amare Stoudemire’s worst year in his career.

Coming into the shortened season, Stoudemire’s Knicks had high expectations, but the 6-time All-Star had no shortage of issues. Stoudemire saw the tragic death of his brother, the resignation of his long-time head coach, a bulging disk in his back, and the infamous incident with the fire extinguisher in the locker room of the American Airlines Arena. Overall, there just seemed to be a decline in the play of the power forward. At first glance, a drop from 25.3 points per game in his first season with the Knicks to 17.5 points per game last season, seems like a significant decline. The perceived decline has caused many fans to be enraged, but this article will show that Stoudemire is still one of the best players in the NBA at his position.

When the Knicks were close to acquiring Steve Nash, many proclaimed that the acquisition would be especially effective because it would help “revive” Amare Stoudemire. This may very well have been true, since the numbers do show that Nash did raise Stoudemire’s game.

During his six seasons playing alongside Nash, Stoudemire had a field goal percentage (FG%) of .564. Stoudemire’s career FG% is .533. A one-proportion z-test can measure if there is a significant difference in FG% between the time Stoudemire played with Nash and Stoudemire’s overall career. The formula is as follow:

Z = (.564-.533) / (.0066 x .564) [Where .0066 represents the standard deviation or the square root of (.564 x .436)/5642) and where 5642 represents the number of field goals Stoudemire attempted during the six seasons with Nash]

This test would be a one-sided test because it would measure if Stoudemire’s FG% was significantly greater with Nash. Doing such a test would result in a p-value of .000001, which is the probability Stoudemire would shoot such a percentage, given that he shot consistently with his career percentage. Needless to say, there is significant evidence to suggest that Amare was a much better player with Nash.

However, such a claim often suggests that Nash made Stoudemire better, which is far from the case. While playing with Stoudemire, Nash had a field goal percentage over 50% every season (before that he had never done so in his career). Nash also topped his career high in Dallas in assists in each year while playing with Stoudemire on the Suns. Some may claim that this was more of a product of Mike D’Antoni’s system, a claim supported by Nash topping 11 assists per game, in the last two years without Stoudemire. However, advanced statistics show that Nash was both a more efficient passer and scorer with Stoudemire.

In the last two seasons, Nash saw his turnover percentage go up, his usage rate decrease, and his assist percentage increase. This means that Nash handled the ball less, turned it over more frequently, but still assisted on a greater percentage of the Suns’ baskets. This suggests that while Nash is remaining on par in assists, he has had to pass much more frequently to get those assists. With Stoudemire, the pick-and-roll provided Nash with easy opportunities to score and assist; Now, he has to sacrifice some of his own shot attempts to put up the same passing numbers. He is also turning the ball over more frequently, likely because the assists aren’t as easy to get as those passes to Stoudemire.

So what are we looking at here? Stoudemire obviously benefited from Nash and vice versa, but what could anyone have expected? It is the job of the point guard to run the offense and make shots easier for their teammates. Amare Stoudemire’s tenure in New York has seen the following point guards start a significant number of games: Raymond Felton, Chauncey Billups, Toney Douglas, Jeremy Lin. Out of those point guards, none of them were in the same league as Nash when they played with Stoudemire.

The interesting case, of course, is with Raymond Felton. Felton has become a sort of journeyman point guard, who can’t seem to stick with a team. In the first 20 or so games with the Knicks, Felton struggled to work with Stoudemire, but after developing chemistry with the power forward, Felton put up All-Star caliber numbers (while Stoudemire was an MVP candidate). Now that Felton has returned, the duo could rekindle their past chemistry.

So, yeah, Stoudemire may not shoot 56% like he did with Steve Nash, but any logical Knicks fan shouldn’t have expected him to unless the Knicks brought in another All-Star point guard. But that doesn’t mean that Stoudemite will be the 50% shooter he has been with the Knicks (which isn’t that bad, but I’ll get to that later); if Amare can reignite his relationship with Felton, he could possibly return to the efficiency he had in his first half season with the Knicks. The loss of Nash, however, is not the only reason for Stoudemire’s perceived decline.

This past season saw Amare Stoudemire drop in points per game from 25.3 to 17.5. While some of that decline in production can be attributed to Stoudemire’s previously mentioned drop in shooting percentage, much of Stoudemire’s decrease in scoring is due to a limited number of shot attempts. In 2010-2011, Stoudemire attempted 19.0 field goals per game. Last season, Stoudemire got only 13.9 shots per game. The biggest difference between Stoudemire’s two seasons with the Knicks was the acquisition of Carmelo Anthony, a noted ball stopper who took away many of Stoudemire’s possessions and shot attempts.

In the 63 regular season games that Anthony and Stoudemire have played together, Carmelo Anthony took 3 more shots per game than Stoudemire, 18.5 to 15.5. Anthony taking Stoudemire’s shots is the reason why Stoudemire’s field goal attempts per game decreased by 27% from 2011 to 2012. By comparison, Anthony’s field goal attempts only dropped by 5% from 2011 to 2012. Anthony also got to the free throw line 1.5 more times per game than Stoudemire.

Carmelo Anthony, however, wasn’t the only player that took away from Stouidemire’s usage. The emergence of Jeremy Lin also limited Stoudemire’s shot attempts. In the 18 games that Stoudemire, Anthony, and Lin played for more than 20 minutes, Anthony led the team with 15.6 field goal attempts per game. Stoudemire attempted 11.8 fields goals per game, while Lin attempted 12.3. Why is Jeremy Lin taking more shots than Amare Stoudemire? For more than a third of Stoudemire’s season, he had been relegated to the third option on offense. Amare and Carmelo were supposed to be option 1 and 1A, but Stoudemire spent over a third of last season taking a backseat to Anthony and Lin.

Ultimately, Lin and Stoudemire never developed great chemistry on the pick and roll. This is not an indictment on Lin. He achieved success with the team running the offense through himself, and no one can blame him for continuing to play the game his way. Raymond Felton, however, has never been mistaken for a player who can run an offense through himself. The hope is that Felton will realize that his greatest success came when he ran the offense through Stoudemire and will continue to do that in this upcoming season. If Felton does so, Stoudemire will see his shot attempts rise in this upcoming season.

The discrepancy between usage of Anthony and Stoudemire isn’t only seen via shot attempts. Anthony’s usage rate with the Knicks was 31.8% in 2011 and and 31.0% in 2012. Stoudemire’s usage rate was 30.9% in 2011 ( a number skewed higher by the half of the season where Anthony wasn’t on the team) and 25.4% in 2012. It should be expected that Stoudemire would be used less with another elite scorer on his team. What is concerning is that while Stoudemire’s usage has dropped, Anthony’s has not.

Last season, there were 5 All Star power forwards in the NBA: Chris Bosh, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Dirk Nowitzki. These five averaged 16.6 shot attempts per game and 6.2 free throw attempts per game. If Stoudemire had these attempts, prorated with his percentages, he would have scored 20.7 points per game this past season. It is still not as good as he was in his first Knicks season, but it does show that, given ample opportunities, Stoudemire can be an elite power forward.

Stoudemire’s shot attempts were actually similar to those of Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat. In fact, the stat lines for Stoudemire and Bosh are almost identical. Last season, Stoudemire averaged 17.5 points per game, 7.8 rebounds per game, and 1.1 assists per game. Bosh, in comparison, averaged 17.8 points per game, 7.9 rebounds per game, and 1.9 assists per game. Bosh, though, is the the clear third option on the Heat, while Stoudemire is supposed to be the Knicks’ second option.

Amare Stoudemire’s shots per game were compared to those of last season’s All Star power forwards. Between Bosh, Griffin, Love, Aldridge, and Nowitzki, the average field goal percentage was .490; Stoudemire’s percentage was .483. If Stoudemire shot 49% rather than 48.3%, it would only mean that Stoudemire would have made just 4 more shots over the course of the season. In essence, Stoudemire, albeit in his worst year of his career, shot roughly the same percentage as the game’s All Stars at his position.

In terms of rebounding, Stoudemire had a rebound percentage of 13.7%, which was actually higher than it was the previous season. Stoudemire’s drop in rebounding can be attributed to him getting less opportunities to rebound because the Knicks had Tyson Chandler commanding the paint . The aforementioned power forwards have an average rebound rate of 14.9%, only 1.2% higher than Stoudemire. This is despite Kevin Love’s outstanding rate of 19.0%. Not including Love’s numbers. the rebounding rate is 13.9%, strikingly similar to Stoudemire.

Stoudemire’s shooting rate and rebounding rate were very similar to those of some of the elite power forwards in the game, so why is there this prevailing opinion that he is so much worse? First of all, Stoudemire never looked healthy throughout the season, appearing to not have the same lift that he has had in seasons prior. No matter what the stats say, most are going to trust what their eyes tell them. The other, of course, is that Stoudemire was close to inept defensively last year. Ultimately, Stoudemire has never and will never be a good defensive player, so he has to be even better offensively than the other top power forwards. For example, while Stoudemire’s numbers were comparable to Chris Bosh, Amare must produce more offensively to be considered a comparable player because Bosh brings more to the table defensively.

There is no doubt that Amare Stoudemire has much to improve in this upcoming season. His struggles were a big reason why the Knicks underachieved as a team last season. However, the stigma that Stoudemire had entered into a unstoppable downward spiral is untrue. It seems like when people prognosticate the Knicks chances this season, they act if Stoudemire isn’t even a good player anymore. It is true that Stoudemire is not as good as he once was, but he can still be a dominant force at the power forward position. Whether he returns to dominance will be the determinant in how much success the Knicks have this season.