Green: The Suns failed Amare

Mar 27, 2010, 5:28 AM | Updated: Jan 14, 2011, 4:24 pm

The Phoenix Suns failed Amare Stoudemire.

Amare Stoudemire entered the NBA straight out of high school. Drafted at 19, he had much to learn about the game of basketball when he entered the league. Looking back it is easy to see why Amare’s biggest weaknesses, at least, until now, are what they are.

As a rookie, Stoudemire played an important role on a surprising playoff team. Teamed with Stephon Marbury, Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson and Anfernee Hardaway, he won the rookie of the year award after averaging 13.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. The promising rookie had a bright career ahead of him, as did the up-and-coming Suns.

But, just one season later, things fell apart in Phoenix. The Suns struggled to gain traction, traded Marbury and Hardaway to New York, fired head coach Frank Johnson, and limped to a 29-win season. Stoudemire increased his averages to 20.6 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, but the switch from Johnson to Mike D’Antoni put the young forward on a path that would leave his game undeveloped and fans wanting more.

Let’s be honest here. We know D’Antoni did not stress defense or rebounding, and for four and a half seasons that’s all Amare knew. Sure, Mark Iavaroni tried to turn Amare into a complete player, but before leaving in 2007 to coach the Grizzlies Iavaroni’s efforts were futile, at best, because it is hard to get a player to crash the boards when the head coach wants a five-man fast break as often as possible. And, when the head coach believes that you can just outscore teams all the way to a title, work on defense took a back seat to what could be done on offense.

A :07 seconds or less-type of offense is best-led by a point guard like Steve Nash and, when the Suns signed him, the team was off and running. Lost in the free-flowing, fast break style of offense was any chance for Amare to develop and use a low post game. Rarely, if ever, did the team throw the ball to Amare down in the low block and let him work, as the team primarily ran the pick-and-roll out of the half court sets. Also, D’Antoni’s “the ball will find energy” style left Stoudemire as the only dominant scorer who did not consistently take 17+ shots per night.

While the offense was wildly successful, the reliance on Steve Nash stunted Amare’s growth as a player. Nash is so good at creating for others that his teammates rarely have the chance to create for themselves, which is something that many thought Amare was incapable of going into this season. It’s no coincidence that, over in Dallas, Dirk Nowitzki did not turn into a superstar until Nash left for Phoenix. In 2003-04, Nash’s final year with the Mavericks, Dirk averaged 21.8 per game. The following season he tallied 26.1 points per game, cementing his status as one of the game’s premier scorers.

So, a few years under D’Antoni with a team led by Nash, neither rebounding, defense or a low-post game were expected of Amare, yet it was his inability in those three areas that had people most upset with the All-Star.

Which brings us to now. If all it took was two seasons with a coaching staff that cared about defense and rebounding to get Amare to be a complete player, one has to wonder how good he would have been if he had been drafted by a team like the Spurs, where Gregg Popovich not only expects defense and rebounding, but demands it.

As for only being effective with Nash setting him up, I think Stoudemire put to that theory to bed with his 30 point, 14 rebound effort in Oklahoma City in February with Nash not playing due to injury. If that wasn’t enough, watching the Suns give Amare the ball in the post late in games and just letting him work – something they never really did before – should show that Amare is a great offensive player, whether he has someone setting him up or not.

There are plenty of people who feel that Amare Stoudemire’s recent play is motivated by his impending free agency; that the possibility of a maximum contract has him trying harder than ever before and producing like he never has. They think that the second he signs is contract he will turn into the old Amare, the one who averages a pedestrian 22 points and 8 rebounds per game. Truth is the what you see now is what you will get in the future with Stoudemire. Barring injuries STAT will continue to be the player Suns fans hoped he would be when the team selected him with the 9th pick in the 2002 draft, as watching him continue his career as a member of a different team, now that he’s finally turned the corner, would be the biggest failure of all.

Adam can be reached with your questions and comments by e-mail here.

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