Can Stoudemire’s Defense Improve?

Since returning from injury, Amar’e Stoudemire has talked openly about his need to improve his defense, even going so far as to claim he’s never been taught that end of the court. Taking that comment with the extra large grain of salt it deserves, the early returns haven’t been particularly encouraging, as Ian Begley points out at ESPN New York:Amare Sotudemire, Manu Ginobili

His defensive rating — or opponents’ points per 100 possession while Stoudemire is on the floor — is 110, or one fewer than his career worst.

The Knicks allow six fewer points per 100 possessions when Stoudemire is on the bench and have been outscored by 22 points in Stoudemire’s 145 minutes.

Their net rating — the difference between points scored and points allowed per 100 possessions when Stoudemire is on and off the floor — is minus-13. That’s the second-worst net rating on the team.

Brian DiMenna

The usual caveats apply to this kind of analysis, the small sample, his returning from a long layoff and the unreliability of individual defensive metrics more broadly, but I think you’d be hard pressed to have been watching Stoudemire since his return and be especially impressed so far with his defensive presence.

There’s a long-stated belief that defense is just about effort, and there’s certainly something to that, but only to a point. When it comes to just straight up guarding your man, yeah, it’s largely about effort. Amar’e Stoudemire certainly has had the athletic ability over the course of his career to guard a fella, but there’s a larger part of defending that has to do with understanding your role in the team’s scheme. Too often, Amar’e finds himself totally out of position, looking around like, “Wait, what am I doing over here? How did I even get here?” as someone darts open behind him for an easy hoop.

And yet, I’ve been somewhat encouraged by Stoudemire’s steadily improving play. It hasn’t been eye-popping, but he appears to be gradually working his way back into a semblance of form. No one’s asking him to morph into a force on the defensive end, but if he can play his role respectably, while continuing to find a groove with the Knicks’ guards, I’m still inclined to see him as a real positive for the second half of the season.

Maybe I’m allowing my affection for the guy to blind me to his diminishing skills, but such is my right. So there.

Follow Brian on Twitter