Amar’e Stoudemire has long been a bad defensive player. He’s good for the occasional resounding weak-side block, but with a mess of awful footwork and missed rotations in between. Some of the old issues resurfaced in Stoudemire’s debut against the Blazers, prompting the perennial talk of Amar’e’s potential to improve as a defensive player. The issue is that while some athletically gifted players struggle on defense simply because they don’t try (see Carmelo Anthony during his worst stretches), Stoudemire’s problems have always seemed matters of instinct, not effort. Amar’e never comes across as lazy; he’s just long been deeply, habitually wrong about where he should be standing and who he should be contesting.
Which brings us to the most recent thing Amar’e said to draw people’s ire:
“Just having a defensive coach for the first time in my career is going to help,’’ Stoudemire said. “I’ve never been taught defense my whole career. To now have a coach who actually teaches defense and strategies and knows positioning and posture and how to guard different plays is going to be helpful and I’m taking it as a challenge and try to improve as a player.’’
Amar’e kinda just talks. This has been taken as a slight toward Mike D’Antoni, Stoudemire’s longtime coach in Phoenix and New York, but I really doubt that’s what Stoudemire had in mind. I say this as someone who doesn’t personally know the man, mind you, but Stoudemire doesn’t come across as the kind of guy to unearth an old rift with passive-aggressiveness just to make headlines. The Knicks employ that guy, but he’s not Amar’e.
So, I don’t read this as an attack, just a lack of self-awareness. An excuse? Sure, maybe. It’s a familiar one, too: Amar’e’s referenced his lack of defensive tutelage a couple times before, even since joining the Knicks. The holes in the excuse are various: (1) Yes, he has been taught defense before. Even Mike D’Antoni gave defensive instructions sometimes. (2) Mike Woodson was the lead assistant for last year’s Knicks before he became head coach. (3) Under that “defensive coach,” this year’s Knicks are ranked 21st in defensive efficiency, so if anything, now’s not the time to learn.
But whatever. Stoudemire’s words don’t especially matter. Nobody’s hurt by them, and at this point, nobody really believes them. It’s great that he’s at least acknowledging (again) his deficiencies and making some effort to improve them. One can’t fathom the amount of teaching it’d take to turn Stoudemire into an even moderately effective defender, but I guess you never know. The Knicks could certainly use the help.