After cutting open his hand by punching a glass fire extinguisher case, New York Knicks forward Amare Stoudemire is expected to miss Game 3 of the Knicks' first-round playoff series against the Miami Heat on Thursday. Normally, the loss of one of their opponents' top players would improve the Heat's chances at victory, but that might not be the case with Stoudemire.
ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh has crunched the numbers, and his argument based on those numbers may shock Heat fans: The Knicks clearly play better when Stoudemire is sitting on the bench. While he is on the floor, the Knicks were outscored by 1.3 points every 48 minutes. When he was on the bench this season, the Knicks outscored opponents by 7.4 points every 48 minutes.
It is possible that the data was skewed by the competition New York faced without Stoudemire. He missed 19 games during the regular season, and the Knicks went 14-5 during those games. The teams New York faced in those games had an average record of 33-33, so this is clearly not a case of cherry-picking data. The Heat have steamrolled over the Knicks in Games 1 and 2, but that trend might not continue, if the numbers on the Amare-less Knicks are to be believed.
It is not too difficult to come up with reasons why the Knicks do well without Stoudemire. As Haberstroh points out, Stoudemire is a terrible shooter when he strays too far from the basket (his 3-point percentage is 23.8, worse than all but three of his teammates).
Playing with Carmelo Anthony, this is a terrible thing. One of his strengths is drawing double teams that provide open shots around the perimeter. Indeed, there could not be two star teammates less well-suited to playing with each other than Anthony and Stoudemire.
Having Stoudemire on the bench allows the Knicks to put another distance shooter on the floor, giving them more chances to capitalize on those open shots. Heat opponents shot 36.3 percent from three-point range during the regular season. Only four teams gave up a higher percentage of shots from downtown.
Stoudemire's injury will likely give more playing time to Steve Novak, who is probably Heat coach Erik Spoelstra's worst nightmare at the moment. Novak shoots 47 percent from three-point range, tops in the NBA. In three regular season and two playoff games against Miami this year, he shot 11 for 21 from downtown, scoring 33 points in about 95 minutes of action.
Numbers like that might not be enough for the Knicks to actually overtake Miami, but it should be enough to convince Spoelstra and company that the loss of one of their key contributors does not automatically mean the Knicks are destined for a four-game sweep.
The Knicks' loss of Stoudemire has only made the Heat's preparation for Game 3 more difficult, not less.