Amare Stoudemire's Rocky Road to Recovery

For the time being, Amare Stoudemire will have to contribute at the free throw, from outside and with positional defense. (Photo by Max Simbron)

A few weeks ago Phoenix Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry declared that his all-star power forward Amare Stoudemire was only about 60% towards full recovery from his eye injury. Gentry wasn't talking about Amare's eye itself which has a clean bill of health, but his conditioning and basketball rhythm.

Amare for his part denied this, declaring himself 100% and fully prepared to tear it up for another season. Amare has never lacked in confidence.

What we saw in last night's season opener was a 60% Amare. He only had 6 field goal attempts and it wasn't for lack of touches. His 6 turnovers mostly came when he put the ball on the floor and was easily stripped by guards digging down. This is a big indication that Amare's timing and court awareness haven't returned.

He was also stripped when he caught the ball in good position or got an offensive rebound and had to take an extra dribble and gather himself before trying to go up to the rim. That's a sign that his explosiveness is no where near what we are used to.

The best thing for Amare might have been that Blake Griffin wasn't on the floor to provide a visible reminder of the power and fury of the Stoudemire of years gone by. That contrast would have been painful to watch.

I don't know for sure if Amare will return to his old form but I am fairly optimistic that he'll bounce back to at least 80% or 90% of what he has before the injury last year.

So, instead of panicking and bringing up the Antonio McDyess comparisons (which I did last night in the game thread) lets all take a deep breath and check back in a few weeks.

But what if Amare doesn't come back to physical dominating form? What if he is McDyess and his injuries force him to change his game? There were some positive signs in that regard as well.

Unlike Rookie of the Year Stoudemire, the version we saw last night still managed to score 16 point with no dunks. He connected on four long jump shots (two from each wing) and missed two shots from the top of the lane. No layups. No dunks.

Amare also scored 8 points from the line and especially in the fourth quarter was able to catch in the mid-post and drive and draw fouls. He had 4 of his 10 FTA's in the 4th quarter.

The rebounds weren't there (5) and there were times when we looked a bit lost on his rotations and let his man beat him to the basket on dives or to get position for rebounds. But there was also a couple of key stops at the end of the game.

He played solid perimeter defense on switches and forced Rasul Butler to hit an incredible shot over him and did a great job playing Eric Gordon tight without fouling on the final shot of the game. His best last game stand however was against Kaman in the low right block. Amare stopped him from going baseline and forced the ball out resulting in a missed long range shot from the Clippers.

If Amare can continue to improve his defense and can still hit his outside shot and get to the line then there's no reason to think that Amare The Beast won't be back better then ever by late November.

Of course, having watched Amare for his entire career I would not be surprised if he went off for 30 against the Warriors on Friday night.



Earl Clark - Surprise of the Game

When Channing Frye went out early in the game with three quick fouls I was certain we would see Jarron Collins at least get a little burn. No. Instead it was Earl Clark who had 20 highly effective minutes in his rookie debut. He put up 6 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block, 1 steal and had no fouls and was a +11 on the floor.

He displayed his no fear attitude on both ends getting to the rim for a couple of nice buckets and playing impressive defense on the wing. His shot selection with that jump shot is still a bit troublesome but you know, at some point that shot is going to start falling for him and he's going to be a legit 1st option when he's on the floor. As long as he's taking open looks in the floor and not forcing it too much then I think we live with that for now.

Having watched Earl in preseason and listening to how the coaches talked about him, I was not expecting him to come out in the first game of the season and play 20 minutes. Big surprise and a good one.

Lou Amundson only had 10 minutes which I suspect was due to a sore foot. He rolled it in practice a few days ago and said that the side of his foot hurts when he tries to move laterally.

Frye in foul trouble. Lou with a sore foot. No Robin Lopez. No Jarron Collins.

You can make the case that Clark's 20 minutes were a big reason why the Suns won this game.

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