By Alan Walsh

When the team learned that Amar’e Stoudemire wouldn’t be available to begin the regular season, there was some uncertainty as to who would fill in for him in the starting lineup. Players like Marcus Camby, James White, Chris Copeland, and Kurt Thomas all had their name called, and everything has worked out for the best.

The Knicks are in first place in the Atlantic Division, 3.5 games ahead of the rival, Brooklyn Nets, and second in the Eastern Conference, 1.5 games back of the Miami Heat; both of these accomplishments are extraordinary in comparison to previous years for this team.

New York started out the season 21-9 without Stoudemire in the lineup, leaving some to believe that his return would stifle the team and leave them searching for a new identity; those people are being proven wrong every time STAT takes the court.

The Knicks are 8-2 in the last 10 games, including a clean sweep of the recent five-game homestand. Atlanta, Orlando, Milwaukee, Sacramento, and Detroit all came to the Garden over the last week and a half and failed to get a win.

A big reason for that Knicks success was Stoudemire.

In the last eleven games, Stoudemire has shot 50% or better from the field. In thirteen of the sixteen games this season, he has scored in double digits. He is doing this all while coming off the bench- unchartered territory for the tenth-year pro.

So why is Stoudemire thriving in his role off the bench? There are two reasons:

#1– He is not playing the same amount of demanding minutes as he did when he was a starter. This has allowed him to play at a feverish pace out on the court and more importantly, it allows him to be more aggressive on defense. By playing less minutes, he can use an extra foul or two that he may have not been able to when he played 40+ minutes.

#2– When you get more players involved in the offense, it’s hard for opposing teams to decide which player will be the focus of their defense. “It’s hard for teams to key in on us,” Stoudemire said after the 99-85 win against the Pistons last night. “With all those weapons, we have to utilize all of them and we have been.

Knicks coach Mike Woodson also praised Stoudemire by saying, “He’s a different player. He’s not that one-dimensional guy that’s a pick-and-roll guy or a pick-and-pop guy. We can put him on the low post, draw double teams and kick it out to guys who can make shots.”