Amar'e's comin'… duck!


Nov 7

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

The unstoppable force will be in the United Center tonight (Friday) to play the Bulls.

Oh, yeah, Shaq, too.

It’s the Phoenix Suns, and in the sunset of the glorious career of now Suns center Shaquille O’Neal comes the Suns real god, Amar’e Stoudemire.

You know, like, "Oh god! Did you see that!"

"He’s almost impossible to guard," general manager Steve Kerr was saying when I asked him about Stoudemire after what was one of the best games in NBA history the other night. "He’s so quick. He shoots the ball so well from about 21 feet. He can make a three. Then once he’s around the rim, I don’t think there’s a better finisher in the game. He’s virtually unguardable."

So you think the Bulls had trouble with LeBron James Wednesday night in Cleveland. I’m interested to see if Drew Gooden, Joakim Noah or Tyrus Thomas come down with the flu tonight. I remember Derrick Coleman always getting sick when his teams would go to play the Jazz and Karl Malone. Malone-itis, we called it.

As the kids and the football announcers would say, "That was sick!"

Stoudemire has been a bit forgotten about for a guy who averaged 25.2 points and 9.1 rebounds last season. There was all the turmoil in Phoenix with the trade for Shaq, the first round playoff elimination, Mike D’Antoni leaving, Stoudemire begging off the Olympic team and the general notion that the Suns’ championship window had slammed shut. Though Stoudemire’s numbers were remarkably good coming back from microfracture surgery, there was this notion he wasn’t the same guy who averaged 37 against the Spurs in the playoffs, and he’s always been, well, a little out there.

He has these tattoos that read: STAT, and said he liked to be known as Standing Tall and Talented. Stoudemire now says he prefers to be called Sun Tzu because of his belief in the ways of the famous The Art of War volume. I was looking in the Suns media guide and saw his name spelled Amar’e. I e-mailed them to find out if it was a misprint. No, I was told. New spelling of his name.

You know what, you play like that you get your name spelled any way you want and the team will help you with the pronunciation.

The new version slow down, pound-it-in, walk-it-up Suns, by the way, lead the NBA in scoring and shooting.

"I get angry reading some of the stuff (saying) we’re done," says Kerr. "I know the players feel the same way. In reality it’s good. It can light a fire under the team. Being a favorite can wear on guys. For us to be flying under the radar will allow us to grow. There is a process of changing styles. We see these articles all over saying we’re walking it up the floor. I believe we lead the league in scoring (106.4). The perception out there is not reality. We’ve made changes to pound the ball inside more. We’re not shooting as quickly. But we still push the ball.

"It’s what I thought was the natural evolution of the team as Steve (Nash) got older and Amar’e got better," said Kerr. "Adding an inside presence takes some heat off Steve. I never wanted to become the Spurs. Everyone assumed I wanted to turn us into the Spurs. I loved the style we were playing and thought I’d tweak it."

Which, really, is where the growth of Stoudemire began.

Interestingly, Suns observers say it probably started against the Bulls a year ago in Phoenix. Stoudemire was dominating Tyrus Thomas on the block, but after a few makes, the ball never came back in the Suns frenetic shooting game. Kerr wondered. D’Antoni seethed, and the cracks were just starting.

But Shaq has been engaged and they’re not pushing him. The Suns are 4-1 behind only the Lakers and Jazz, they added a nice energy player in Matt Barnes, Nash still is Nash and Stoudemore is averaging 25.8 points and 9.8 rebounds.

And that game in Indiana the other night.

Stoudemire had 49 points on 17-21 shooting with 11 rebounds, six assists and five steals. He was the first NBA player to notch at least 49 points with 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals since 1974, when Golden State’s Rick Barry had 64 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and five steals.

"It was the best game Amar’e ever played," said Kerr. "But what made it so encouraging was not the 49 points, but the way he went about it, so efficiently. He had three straight assists in the third quarter. If he wasn’t open, he passed. He’s made great strides in maturity. (Assistant coach) Bill Cartwright has done a good job when he’s doubled on the block to passing to the open guy. He’s not messing around when he feels the double, he’s being patient and much more efficient within the framework of what we’re doing."

In many ways, it’s been an amazing few days in the NBA with Stoudemire’s 49 points the same night Tony Parker had 55 to bail out the Spurs and James had 41 against the Bulls. Then, last night the Rockets-Trailblazers had one of the great finishes ever with there "game winning" shots in the last minute. First there was a Brandon Roy 20 footer, then Yao in the corner along the baseline with a jumper and fouled by Roy for a three-point play for a one-point lead and then Roy with less than a second on the clock streaking out to 30 feet and shooting a rainbow turnaround 30 footer to win it. If it were a playoff game, people would be talking about it for years.

But at nearly 1 a.m. Central, it was only those of us with no lives watching it.

I’m going to be watching Stoudemire tonight. He’s becoming something to see.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors.

What do you think? Leave a comment below: