By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Dec 10 2010 12:14PM
In a little bit of kismet for the NBA franchise in New York -- Knicks-met, we'll call it -- there is a special significance to what Amar'e Stoudemire might do Friday night at Washington's Verizon Center. And, even more so, when he might do it.
Fifty-four years ago, on Dec. 10, 1956, the Knicks traded veteran guard Slater Martin to the St. Louis Hawks for a rookie forward named Willie Naulls. Martin would become a Hall of Famer, but more for his work as the point guard of the Minneapolis Lakers dynasty and later the Hawks -- he played only 13 games for the Knicks, averaging 9.3 points and 3.3 assists before he was dealt.
Naulls went the other direction: The rookie had played in only 19 games before St. Louis swapped him, but he blossomed into a four-time NBA All-Star with New York. A 6-foot-6 forward from UCLA, Naulls spent six-plus seasons and averaged 19.3 points and 11.6 rebounds for the Knicks, finishing his career in 1965-66 with stints in San Francisco and Boston. Among his distinctions, Naulls reportedly was the first African-American to be named captain of a major professional sports teams and he picked up three championship rings in his final three seasons with the Celtics.
The peg for Stoudemire and the Knicks on Friday against Washington, though, concerns Naulls' stretch of games from late February to early March in 1962. That season -- a high-scoring one in the NBA overall, with Wilt Chamberlain averaging 50.4 points -- Naulls was at his most prolific, scoring 25 points per game for New York. And from Feb. 22 to March 4, he strung together seven consecutive games of scoring at least 30 points. That stands as the franchise mark, and that's the streak Stoudemire has in his sights Friday.
The Knicks' happy free-agent addition -- the NBA's best signing so far from the most ballyhooed free-agent class ever -- had six consecutive games of 30 or more in a streak that began Nov. 28 at Detroit. He had 37 that night, followed soon thereafter by 35 vs. New Jersey, 34 at New Orleans, 31 at Toronto, 34 vs. Minnesota and 34 more against Toronto Wednesday. In that stretch, Stoudemire has averaged 34.2 points and 11.5 rebounds while shooting 59.4 percent.
But his wonderfulness didn't just start there. Over the past 12 games, Stoudemire's numbers have been 29.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg and a 58.3 field-goal percentage. More impressive, the Knicks have gone 11-1. His personality, and his eagerness to embrace team responsibility and a New York spotlight from which other players have run, have been big bonuses, too. (Enough to overlook his career-high turnover rate.) He has won two Player of the Week awards already, and Knicks assistant general manager Allan Houston recently compared Stoudemire's arrival in 2010 to Patrick Ewing's drafting in 1985.
"Amar'e's got broad shoulders and we jump on them a lot of times," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said last week.
If clutch performance is one measure of an MVP candidate, consider this: Stoudemire leads the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring at 7.7 points. The next four in line are the Clippers' Eric Gordon (7.4), Golden State's Stephen Curry (6.8), Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki (6.8) and Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant (6.4).
In terms of past MVP support, Stoudemire finished sixth in 2008, ninth in 2005 (when teammate Steve Nash won the first of two MVPs), 10th last season and 14th in 2007. But he was surrounded by stellar players in Phoenix, most notably Nash. In New York, with a modest crew around him, Stoudemire has what sometimes is an MVP advantage of being his team's lone superstar.
Of course, back when the Knicks were maybe the NBA's consummate team, they had their only league MVP: Willis Reed in 1969-70. No New York player has finished in the top 10 in balloting since Ewing was eighth in 1997.
Stoudemire enters The Race three spots higher than that, as the committee presents a new leader, a couple new arrivals and some significant movement:
Dropping out: Chris Paul (No. 4 last week)
Honorable mention: Paul; Kevin Durant, OKC ; Dwyane Wade, Miami; Al Horford, Atlanta; Kevin Love, Minnesota.
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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