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Thursday August 14, 2008 9:10 am

Dropping Dimes Mock Draft: Round 1, Pick 4 - Amare Stoudemire

So the top three picks are pretty much no-brainers.  Nobody outside that trio should be considered to picked that high this year.  That said, a strong group follows them up, and in our mock, Amare Stoudemire was the lucky fourth.

With Injury concerns subsiding and a full summer of rest with no Olympics, he’s the safest big man pick on the board outside Kevin Garnett.  The reason I took him above KG is because of the dip we saw in his numbers in Beantown and the explosion of Amare post-Shaq.  Read on to see more.

The Fig Cap: One more shot at a title?  Suns fans are holding their breath…
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Amare had a career last year.  He averaged the second most ppg and rpg in his career and blew away his prior career best in blocks.  His FG% continued to rise and his FT% was more than solid from a big.  Oh yeah, he also averaged the second most free throws made in his career.  That’s a pretty good year I’d say.

The reason he’s never really been a first rounder was the “injury concern.”  I think it’s safe to say he’s shed that label, no?  He’s one of the few microfracture success stories, but the biggest.  Keep this in mind: outside his two injury years, he’s missed a total of five games over four seasons.  Some people made much of the fact that he isn’t as “explosive” as he once was.  That is true, and anyone who watched the Suns a bit last year saw that.  But what’s more interesting about this is that it’s taught him to be a more complete player.  Pre-injury Amare was reckless.  He pounded his way to the rim and was called for charges often.  While his fouls per game have not exactly gone down, that’s more of a result of more defense than anything else (we’ll get to that later).  The new Amare is almost automatic from around the free throw line and even back as far as 20-23 feet.  He’s become a phenomenal jump shooter.  Besides that, he’s learned to go soft at the rim when he needs to, drawing fewer charge calls.

Of course, he still has a foul issue.  But it’s almost a good thing; it’s a sign of his improved defense.  His blocks were at an all-time high last year (2.1 bpg), a half block above his previous career best.  This is where the bulk of his fouls were, and as he continues to improve defensively, expect the fouls to go down.  Suns fans can only hope this is true, Amare playing 38 mpg is a scary thought for the Pacific division and it is for fantasy owners too.

Ah, but what about Shaq?  Well, good news.  His post-Shaq numbers were outstanding.

In 28 games as a F (mostly or all post Shaq):

58.3% FG, 82.9% FT, 28.5 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 2.0 apg

That’s a big increase in points and dimes.  A small decrease in FG% and a decent decrease in boards and blocks.  So how is this better?  In a new, more defense-oriented system under Terry Porter, and a full training camp with Shaq, Amare should be able to at least meet his block and rebound totals before the trade.  Remember, this is a guy stuck in Mike D’Antoni’s completely anti-defensive system for all but his rookie season.  The increase in points and assists is promising because it shows that the team is committing to him as their top scorer AND he’s helping facilitate offense better than he did early in his career.

We’ll see, but I’m expecting another great season from him.  I fully expect to see close to 28 ppg and 2 bpg again.  If he can continue to improve his rebounding and be closer to 10 per game, he’s a slam dunk top 4 pick.  Of course there’s still a few question marks, but very few compared to what you’ll see picking Kevin Garnett, Shawn Marion, or Elton Brand at this spot.

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