Knicks’ Stoudemire Working to Put New Spin on His Career

By the time the Knicks were shoved out of the playoffs in Miami, Stoudemire appeared diminished on every level, his Q-rating and efficiency rating in simultaneous free fall.

“I’m still that player I was last year,” Stoudemire insisted then, vowing a return to full strength and “an incredible year” next season.

The mission began last week, on a quiet ranch in Katy, Tex., where Stoudemire took the first drop-step in a midcareer makeover. The pick-and-rolling, power-dunking star is now a student of the low post. His teacher is a soft-spoken Hall of Famer with a Nigerian accent and two championship rings.

, a former Houston Rockets star and an oracle of the low post, is pleased with his pupil’s progress.

“You won’t believe it,” Olajuwon said in a telephone interview from his ranch outside Houston.

The apprenticeship began on Aug. 6, with daily three-hour sessions on Olajuwon’s private court. Stoudemire has proved a quick study, assimilating moves and countermoves as fast as Olajuwon can demonstrate them.

“It’s night and day,” Olajuwon said. “What’s so nice is he wants it; he likes the post. He’s always wanted to play there, but he doesn’t have the moves that would give him that option.”

Since retiring in 2002, Olajuwon has become the N.B.A.’s go-to source for players hoping to develop their post skills. LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant have visited the Olajuwon ranch. So have Marcin Gortat and the Lopez twins, Brook and Robin. This month, it’s Stoudemire and Denver’s JaVale McGee.

Most players come for about four days, Olajuwon said. Stoudemire is staying for two weeks. His motivation is clear.

Stoudemire’s 17.5-point scoring average in 2011-12 was his worst in a full season since his rookie year. His .483 field-goal percentage was the lowest since his second season. He had his shot blocked 1.3 times per game, furthering speculation that his body was breaking down (although, in fact, that rate was close to his career average).

When the season began, Stoudemire was still dealing with the aftermath of an injured back muscle. In February, his older brother, Hazell, was killed in a car accident, which took a tremendous emotional toll. Stoudemire sustained another back injury (a bulging disk) in late March.

The final injury was self-inflicted and humiliating — a lacerated left hand sustained when Stoudemire smashed a glass fire-extinguisher cover in the Miami arena, after a Game 2 loss to the Heat.

Stoudemire returned to help lead the Knicks to a series-saving Game 4 victory, but the damage to his reputation was done. And although he is known for a high work ethic, Stoudemire had reason to work a little harder this summer.

“This is the most engaged I’ve seen him in years,” said Happy Walters, Stoudemire’s agent. He added, “I think fans will be happy.”

They will be happier still if Stoudemire’s new skills foster a better dynamic with Carmelo Anthony, his All-Star tag-team partner. Stoudemire was a dominant scorer when he joined the Knicks, but his role and production diminished once Anthony arrived in February 2011. The Knicks have a losing record with Anthony and Stoudemire in the lineup, and every advanced statistic shows they are worse when both stars are on the court.

Now Stoudemire has lost the coach (Mike D’Antoni) and the offensive system that made him a star in Phoenix and New York. Without a steady diet of pick-and-roll plays, he will need other ways to score. Enter Olajuwon.

Mike Woodson, the new coach, was Olajuwon’s teammate for two years, and the two remain friends. It was Woodson’s idea to send Stoudemire to Houston.

“The coach, he has a good vision,” Olajuwon said cheerfully.

Even at 29, Stoudemire has the strength, quickness and agility to be an effective post scorer once he masters the footwork and timing.

“His spin is becoming so sharp and crisp,” Olajuwon said. “He could spin all day. He loves it.”

Until now, Stoudemire hardly needed a post game. In his first season in the league he was a high-flying 20-year-old — the Blake Griffin of his generation — before developing a sharp midrange jumper that made him nearly unguardable. He has averaged at least 20 points in seven of his N.B.A. seasons, with a career shooting percentage of .533.

Stoudemire has also played most of his career for D’Antoni, whose offense is predicated on spacing and movement, not dump-it-in-the-post sets. When Stoudemire was averaging 37 points against Tim Duncan in the Western Conference finals, no one saw much need for a low-post game.

“We had so much success with him, averaging almost 60 wins a year in Phoenix with the system the way it was,” said Phil Weber, who was on D’Antoni’s staff in both Phoenix and New York. “He could have posted up, but he was so successful.”

But circumstances have changed. D’Antoni is gone. Woodson is installing a more traditional offense. Anthony is dominating the ball on the wing. Stoudemire has little choice but to evolve.

“To now develop a post game is going to be remarkable for me,” Stoudemire told Fox 26 in Houston. “It’s going to catch a lot of my opponents off guard, and it’s going to be a great year for me.”

Olajuwon sounds just as eager to see Stoudemire unleash his new moves in the fall — and to see Woodson’s reaction. Woodson attended the first workout last week and was “very happy,” Olajuwon said.

“But if he sees now, if he sees him today,” Olajuwon continued, chuckling, “he would not believe. I’m excited.”

J.R. Smith Arrested in Miami Beach

J.R. Smith, the guard with a history of legal troubles, was arrested in Miami Beach on Thursday for failing to appear in court on a traffic matter.

Smith, 26, was cited in May 2011 for operating a scooter without a valid driver’s license and was ordered to stand trial on July 25. When he failed to show, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.

The same officers who cited Smith last year spotted him at a South Beach business on Thursday evening, according to a police spokesman. The arrest affidavit notes that the officers “were aware of a possible bench warrant for a previous Miami Beach arrest.”

Smith, whose legal name is Earl Joseph Smith, was taken to the Miami-Dade County jail and was later released on bond.

Smith’s license was suspended in 2009, as part of his sentence for a 2007 reckless driving accident that killed his friend, Andre Bell. The suspension ran through March of this year. Smith, who lives in New Jersey, has had his license suspended five other times.

The Knicks declined comment Friday. Smith’s agent, Leon Rose, did not respond to an e-mail message.

Smith signed with the Knicks in February, after five seasons with the Denver Nuggets and a brief stint in China during the N.B.A. lockout.

Although Smith generally steered clear of trouble this season, the N.B.A. fined him $25,000 in March for posting an inappropriate photo on his Twitter account. Smith has a $2.5 million option for next season. He has said he hopes to return.

Lakers Go 3-1 Up on Nuggets, 76ers, Knicks Win

Sessions landed the go-ahead score that put the Lakers on top 89-86 with 48 seconds left, then reserve Blake made a dagger three-pointer on a pass from Kobe Bryant with 18 seconds remaining to bury the Nuggets.

“I was letting (Kobe) know (I was open) throughout the game, even when I missed one, I said ‘I’m going to make the next one,'” Blake told reporters after tallying eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter.

Bryant scored 22 points to go with eight rebounds and six assists to leave the Lakers able to secure a second round spot with a win in Game Five on Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Oklahoma City Thunder await the winner of the series.

Denver were coming off a 15-point home triumph over the Lakers in Game Three but they failed to recapture their fast-paced style and allowed the Lakers to slow them.

Danilo Gallinari had a team-high 20 for the Nuggets, who led for much of a tight game, but were shot down in the end.

In the Eastern Conference, Boston and Philadelphia each seized 3-1 series leads while New York avoided being swept by Miami and cut their series deficit to 3-1.

In Boston, Paul Pierce shook off a first-half knee injury to score 24 points while Rajon Rondo sliced up the defense with 20 points and 16 assists as the Celtics blew away Atlanta 101-79.

Pierce briefly went down with a left knee injury in the second quarter, but returned after halftime to spark one of Boston’s best offensive performances of the playoffs.

“Ball movement. We started with stops and played together,” Rondo told reporters after the Celtics shot 51 percent and made 11 three-pointers.

In Philadelphia, the eighth-seeded 76ers moved within a game of eliminating the injury-depleted Chicago Bulls as they scored their third consecutive victory over the East’s top seeds, winning 89-82.

A victory on Tuesday in Chicago would give the 76ers their first playoff series win in nine years. “I think we’re confident,” 76ers forward Elton Brand told reporters. “But we don’t want to come back for Game Six. We want to finish this.”

Spencer Hawes paced the 76ers with 22 points, making nine of 11 shots from the field, and Jrue Holiday added 20 after a sluggish start.

Chicago hung in for much of the game despite playing without injured center Joakim Noah, who has a sprained ankle, and 2011 Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose, who is out for the season.

(Reporting by Jahmal Corner. Editing by Patrick Johnston)