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Player of the Week: Amare Stoudamire

There is so much talk about Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Yao Ming being the next great ambassadors of the game following in the tradition of Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Julius Erving, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Shaquille O'Neal.  Although nobody is denying the unbelievable talents of those two young men, there is hardly a whisper about Amare Stoudamire. 

Perhaps all that will change after this season.  At just 21 years of age, Stoudamire is entering his third season in the NBA, already a grizzled and experienced veteran – with still plenty of upside.  Although Stoudamire has had a solid two seasons prior to this one: In his rookie season, he averaged 13.5 points and 8.7 rebounds a game, earning a starting spot after being drafted ninth overall straight out of Cypress Creek High School in Orlando, Florida.  He beat out the most highly-touted rookie, Yao Ming, for Rookie of the Year Honors.  In his second season, Amare played in only 55 games due to injuries.  Nevertheless, he averaged a team-high 20.6 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game in Phoenix's disappointing 29-win season.  So far this year, with the addition of a new pass-happy floor general in Steve Nash, Stoudamire has elevated his game to a level faster than many has expected. 

To this point, Stoudamire has easily been the Sun's MVP, with Nash narrowly behind.  So far this season, Stoudamire has been the happy recipient of many a fast breaks.  He is leading the league in scoring with 28.0 points per game, as well as posting 9.0 rebounds and 1.9 blocks a game.  Over the past week, Stoudamire earned Western Conference Player of the Week honors for leading the Suns to four victories.  In those games, Stoudamire has averaged 34.5 points per game on an unstoppable 63.5% shooting from the field while playing 40.5 minutes a game.  With both Stoudamire and Nash leading the charge, with a more-than-competent accessory crew in Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson, and Quentin Richardson, the Suns have the best record in the Western Conference with nine wins and two losses.      

The Suns have capitalized on their talents – all the Suns are relatively athletic, so they have been playing the running game.  With Nash, who always plays at a frenetic pace, and established finishers like Stoudamire and Marion, the Suns have literally ran over their opposition.  There are very few teams that can keep up with the Suns.  Stoudamire is quick to concede that Steve Nash is the engine that makes all this happens, making the game a whole lot easier for his teammates.  Conversely, Nash does not hesitate in naming Stoudamire the go-to guy on the team.  It seems like a match made in heaven, and perhaps the second coming of Utah's legendary point guard-power forward combo, John Stockton and Karl Malone.   

When Stoudamire entered the league as a fully-grown 6'10", 240-pound man-child; coaches, scouts, and players marveled at his potential trapped under his sheer jaw-dropping athleticism and power.  Those God-given traits have allowed Stoudamire to find success easily in the NBA.  However, he realizes that there are aspects to his game that require development in order for him to become a truly unstoppable force, in the same mould as Minnesota's Kevin Garnett.      

Stoudamire had the honor of being named to the USA Olympic basketball team that competed in the 2004 Athens game, albeit as a replacement for one of the many original members who had bowed out.  Just like Carmelo and Lebron, Amare was cocky guaranteeing an Olympic gold, echoing the sentiments of Carmelo Anthony.  However, his youthful naivety and supposed lack of work-ethic, gained Stoudamire a place on USA's coach, Larry Brown's bench.  Unlike Carmelo, Stoudamire adapted to the demands of Brown, and became a valuable bench contributor towards the end of the United State's disappointing bronze-medal finish.   

Despite being in the doghouse, it seems that Amare Stoudamire, as well as Carmelo and Lebron, have earned a valuable lesson from the summer experience.  Each of them have come out playing effective, inspired basketball early on in the season, all citing that they wanted to show Coach Brown what they could do. 

Besides playing in the Olympics, Stoudamire has spent most of the summer working on his outside shooting as opponents realize that almost all of Stoudamire's game is within 10 feet of the basket.  Stoudamire has been showing that nice mid-range game so far this season, as all the work appears to be paying off.  "His offensive game has really progressed to where he is unstoppable," Phoenix coach, Mike D'Antoni said.  Although D'Antoni has been impressed with the team's and Amare's play thus far, he is not allowing his players, especially Amare, to become complacent.  "For us to be a top-tier team", D'Antoni said, "then obviously his defense and rebounding have to pick up.