Knicks Eagerly Await Raymond Felton’s Return
Raymond Felton, sidelined since Christmas due to a broken pinkie finger on his right hand, has been cleared for practice and it appears likely he will return to the starting lineup on Saturday night in Philadelphia.
Based on New York’s relative success with and without Felton on the floor this season (NY is 20-8 with Felton in the lineup, and just 6-6 without him), Knicks fans are certainly excited to see their starting point guard back in uniform.
Felton’s return to NYC this past summer was cloaked in controversy. Once last season ended, it was all but a forgone conclusion that the Knicks would enter the 2012-13 campaign with Jeremy Lin as their starting point guard. However, New York shockingly decided not to match Houston’s offer sheet, instead opting to secure Felton via a sign-and-trade with the Portland Trailblazers.
There were serious questions and significant concerns regarding Felton, as he was coming off the worst season of his professional career. Not everyone in Portland loved Felton, who showed up out of shape to training camp once the lockout ended. Things went from bad to worse with the Blazers, who had no interest in re-signing him when he became a free agent in July.
However, Felton played some of his best basketball during a brief stint in New York back in 2010 and publically proclaimed he would enter this current season with a large chip on his shoulder, determined to disprove his critics.
Felton did, in fact, start off season playing extremely well. The Knicks stormed out of the gates, winning their first five games, and seven of their first eight. Felton quarterbacked the Knicks offense and helped kick it into high gear. Over the Knicks first 18 contests, Felton was averaging a touch under 16 points and 7 assists per contest, while shooting over 43 percent from the floor and 42 percent from three-point territory. However, in early December, Felton suffered a bone bruise on his left hand, which clearly impacted his accuracy and offensive efficiency. Over the following 10 games, beginning December 6th, up until he broke his pinkie on Christmas Day, Felton shot just 34.3 percent from the field and a woeful 16.7 percent from behind-the-arc.
However, despite his inaccuracy, Felton fired away with increased frequency. Over NY’s first 18 games, Felton averaged 14.9 field goal attempts per contest. Yet, in his final 10 games prior to Christmas, he averaged a whopping 19.1 FGA per game.
The Knicks are at their best when Felton is facilitating the offense, penetrating into the paint and making lay-ups or creating opportunities for others, as opposed to forcing too many long jumpers.
Nonetheless, even when Felton is struggling with his shot, his presence positively impacts his teammates. Felton’s importance to a balanced New York attack has become undeniable over the last month. With Felton in street clothes, the NY offense would intermittently grind to a halt.
Even factoring in the games in which he struggled with his shooting, the Knicks are a markedly better team with Felton running the point.
The Knicks offense averages 116 points per 100 possessions when Felton is on the floor this season versus just 108.5 with Raymond off the floor. The team also shoots a markedly higher percentage from the field and the three-point stripe with Felton on the court (despite the fact that Felton’s inaccuracy drags that overall percentage south).
With Felton running the show, the Knicks offensive attack is far more balanced. Felton is a threat to get into the teeth of the defense, which draws defenders towards him, creating more space for his teammates. The Knicks have dropped to dead last in the NBA in “points in the paint,” as Raymond is one of the few players on the roster that can beat his man off the dribble and get to the rim. Moreover, Felton is at his best in the pick-and-roll, an aspect of the offense which has fallen off dramatically in Raymond’s absence.
Tyson Chandler, in particular, stands to benefit from having his pick-and-roll partner back in action. Chandler is among the league leaders in alley-oop dunks, the vast majority courtesy of passes from Felton. Chandler is shooting above 69 percent with Felton on the floor this season, and just 64 percent when playing without him.
Steve Novak also is far more effective when he shares the floor with Felton. Novak shoots 51 percent from three-point land when playing alongside Felton versus just 37 percent without. In addition, Novak attempts 25 percent more corner three’s with Felton on the floor. (On a related note, Coach Woodson needs to find a way to get Novak more looks. Consider this: Steve Novak has attempted six or more three-pointers in a game 15 times this season – the Knicks are 14-1 in those contests.)
Like Novak, Carmelo Anthony’s three-point attempts (6.7 attempts vs. 5.8 attempts) and accuracy (46 percent vs. 36 percent) increase with Felton on the floor, as opposed to when he is on the bench.
It is also important to note the extra responsibility and increased wear-and-tear exacted on Jason Kidd with Felton sidelined. Back in early November, Woodson surprised many when he decided to slide Jason Kidd alongside Felton in the starting lineup, with Kidd as the shooting guard. It proved to be a terrific decision, as Kidd was a revelation at the start of the season. Over the season’s first 12 games, Kidd shot 50.9 percent from the floor and 48.9 percent from three-point territory. In December, his field goal percentage dipped to 39.5 percent and his three-point percentage hovered around 41 percent, and has continued to slide south. Kidd has also seen his stellar assist-to-turnover ratio regress as well.
No Felton has resulted in Kidd being forced to primarily play PG and initiate the offense. At this stage of his career, Kidd is far better suited to play off the ball, and should not see more than 26 minutes a night. The combination of added wear-and-tear on his 40-year-old legs and running the point has taken a toll. It is essential that Woodson limits Kidd’s minutes over the second half of the season, as it is imperative that he be as fresh as possible once the playoffs commence. Iman Shumpert’s reemergence, combined with the return of Felton, should allow Mike Woodson to rest Kidd extensively over the next few months.
Lastly, if Felton, Shumpert, Amar’e Stoudemire, et al, can all stay healthy, the Knicks will finally be able to develop some continuity. Amazingly, Coach Woodson has trotted out a staggering 13 different starting lineups over the course of 23 games.
As the Knicks cross the mid-point of the 2012-13 season, and begin to prepare for the playoffs, improved chemistry and cohesiveness could prove vital. And getting back their starting point guard is a crucial first step.