Raymond Felton played a huge role in the Knicks’ early 6-0 start to the season. He also played a big role in the Knicks stretch of subpar play, as his time out with a fractured pinky saw an increase in minutes for Jason Kidd and a decrease in ball movement. Since his return the team’s play has been up and down, but they are currently on a 5 game winning streak during which they clinched a playoff berth.
That being said, the Knicks are not out of the pressure cooker by any means. They currently are sitting just above the Indiana Pacers for the 2nd seed in the East, which is a position they desperately want, as it allows them to avoid the Heat until the Conference Finals. In order to claim that 2nd seed as their own, the Knicks will need everything Felton gave them early on in the season and possibly more.
Felton’s time(s) as a Knick have coincided with the best play of his career. His first stop here in 2010 almost earned him an All-Star nod with career high averages of 17.1 points and 9.0 assists. After his poor showing last season (he was overweight and over Portland), he returned to the Knicks and led the charge early on. The Knicks were getting it done partially due to their improved ball movement and three point shooting. Felton’s play in the backcourt alongside veteran Jason Kidd helped to bring that style of play to the forefront.
The Knicks are currently ranked 29th in the league in assists, averaging only 19.3 a game. In tonight’s win against the Celtics, The Knicks had just 11! Felton (who had 3 assists tonight) needs to try to do a better job of keeping the ball moving and initiating ball movement on offense. It is going to be far too easy for opposing defenses in the playoffs to handle ‘Melo isolations every time the Knicks bring the ball up the court.
In the last 10 games, Felton is averaging an unacceptable 4.3 assists per game. Individual stats are not the end all be all, but getting those assists closer to his career average of 6.6 will help the Knicks keep defenses on their toes and help to return them to the elite level of play from the beginning of the season.
Felton must also score consistently and attack the basket in order to bring the team to the next level. He has a tendency to occasionally disappear in some games or turn into a long jump shooter while in other games attack the basket and get to the free throw line. The reason his aggresive execution helps the team is twofold. One, it allows for him to get easy points on the board using one of his best but under utilized skillsets, and two, it opens up the floor for the three-point shooters. The Knicks have lived and died by the three-point shot this season. At the beginning of the season, the shots were going in and some credit can be attributed to Felton opening up the floor with his drive-and-dish game.
Recently, the point guard’s scoring has been down. In the last 10 games, he is averaging 11.8 points. With Amar’e Stoudemire out with a knee injury, Felton is the 3rd scoring option on the team after Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith. It is important that he score the ball and that he do so with efficiency.A three pronged attack consisting of Felton, Smith, and Anthony surrounded by three point shooters and anchored defensively by Tyson Chandler will be very hard to beat in the early rounds of the Playoffs. This requires, however, that Felton take on the responsibility and return to the level of play he has previously shown this year.
The team needs defense, playmaking, and scoring, but most of all they need effort and intensity. If Felton can deliver, then it bodes well for the Knicks heading into the Playoffs.