Unrelated: I'm an enormous Denver Broncos fan. Enormous. Not that any of you should care, I'm just saying. Before last season my fellow fans were up in arms over the fact that a career back-up, Kyle Orton, would be our team's quarterback. I loved it. It fits him - I thought. He was a player who made a name for himself in college as a spread formation quarterback, struggled in Chicago's run/throw deep system, and now would be returning to his comfort zone. People were calling for his head before he stepped out onto the field for Week 1, but -while the team itself fell apart down the stretch - Orton, a career back up, served as a solid - if not a statistically slightly above average - starting quarterback.
I'll be the first to admit - when he first signed with us I winced a little. Just under 8M a year for the guy from Charlotte? What about Tony Parker? Chris Paul? How are we going to unload this contract if need be. And then it occurred to me - we won't. In my post yesterday, I remarked in the comments how while Felton will never be a Deron Williams/Chris Paul/Steve Nash kind of talent - if he's able to be a Top 10 talent like Jameer Nelson or Jose Calderon - it'd be worth it to let Chris Paul pass us by, keep our young assets, and make a run for Melo either via trade of free agency. When I first wrote that I thought I was exaggerating a little. I don't anymore. Not only do I think Felton becoming a Top 10 PG is possible - I think it's probable.
During the 2003/2004 season Felton, a sophomore PG at UNC averaged 11.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 7.1 APG, and 2.1 SPG in 34.6 MPG for a team that was 13th in the NCAA in possessions per game (73.7). During the 2004/2005 sason, Felton - a junior - averaged 12.9 ppg, 4.3 RPG, 6.9 APG, and 2.0 steals a game in 31.7 MPG for a team that was 3rd in the NCAA in possessions per game (75.7). Felton wound up being a first team All-ACC performer and helped lead the Tar Heels to a National Championship - 2 months later the Bobcats made him the fifth overall pick.
Over the past two seasons, the Bobcats have been one of the NBA's slowest paced teams, finishing 26th in the NBA in possessions per game in each of the past 2 seasons (92.1 and 93.5 respectively.) Meanwhile, the Knicks have finished 2nd and 9th over the past 2 seasons (100.0 and 97.3 respectively) in possessions per game - and bare in mind that that's with Chris Duhon walking up the court - one would assume D'Antoni would kick it up a gear with Felton.
Despite playing in a slower-paced system Felton has still averaged 13.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 6.4 APG, and 1.4 SPG throughout his career - including a very impressive 14.4/3.0/7.4/1.2 campaign in 2007-2008 and a 14.2/3.8/6.7/1.5 run in 2008-2009 while playing 37.6 MPG in each season (as compared to his 33.0 MPG in 2009-2010). If those stats don't impress you, go look at Calderon's stats, or Nelson's or Bibby's. Felton, who is still a young player, saw his FG% and 3PT% reach career highs last season and I think there is every reason to believe that with more minutes per game (I don't see Douglas logging the minutes at the point that Augustin took in Charlotte ) and a few more possessions a game Felton can seriously improve upon those stats and will able to score and dish with some of the best of them. Hell, even if his averages only improve modestly - say he's a 15 point, 4 rebound, 8 assist guy this year - who among us is going to complain? Look at the other point guards in the league, that would be damn good.
And that's just what he brings on the offensive end. Last year, I was giddy when the Knicks made the move to acquire Toney Douglas having - like many of you - just seen him reek havoc on Felton's old Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament in route to ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors. Finally, I thought, our first PG since Chris Childs who can bring it on the defensive end. Now we have two. Felton is an above average pressure defender who can collect his share of steals. Plus, you have to consider his durability. At just under 200 pounds Felton has the frame to withstand the punishment of a NBA season having averaged 80 gams a years during his career. Compare that to Tony Parker (180 pounds, 74 gams per year during his career including just 56 last season) and Chris Paul (175 pounds, 69 games a year including just 45 last year) and you have a guy who has simply sustained himself better. Freak injuries happen all the time, but I'll take a guy who's 20-25 pounds heavier and can avoid the dings and dents that force smaller players to miss a game here and a game there especially considering, while a level below Paul and Parker, Felton still is among the quickest PGs in the game.
Listen, I'm not going to make the argument that Felton is going to have MVP caliber seasons like Paul has had in recent years (when healthy) but I also think it's asinine to consider Paul anywhere near a necessity without seeing what we have in Felton. Who knows, maybe his short contract will be a steal and he'll be a leader for us while helping along Toney Douglas. Maybe he'll exceed D'Antoni's expectations and put himself in line for an extension. Either way, I just don't see the point in trashing the flexibility and young talent we have left for another point guard when - if anything - we'd benefit most from grabbing a swing man through trade of free agency. Maybe the Carmelo Anthony dream does come true either before the trade deadline or next July - losing Curry's (and potentially Chandler, Azubuike, and/or Turiaf's) contract gives us the possibility. Maybe that falls through and we give a shorter, cheaper contract to Caron Butler and bring in another role player. That's not a "dream" fall back plan, but it'd make us better and it'd certainly be better than getting stuck with a lame duck Okafor contract. I just know that I'm excited by the moves D'Antoni and Walsh have made this summer - giving us hope and talented youth for the first time in years - and I think Raymond Felton is worth defending.