Hello, everybody. I hope you're enjoying this NBA offseason. I don't know if you heard, but the Knicks let some guy named Jeremy Lin go seemingly in favor of trading for former Knick guard Raymond Felton. I'm not here to talk about my feelings on that decision. I'm here to briefly talk about what Ray Felton brings to a Knick team that sorely needed a competent point guard last season.
There are a lot of misconceptions about Felton floating around among us Knick fans. His conditioning is a constant source of frustration, but often blown out of proportion. His half-season in 2010-2011 is often described as All-Star caliber, even though he really wasn't worthy of such praise. He has somehow propagated a reputation as a great defender, and superior in that regard to Jeremy Lin, which is inaccurate. One thing that is undeniable about Raymond Felton is his considerable talent, and that was evident even as far back as his high school days.
Ray was a star in high school. Recognized as one of the best players in the country, Felton was named to the All-USA Boys basketball team alongside Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, LeBron James, and Hassan Adams. He led Latta High School to two state championships and a 104-9 record through his career. Felton was dominant, posting averages of 31 points, 8 rebounds, and 9 assists per game. He was named winner of the Naismith award in 2002 and was awarded South Carolina's Mr. Basketball twice. His favorite player was Allen Iverson, and it isn't hard to see why. Felton wasn't a particularly big guard, but he was as explosive as anyone in high school. Combined with his polish on both ends of the floor, Felton steamrolled opposing guards and loved to finish above the rim, often with a tomahawk or reverse dunk. He was never a particularly efficient shooter (foreshadowing here), but Felton was too skilled for it to limit him much. He improved by his senior year, and committed to UNC where he continued to shine.
Felton's following years at UNC were about more of the same. He exhibited the same speed and court vision that made him such a standout in high school, culminating in the 2005 National Championship game against the University of Illinois, led by star PG Deron Williams. With UNC up late 72-70, Felton's quick hands earned him a key steal (at the expense of poor Luther Head) forcing the Fighting Illini to foul him for the game-clinching free throws. Felton earned the Bob Cousy award and a spot on the cover of NCAA March Madness 06. He was subsequently taken 5th overall by the Charlotte Bobcats.
Unfortunately, Felton was a bit of a disappointment once he came to the NBA. He never quite became the superstar he projected to be in high school and college. Felton was no longer able to simply blow by his competition as often, and his inefficient shooting came back to haunt him. He was still exciting to watch, with great passing ability and a furious bowling ball style of play, but his Bobcats continued to disappoint. In '08, the Bobcat's drafted DJ Augustin. The selection seemed to materialize the concerns Charlotte had with their hometown guard, and they cut ties with Felton two years later. Felton signed as a free agent with the New York Knicks, and brought excitement to New York basketball alongside Amar'e Stoudemire.
Contrary to popular belief, the 54 games Felton spent as a Knick were not the best of his career (that would be his final season in Charlotte). Still, many continue to trumpet the "All-Star" numbers he put up during that stretch. His passing was certainly fantastic, but his shooting was only pedestrian. I'll move quickly though the rest of the story: He got traded in the Melo deal, he played well in Denver behind Ty Lawson, expressed a desire to start for a team, got traded to Portland for Andre Miller and the rights to Jordan Hamilton, and played like absolute trash for the first half of the season for the Blazers before lowkey playing very well after the All-Star Break. Perhaps Felton was playing back into shape all season, after admitting that he showed up in poor conditioning due to the lockout. Maybe it was just a hot spurt.
Either way: Here we are. The Knicks have once again acquired the talented PG (Remember when some of us were extolling the potential of Kostas Papanikolaou?) and hope that he can run the show for New York. Throughout his career we've gotten to get a pretty clear idea of what Felton is: A quick lead guard with great court vision who struggles to score efficiently in the NBA. He isn't nearly as bad as some fan backlash would lead you to believe. He's also not (and never was) as good as proponents of his 2010 season express. Throughout his career, Felton has been inconsistent, to say the least. I'm sure that must be disappointing to a man who had a pre-NBA career as great as any star in the league today.
As far as fit, Felton is the type of guard the Knicks need. He's a skilled passer and ball-handler, and he reduces the amount that JR Smith and Carmelo Anthony will be running the offense (which is good). He's a streaky shooter, but has had good perimeter shooting efforts in recent years. Felton likes to push the tempo and run in transition, which helps get guys like Melo and JR rolling on offense. Felton isn't particularly skilled at drawing fouls, but he's pretty good at the line when he gets there. He's a modest defender, mediocre or worse at most aspects but sneaky-good at reading the pick-and-roll and containing the ball-handler without help. Against certain point guards like Nash, Rondo, and Lowry, Felton would probably be a better defensive assignment than Iman Shumpert. Much attention is paid to his chemistry with Amar'e Stoudemire, and as a guard who primarily uses the pick-and-roll in half-court sets it is imperative that he and STAT operate well as a tandem. He has developed into a good spot-up shooter over his career, and he'll be seeing a solid amount of kickouts playing with Carmelo. If the Knicks' coaching staff can keep him from attempting too many shots himself and make him more of a primary passer, Felton could be a solid pick-up. Mere words cannot describe the bloodbath he was offensively for the Trailblazers last season; let's hope he doesn't replicate that for the Knicks.
It will be some time before we can determine whether or not it was a mistake to trade for the mercurial point guard. Ray is fun to watch and a likable guy, with competitive fire underneath the somewhat sleepy exterior he exudes sometimes. I can't say I'm pleased with the decisions made to acquire him, but I'm interested to see how he performs under the expectations constantly ladled on New York.