Sad as it is to say, the movie script of the New York Knicks' season is starting to veer dangerously close to "Million-Dollar Baby" territory: nobody believes in us; now we're climbing the ranks; hell yes, we're dominating; we're gonna get a title shot; oh shit, we're paralyzed; please, doc, don't cut our legs off; whoa, is that Mags Bennett from season 2 of "Justified"?; umm...what are you putting into that syringe, Mr. Eastwood?; OH PLEASE, MORGAN FREEMAN, CAN'T YOU NARRATE A WAY OUT OF THIS?; dead.
(And yes, the Jan. 03 win over the Spurs = Mags Bennett cameo...both are equally awesome)
The Knicks need a shot in the arm-- not a Clint Eastwood euthanasia shot, but rather an infusion of play-- making at the point guard position.
That sounds like an easy fix, right? After all, the Knicks are now mere days from receiving a much-needed dose of Vitamin Ray. Surely Mr. Raymond Felton can cure what ails the Knicks. The record speaks for itself: 20-8 with Ray, 5-6 without.
But it wouldn't be right to mention Ray's performance in the season's first 28 games in a single breath. There was a clear delineation-- December 2, in a game against the Suns, when Ray suffered the first in a series of roughly 2456383536 hand injuries, a moment which changed the November Ray we loved into the December Ray we hated. That lasted until Christmas Day against the Lakers, when Ray finally succumbed to his injuries, and became the January Ray we couldn't live without. It would be difficult to understand the ups and downs of the Knicks' season without understanding the three Rays.
Good Ray: (Nov. 2 - Dec. 1) Knicks record: 11-4
What is there to say, really, about the first 15 games? Ray kicked ass, the Knicks kicked ass.
Ray's Old School Stats:
16.0 PPG / 7.4 APG / 41.8% FG / 40.3% 3P
Ray's Nerd Stats:
24.3% USG / 47.7% eFG / 32.0% AST%
Ray's Nerd Stats (team,on-court):
116.3 team ORtg / 104.7 team DRtg / 93.62 team Pace
110.8 ORtg / 100.3 DRtg
The Knicks won the Dec. 2 game in which Felton first injured his hand...then, things got weird.
Bad Ray: (Dec. 3 - Dec. 25) Knicks record: 8-4
Ray's Old School Stats:
17.6 PPG / 5.9 APG / 36.1% FG / 27.1% 3P
Ray's Nerd Stats:
29.1% USG / 38.9% eFG / 28.7% AST%
Ray's Nerd Stats (team, on-court):
105.9 team ORtg / 104.7 team DRtg / 96.57 team Pace
107.0 ORtg / 105.0 DRtg
Woo-hoo! He scored more points! All is well!
It wouldn't be fair to say Felton injured his hand and then his performance fell off a cliff. Felton injured his hand, played two great games-- including his best game of the season, in Miami-- AND THEN his performance fell off a cliff, starting with the 9-for-30 chuck-fest in Chicago. He kept suffering more and more hand injuries - at one point I think Ray had injured three different hands - and his play sunk faster than James Cameron, the Bravest Pioneer. No budget too steep, no sea too deep. Who's that? It's him! James Cam-er-on.
There's a lot not to like here. Most of it is not surprising to those who watched him play: his shooting percentages dropped across the board, while at the same time he using about 5% more of his team's possessions - that's Crappy Basketball Math 101. Another thing that stands out is the uptick in pace. It seems pretty clear now that the Knicks operate better at a slower pace, but post-injury Ray was chucking shots at a breakneck (for the Knicks, anyway) pace.
And what kind of shots was he chucking? His 13-percent drop in three-point accuracy doesn't even begin to tell the story. After a 8-18 three-point performance in his first two game post-injury, Ray went 5-for-30 over his last ten games (16.7%). Ray failed to hit a three in his final five games.
But that didn't stop Bad Ray from shooting-- he just moved not too far inside the arc and started blasting away from mid-range like the proverbial hobo with a shotgun. In 15 pre-injury games, Ray shot 70 times from between 8-and-24 feet-- not exactly high-percentage range for a penguin-esque point guard. That averages out to 4.7 shots per game. In the 12 post-injury games, Ray took 90 shots from the same range-- that's 7.5 per game. We all knew he was taking bad shots...now we have the proof!
As for the Knicks' overall performance, the team managed a 106.1 ORtg and a 105.7 DRtg over their last ten games with Felton in the lineup, which was pretty much the lowest point of the season...
No Ray: (Dec. 26 - today) Knicks record: 5-6
ORtg: 106.8 ORtg / 103.5 DRtg
...yes, even worse than their performance since Felton left the lineup. Yes, the Knicks' recent record is worse, but that also has something to do with a recent spate of tough beats (a certain three-pointer rims out in Sacramento and the Knicks are 6-5) than anything recent-vintage Ray was providing the Knicks. That injury in LA, if it has healed properly, was a godsend for the Knicks. If the Knicks are going to get back on track, they don't just need any old Ray Felton, they need Good Ray Felton. The guy last seen on the court in a Ray Felton uniform-- the guy more interested in chucking mid-range shots than in running the offense-- was hurting the Knicks more than anyone they're playing at the moment.
I see no reason why Good Ray can't make a comeback. It's up to Ray to decide to playing the right way; failing that, it's up to the coaching staff to coax Ray back into good habits. Use every trick in the book, Coach Woodson: sweet-talk, insults, slang from the thirties nobody uses anymore...now you're on the trolley.