SettLIN’ The Lin Vs. Felton Debate: Offense

Just when it seemed like the Knicks were going to have a quiet off-season where they would keep most of the team together, the team goes out and acquires former Knick, Raymond Felton, in a sign and trade with the Portland TrailBlazers. With the team acquiring another point guard to go along with Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni, all signs point to the end of the Jeremy Lin era in New York, as multiple media outlets have reported that the Knicks are unlikely to match Lin’s offer sheet with the Houston Rockets; the Knicks still have until Tuesday night to decide if they are going to keep the 23-year-old point guard. It makes little sense to keep 4 point guards on the roster, but hey, this is the Knicks. Nonetheless, it appears as if the Knicks are choosing Raymond Felton over Jeremy Lin, which has many scrambling to compare the production of the two players. This will be a two part series in which we compare their offensive and defensive games. First up: Offense.

The first thing that needs to be made clear is that the Knicks are not trying to acquire the Raymond Felton that was in Portland. Felton was not motivated or in shape for the past year, and the Knicks’ brass likely believes that a return to New York will return Felton to the player he was with the Knicks. In the spirit of optimism, let’s look at Felton’s half season with the Knicks in 2010, to compare with Lin’s run this past season. In many regards, the two runs mirror each other: Each player had a period of roughly 25 games were he played great basketball, before slowly tapering off.

The height of Linsanity was in the month of February where Jeremy Lin averaged 20.9 points and 8.4 assists per game on 47.2 percent shooting and 32.5 percent from three. In contrast, Felton had his greatest success in the month of November (’10), scoring 18.6 points and dishing 8.6 assists per game, while shooting 47.5 percents from the field and 36.7 percent from beyond the arc.

In the months that would follow, Felton’s assists numbers remained high, but his scoring dropped to 17.8 per game in December, 15.5 per game in January, and 14.0 per game in February. The drop can easily be attributed to his decline in shooting percentage, which dropped to as low 37.5 percent in January, a 10 percent drop in two months, but truth be told, Felton just isn’t a good enough shooter to sustain the percentage he shot in November. A trio of two proportion z-tests will show that the Felton’s November was not the norm. The formula for a two proportion z test is as follows:

z = (p1 – p2) / SD

Where p1 is the proportion from from the first sample (or in this case month), p2 is the proportion from the second sample, and SD is the standard deviation of the sampling distribution.

The first two proportion z test would be between Felton’s field goal percentages in November, when he shot 47.5 percent, and December, where he shot 41.4 percent. The z score in the test between these two values is 1.26 with a p-value of .208. The .208 p-value means that there is only a 20.8 percent chance that the field goal percentages would have such a difference if they were consistent with his true averages. This is not high enough to show a significant difference between the two percentages. However, the same test, when comparing Felton’s production in December and January yields a z score of .89 and a p-value of .373, which also does not show a significant difference.

A third test comparing November and January has a z score of 2.18 and p-value of .029. The p-value of .029 is enough to say that the field goal percentage difference in November and January is statistically significant. This means that Felton’s true average is not close to either percentage, but rather somewhere in the middle. The p-value for the December-January test is greater than that of the November-December test. This indicates that the true average is likely closer to 37 percent than 47 percent. In summation, Felton is more likely the player he was at the end of his Knicks run than the one he was at the start.

To be fair, a two proportion z test of Jeremy Lin’s field goal percentages in February and March yielded a z score of 1.24 and a p-value of .215, almost identical to Felton’s z score. Their drop-offs in field goal percentages were almost statistically identical. Field goal percentage is not the only way to compare the production of players, but it is one of the easiest ways to try to prevent confounding variables in the analysis. However, the most important confounding variables in this comparison favor Jeremy Lin. Lin is not and has never been considered a true shooter. His greatest offensive ability is driving at the basket. In this regard, Jeremy Lin shooting 40 percent is a more productive player than Raymond Felton shooting 40 percent. Per 36 minutes, Jeremy Lin averaged 7.0 free throw attempts per game, while Raymond Felton has never averaged more than 3.9 in such a stat.

Such is the reason why in their last days with the Knicks, both Felton and Lin averaged about 15 points per game, despite the fact that Jeremy Lin played significantly fewer minutes than Felton. In 7 games under Mike Woodson, Lin played less than 35 minutes in 6 of them. In contrast, Felton played less than 35 minutes in only 6 games in his entire stint with the Knicks. Jeremy Lin’s decline in production has as much to do with decreased shot attempts and minutes, resulting from a lack of confidence by the head coach, as it does in a shooting regression.

This is not to say that Jeremy Lin was far superior to Felton. The argument could be made that Felton’s per 36 production was worse because Lin’s usage rate was much higher (28.1 percent to 22.6 percent) and Lin turns the ball over more frequently (Lin had a turnover rate of 21.4 percent versus Felton’s 16.6 percent). However, it has to be noted that we are comparing Felton’s best season with Lin’s only real season. Felton did not build upon his success, but rather returned to the player he was before his time with the Knicks, while Lin is only 23-years-old and can still improve upon himself. Lin has a much higher ceiling and has more chemistry with the current roster, as well. For the purposes of this debate, Lin is clear the more skilled offensive player between the two of them.

However, the mistake in the Lin-Felton debate is looking at the comparison in a vacuum. Felton’s reported contract of $10 million over 3 year is much less than Jeremy Lin’s offer sheet with the Rockets. At equal prices, Lin is the clear choice, but the prices are not equal. Ultimately, the only person who can decide whether Lin is worth the difference is James Dolan. That is why it is important, though, for Knicks fans to not turn sour on General Manager Glen Grunwald. While we are looking at things in a vacuum, acquiring Raymond Felton and Kurt Thomas for Dan Gadzuric and Jared Jeffries is great value, considering the circumstances. Felton was the best point guard left on the market, and if Dolan told him that he does not want pay for Lin, then Grunwald did the best he could do. And yet despite Grunwald’s best efforts, statistics say that the Knicks are now a worse team than we thought they would be.

We’ll be comparing their defensive prowess later today.

  • Watching

    I’m sorry Bill and speaking here as an economist and lawyer this scenario is beginning to bear all the earmarks of a wealthy and an apparently spoiled brat owner throwing a temper tantrum and it doesn’t appear to lend itself to any real empirical analysis (sweet, direct and thoughtful as yours is). If Lin isn’t matched I would certainly have to believe Dolan simply determined that, as a matter of “principle”, he isn’t going to allow Houston to determine the “elevated” level of LT he was going to be forced to pay. I see Dolan’s consideration of Lin’s value as a player and especially his potential for growth as secondary if not non-existent. In fact I doubt Dolan has ever heard of Bayesian analysis much less his ability to either pronounce or spell it.

    If Lin leaves I’m a Nets fan, its that simple. Twelve or more years of this nonsense is long enough. I’ve been a Knicks fan for 50 years and attended my first game in 1962 as a little kid; I’ve never forgotten that. I try to get to NY at least once a year and certainly hit Philly and D.C. when they’re in town. Lin was one of the brightest and most beautiful points in that run for me. To simply trash what he brought in the manner that appears to be on the horizon would be unforgivable. If they do the right thing and match I’ll move on and chalk this up to just another Twitter craze run-a-muck. If they don’t then they’ll get not one thin dime from me nor one cheer ever again. I loved the Rangers as a kid; at one point even more than I did the Knicks. The Rangers waived Eddie Giacomin and sent Brad Park and John Ratelle and others to Boston for Esposito and Vadnais in 1975 and I haven’t been back since: no gear, no tickets, no worries. Messier means nothing to me.

    The Knicks mantra seems to be “its all about the fans”. Well is it or isn’t it? You have a chance to do the right thing, don’t screw this up boys.

    • Tommy2cat

      To draw from another academic discipline, I refer you to Soren Kierkegaard’s masterpiece “Either/Or”.

      We are currently presented with a situation that is defined as “either Felton or Lin”.

      My response to this apparent dichotomy is “Why not carry both guards?” Felton is left-handed and is strong to his left. Lin is right-handed and is strong to his right. Either ball player could toggle as a shooting guard and both would be under the tutelage of Jason Kidd, once he completes the Drinking Driver Program…”Hello. My name is Jason K.”… ‘Hi Jason’ (in unison).

      Seriously, we could turn what was recently a weakness into a significant strength – both guard positions. Think about it – Jason Kidd, Jeremy Lin, Ray Felton, J.R. Smith, Shumpert & the Spanish dude.

      I mean, did you see how many times did Woodson got pissed off at Landry Fields? How many times did Fields miss open J’s and turn the ball over (careless airborne cross-court passes) in the first quarter, killing any possible early momentum. We won’t miss that, I can assure you. Baron Davis? Pleeeezzzze….

      I really like Ray Felton. I think he currently has better game than Jeremy Lin, when he’s properly motivated and in shape. He’s a superior in-game ball handler. His work with Stoudamire was outstanding. A rejuvenated A’mare would spell disaster for defenses that try to shut down Melo.

      Jeremy Lin, on the other hand, will never have a problem being properly motivated and in shape. My two concerns about Lin is his durability and his defense, which is why I think he’s best suited to a system that can integrate him as a 6th man – have him come in with a JR Smith/Novak scoring package while Melo takes a break.

      Given Woodson’s bent on team defense, which I prefer, I would not be disappointed if the Knicks brought in Ray Brewer instead of Jeremy Lin – and that’s simply from a strict basketball perspective.

      At the end of the day, the guard glass is more than half full – Kidd, Felton, Smith, Shumpert, Spanish dude. We’re already far better off than we were last year. So whether we add Lin or Brewer is simply a matter whether the guard position will emphasize offense or emphasize defense.

      I’m cool either way.

    • Adrion Smith

      Lin made his choice. If he wanted to me a Knick he would not have renegotiated that deal. You can’t blame the Knicks for finally doing something we’ve been being them to do for years, showing some fiscal sanity.

      • Still Watching

        Adrion the Knicks told him to go get the best deal he could after the NBAPA won and settled the the Bird Rights Arbitration. Word was they would match anything but weren’t going to bid against themselves. They never made him an offer and had no intention of doing so. He went out, did as he was asked, got the best deal he could and now this nonsense ensues. Sorry but this one isn’t on the kid or his advisers, it lies squarely on the geniuses who run the Garden.

  • I_am_RonRon Keep #Lin on #Knicks, best thing that ever happened to our the org this decade #Linsanity #Mob Deep #NBA

  • Dpaperz19

    Keep Lin, he is an asset that we can keep in the organization, with minimal salary cap relief in site, I say screw the luxuary tax and get what you can within the limits you are allowed, RIGHT NOW. I really hate Dolan, he spends money like a re-tard and now all we hear is the luxuary tax. I hope he puts his ego to the side and does whats right for the fans because in the end the fans are the ones that support the time with revenue.

  • ChasM

    …at least this gets us back something rather then letting him walk for nothing, right??
    My preference is for the Knicks to match the offer and to hell with the Lux tax $ that Dolan will need to shell out. Dolan will surely recover his lost penalty $ in merchandise, ticket sales, PR and marketing. Lin will create millions and millions of Knicks fans in China and the rest of the far east. I agree with many of the hoops pundits that this issue has just become personal for Dolan(why couldn’t he have gotten pissed at Isiah years ago?….but I digress). Dolan is clearly pissed off at Lin. So for Dolan to get his revenge and get us something in return, why not MATCH and sell him back to the Rockets.

    I cannot understand why this has not been discussed or speculated by anyone in print or on TV.
    WHY not match the Houston offer and then put him on the open market. Wouldn’t Lin bring back some value even with that large contract?? Surely Houston seems enamoured with him. I have read almost every Lin related article on the web regarding this saga. I have yet to see this course of action mentioned. Am I missing something??

  • NYfan InBoston

    The Knicks organization never ceases to amaze me. They have institutionalized stupidity. Here are just a few of the reasons letting Jeremy Lin go would be one of their stupidest mistakes ever (and they have made a lot).

    1. Money is a huge issue but given the fact that he filled up arenas all over the country, sold advertising all over (and the Knicks to China which in case the morons in the Knicks front office don’t know, is THE MOST POPULOUS COUNTRY ON THE PLANET), single-handedly added a substantial boost to the Knicks merchandising revenue in every way possible among other things, all while earning the NBA minimum.
    2. He made other players, his teammates, better, which is what a good point guard or a good player does.
    3. He will never embarrass the organization with his lifestyle or behavior off the court.
    4. Some would look down their noses at this but he has, virtually overnight, turned just about every, not just Harvard but Ivy League graduate into a Knicks fan. Say what you will about that but take a look a the list of distinguished alum that represents–it’s significant.
    5. I need not even mention the Asian-American community. I live in the Boston area and the “Linsanity” bumper stickers, shirts, jerseys are everywhere. They do have a team up here in Boston, who finish ahead of the Knicks perennially by he way.
    6. Did anyone notice that Houston, the team that let Lin get away, so desperately wanted him back they offered him a very sweet deal? Hello!! Is anyone taking notice of that fact?
    7. The Knicks were WINNING! Isn’t that the object of the game rather than simply making their lackluster “star” (and I use that term loosely) look better so the organization isn’t embarrassed by how much they have invested in Carmelo, one of the NBAs greatest underachievers. (I guess they printed up too many Anthony jerseys and need to get rid of them.)
    8. This is purely anecdotal but I personally know of a lot of transplanted Knicks fans around the country who had not only lost interest but in many cases, switched allegiance. They (and myself) were right back on the Knicks bandwagon, heart and soul, overnight.
    9. He is a smart kid who will work the game as planned without questioning the decisions of the coaching staff. From what is known, he won’t create any friction with his teammates either.
    10. He is the classic, triumph over adversity, winner against all odds, story. Everyone loves that kind of story. When they do a movie about him, the Knicks can and will be portrayed as the buffoons that were incapable of seeing what was right in front of their noses.

    That is only a few reasons. Did I mention Lin is still young, he could be a franchise player–4 years younger than Felton and young enough to be Jason Kidd’s kidd? What the…

    If they let him go, they let me go for good this time. I guess they have no interest in winning a championship or impressing their fans, merely to save face from whatever their most recent mistake is–and they are about to make a real humdinger.