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.