Raymond Felton’s succession of Jeremy Lin was well-documented coming into the season. Lin, a young point guard, a fan and media favorite, was replaced by Felton, an older point guard coming off the worst season of his career with limited potential upside for the future. Felton immediately proclaimed that he was going to come in with a “chip on his shoulder” and shut his critics up by having a great season. Early on, he was doing so.
To start the season, Felton was playing some fine basketball. He was leading the best offense in the league, averaging 14 points per game, nearly 7 assists, and shooting 41% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc – the latter a career best. Furthermore, Felton’s play was disciplined in that he knew his place in the offense, distributing the ball evenly, rarely taking too many shots, and limiting his turnovers for a team that rarely commits them. According to Hoopdata, Felton’s PER this season is among the best of his career and his turnover rate (TOR) is considerably lower than in any of his previous seven years in the league.
Felton kicked off December with a trio of excellent performances (all wins), averaging 22.3 points, 7.6 assists, and shooting 48% from the field. His hot start was highlighted by a 27-point, three-pointer infused explosion in a blowout over the Miami Heat on their home floor. Felton’s play was taking a somewhat divided fan base and making them collectively wonder, “Jeremy who…?” However, in a recent weeks Felton’s play has taken a nosedive.
Since that eruption that scorched the Heat, Felton has become trigger-happy on offense, forcing the issue too often and consequentially hurting the Knicks as a team. In the past eight games, Felton has eclipsed 20 field goal attempts four times. Furthermore, in those eight games Felton has shot above 40% only twice. Some of the clunkers include a 9-30 performance in Chicago, two 4-15 performances against Denver and Brooklyn, and a 9-26 performance against the Lakers. In this stretch, Felton is averaging 16.5 points per game, which looks good until seeing his 34.4% shooting average. For this stretch, Felton has tallied 137 points on 157 shots – not a good sign.
Felton’s shooting struggles on offense are notable in two areas (also according to Hoopdata): shots from 3-9 feet, 10-15 feet, and 16-23 feet. Felton is shooting, respectively, 25%, 35%, and 37% from these areas. The other two locations – at the rim and three-pointers – Felton is connecting on 54% and 36%, respectively. Felton’s ability to finish in the paint with baby jumpers or his unreliable floater have deflated his shooting percentages from 3-9 feet.
Those other areas where he’s struggled come almost directly from the pick-and-roll. Defenses have dared Felton to shoot the pull-up jumper by ducking under picks and protecting the roll man, and Felton has too often obliged. According to Synergy, on the pick-and-roll, where of all plays Felton has attempted his highest number of field goals on the season, he is shooting 39% (reflective of his season’s total field goal percentage), with a points per possession of just .77. Of course, this stat doesn’t let us discriminate shots in the paint he’s taken off the pick-and-roll versus pull-up jumpers. When Felton has attacked the rim and finished himself or set up Tyson Chandler, good things have happened; quite the opposite when he’s settled for the deep pull-up jumpers.
It is notable that this eight-game stretch has come when Carmelo Anthony has missed three total games. Before this putrid stretch from Felton, his best asset was simply running the offense and hitting his multitude of options rather than taking it upon himself to be the offense. Felton’s assists have fallen during this stretch to 5.5 per game compared to his 6.7 per game in November. A healthy Carmelo Anthony and eventually (hopefully) a healthy Amar’e Stoudemire will take the ball out of Felton’s hands a little more often and allow him to go back to his less-pressing ways that we saw earlier in the season.
Even currently, Felton is shooting more than teammates like J.R. Smith or Tyson Chandler. Smith has busted out of an early December slump and over the last six games is averaging 18.6 points per game on 46% shooting. Likewise, Tyson Chandler is on pace for another historical shooting season, and is shooting 70% from the field for the month with 13.6 points per game on 7 field goal attempts per game. While both players are hot, Felton needs to look to feed them more often.
However, it should also be on Mike Woodson to know when to pull in on Felton and get on his case for hijacking the offense. Just as he’s held J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony accountable, Woodson needs to, at times, shorten the leash with Felton, and give him more plays to run as opposed to allowing him to fruitlessly shoot deep jumpers off the pick-and-roll.
Felton’s splits between wins and losses are perhaps the most notable statistics. In wins, Felton is averaging 15.5 points on 15.5 shots per game, 40% from the field and from three-point range, 6.7 assists, and 1.9 turnovers. In losses, Felton is averaging 17.6 points per game on 18.9 shots, 38% from the field, 25% from three, 5.9 assists, and 3.9 turnovers.And during the discussed eight-game stretch, the Knicks are 5-3 which is disappointing for the high standards they’ve set this year.
It could be said that as Felton goes, so go the Knicks. We can only hope this is an exception for Felton, not a coming-down party, and that his poor play will pick up when the Knicks are fully healthy.