Sometimes you can’t help but be pessimistic when certain things happen. Small, specific occurrences tend to have tremendous ripple effects, especially in sports. On Christmas Day, the Knicks opened up a box with two months of coal against the Lakers, when Raymond Felton broke the pinky finger on his shooting hand in a freak collision with Steve Nash. It would be the first in a series of unfortunate injuries for the Knickerbockers, but the most disastrous by far. The loss of Felton has turned the Knicks into a pretty good imitation of last year’s team, minus Linsanity and those 20-point blowouts of Miami.
While Carmelo has been a leading candidate for MVP of the league, I’d venture to say that Felton has been the MVP of the Knicks. Don’t laugh at me yet. Felton does everything that Melo, JR, Chandler, and Kidd aren’t able to do, including: driving into the paint, getting palpable pressure on the other team’s point guard, taking the all-but-lost midrange jumper, and directing traffic so that the offense doesn’t turn into the Melo and JR Show. Felton’s presence is missed because it does away with the ragtag isolation play that’s led the Knicks to being 4-6 over the past 10 games.
One look at Tyson Chandler over those games is enough proof for Felton’s impact. Our defensive lynchpin and our injured point man are the best alley-oop combination in the league. In the Knicks’ 2nd game against the Heat, not only did Ray Felt (a weird, yet easily-said nickname, huh?) drop 27 points and 7 assists, he aided Chandler in four of his five field goals. Additionally, Felton helps create easy baskets during the fastbreak. For a team that ranks 28th of 30 in fastbreak points, having a point guard that can push the ball only pays dividends. In our final matchup with Brooklyn this season, Seeing Jason Kidd bring the ball back out when he had the lane after a steal was excruciating to watch. Felton running the break would have yielded something other than a headscratch.
The biggest draw for Raymond Felton, though, is the versatility he provides our Knickerbockers with. With him on the court, there’s no reason for Kidd, Carmelo, or JR to dribble out the clock. Kidd can focus on knocking down open threes and sending that extra pass. JR and Melo can just score instead of looking to run the offense. With Felton possibly returning on Saturday, suddenly Amar’e can run the pick and roll to his heart’s desire, Novak can spot up from Harlem, and Shumpert and Copeland can fill in the rest of the blanks while we wait for our geriatric trio of big men to heal.
Everyone gets to do what they do, at a much higher level because Felton is handling the intricacies of running the show, so to speak. That’s what’s riding on Felton’s pinky. That is the pinky promise: that everyone gets better with a seasoned point guard at the helm. Rather than playing glorified streetball (check our assist numbers), we can get back to the system that had Melo scoring efficiently, and our point guard in All-Star form again.
Editor’s note: There will be a statistical breakdown of Felton’s absence posted tomorrow morning from Bryan Gibberman.