PLAYER: Raymond Felton
CONTRACT: 3 years remaining (2013-14: $3,637,073, 2014-15: $3,793,693, 2015-16: $3,950,313 (Player Option))
ACQUISITION DETAILS: Per an obscure South Carolina news report, mind you, the Knicks acquired Felton on or about July 14, 2012, and simulatenously set Linsanity ablaze. (Felton technically acquired in a sign-and-trade with the Portland Trailblazers.)
WHAT TO EXPECT OFFENSIVELY: The 29-year-old Felton is a solid offensive point guard with better than average ball handling skills. He is adept at both running the pick-and-roll and getting baskets for himself off the dribble. Though he isn’t a great shooter, Ray-Ray was certainly adequate last year in his second go-round with the Knicks, making 42% of his shots from the field and 36% from three en route to 13.9 points and 5.5 assists per game. It should be noted that Felton struggled through a variety of injuries (including to his hands) that caused him to miss fourteen games.
Coming into last season, most Knicks fans were probably expecting the Ray Felton who once excelled alongside Danilo Gallinari under Mike D’Antoni, but Ray 2.0 didn’t quite achieve that level of performance. Sure, the “bulldog” point guard was far from a disappointment – Felton more or less matched his career averages – but it was an an up-and-down campaign, to be sure. For every highlight (like his 26 point outburst which led the ‘Melo-less to a blowout win over the Heat in Miami), there was a lowlight (capped by his 0-for-7, two point invisiblity act when New York was eliminated by the Pacers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals). From a pure optics perspective, fans were also probably none too thrilled by Felton’s inability to lead the Knicks to victory against Jeremy Lin and the Rockets in two head-to-head matchups. Not that he was necessarily to blame, but in this town, how things look are sometimes more important than how things are.
Interestingly, Felton was extremely comfortable playing alongside second point guards Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni in 2012-13, flexibility he will no doubt need to reprise, with the newly signed Beno Udrih replacing Kidd (who went…somewhere…to do something). Felton’s bread and butter, however, remains his pick-and-roll prowess, especially with Tyson Chandler.
Ultimately, assuming he is healthy, you know what you are getting with Ray running your offense: adequate, if not inspiring, floor leadership, the ability to feed his big men with vertical pick-and-roll after vertical pick-and-roll, and a knack for big shots from the perimeter. If Felton can just be a tad more consistent with his shot-making, coach Mike Woodson and Knicks fans should be pleased.
WHAT TO EXPECT DEFENSIVELY: The Knicks’ ”life’s-a-switch-and-then-you-die” defensive strategy makes it difficult to hold their players individually accountable, but last season Felton was regularly abused by the opponents he was matched up against. (In fairness to Ray, his defensive contribution should be considered more holistically. After all, the Knicks surrendered 4.4 points per 100 possessions fewer with Felton on the court than they did with him off of it.) That said, a quick peek at the ledger isn’t kind. 54 points from Steph Curry, 41 from Kyrie Irving, 37 from Russell Westbrook and 33 from John Wall can be explained, given their pedigrees, but when you also allow Jeff Teague, Mike Conley and Jrue Holiday (three times) to eclipse the 25 point mark, it’s more pattern than an abberation. Again, opposing PG production hasn’t all come at Felton’s expense, of course, but to deny that Ray struggles when matched up with quick guards is to deny reality. (And no, Felton’s cupcake intake isn’t responsible, either, he’s just limited by his size and his quickness can’t match the aforementioned players’. But, also, cupcakes. Mmm.)
Despite his difficulties with fast-twitch guards, Felton is a solid team defender who always plays with effort. He is eager and capable when guarding larger players where he can use girth to hold his own. If the Knicks can figure out a way to better scheme the opposition – perhaps by using J.R. Smith and/or Iman Shumpert to lock down opposing point guards as the matchup dicates – the dimunitive Felton should be just fine on the defensive end.
UNREASONABLY OPTIMISTIC SEASON PROJECTION: Felton plays in 75 games and matches his production from last year, averaging 13.5 PPG on 42% from the field (35% from three, 80% from the line), 6.2 APG and 3.0 RPG. Most importantly, though, he grows as a leader, filling the void left by Kidd’s departure. Felton’s ability to find newly acquired Andrea Bargnani in the corner out of pick-and-rolls with Chandler becomes a legitimate weapon for the Knicks, and he re-establishes his chemistry with Amar’e Stoudemire, helping STAT get integrated offensively and contribute double-digit points per game off the bench.