We’re more than 20 percent into the 2012-13 season, and Thursday night’s massive win over the Heat simply reinforced one of the most significant lessons so far: Raymond Felton is both playing at a higher level than he ever has before, and is critical to the success of the New York Knicks.
Felton was the biggest driver of the Knicks’ extremely effective offense against the Heat, both as scorer (27 points, 10-for-20 shooting) and facilitator seven assists, just three turnovers). He consistently punished the Heat for overpursuit, got to the basket, and generally handled enough of the scoring load that the Knicks didn’t miss Carmelo Anthony much.
But if Miami was Felton’s best game, it was very much within the range of what he’s been so far this year. He scored 21 or better three other times, has piled on the assists at greater rates than Thursday, and his three-point shooting has been good all season.
His rates are all within range of his career, too, with only the three-point accuracy (41.9 percent) representing a career high. It isn’t far off from his 38.5 percent back in 2009-10, though.
What’s fascinating about Felton isn’t the slight increase in accuracy, but that he’s doing so in significantly more volume. He’s averaging 16.1 shots per 36 minutes, with a career average of 12.7 and previous career-high of 13.2 in any season. And his 5.1 three-point attempts per 36 minutes easily outpaces his career average of 3.3, and even his previous season-high of 4.1.
Interestingly, his closest season of three-point accuracy to this one, that 38.5 percent, came in the year he shot the least: 11.5 shot attempts per 36, and 2.1 threes attempted through 36. So it doesn’t really represent a particularly effective comparison for Felton’s current season.
Has he found a new shooting level? Is he simply getting more open looks in an offense with more ball movement, and a focal point in Anthony, than he ever previously enjoyed? It seems plausible, but bears watching.
The other major area of improvement is in Felton’s turnover rate. His turnover percentage, career, is 16.3 percent. And it held pretty steady for his entire career, never dropping below 15.4 percent or above 16.8 percent until last season’s disastrous 19.6. (He was out of shape last year, though, as you may have heard.)
This season? 12.8 percent. Among point guards, Felton ranks above all but a few (Tony Parker, Kemba Walker notably) in protecting the basketball. (Side note, just interesting given his reputation: best guard overall with 500 minutes played in protecting the basketball this year is J.R. Smith, and by a fair amount.)
Again, the question is, can Felton keep protecting the basketball this well? Playing in a system with similarly mistake-averse players like Jason Kidd, Ronnie Brewer and, um, J.R. Smith, the Knicks can thrive offensively this way.
But Felton really needs to be something close to this player for them to dominate. He’s the primary facilitator; Kidd is more shooter at this point, and Pablo Prigioni is the one man on the team who turns the ball over like crazy.
And Felton’s scoring is key. The Knicks are an efficient offense with Felton taking the second-most shots. Tyson Chandler isn’t an offensive weapon to be created for, save pick-and-roll. J.R. Smith is an inconsistent shooter. We have no idea what Amar’e Stoudemire can provide.
But this far into the season, Felton is shooting more and better, creating well, and protecting the ball more than he ever has in his career. He’s been exactly the point guard the Knicks have needed. And last night, in the biggest game of the season so far, Felton was at his best to date, in a game that seemed to promise many more important games to come.