At the beginning of this past summer, signing a point guard was not in the Knicks’ plans. The team obviously had eyes for LeBron James, who in addition to being able to run the floor himself almost at all times, would have also demanded a major chunk of the Knicks' cap room. Toney Douglas (coming off an impressive but raw rookie season) was set to occupy a place in the starting lineup next to LeBron.
Instead, the Knicks signed Amar’e Stoudemire (and various role players) and used the rest of their remaining cap space on Raymond Felton.
Not completely sold on the idea that Felton was their point guard of the future, the Knicks only granted him a two-year guaranteed contract.
While things may have gotten off to a shaky start, the Knicks may want to start thinking about making a longer investment on the newly appointed [Coach Mike] D’Antoni-disciple.
Although Stoudemire was just named “Eastern Conference Player of the Week” for his stellar play during the Knicks’ 3-1 Western Conference road trip, one could argue Felton actually led the way.
In addition to elevating his offensive game by averaging 22.5 points, Felton was able to effectively get his teammates involved, averaging eight assists. Not to be overlooked, he was also a pest on defense, averaging 3.3 steals—a statistic that surely led to more offensive opportunities for the Knicks. The team certainly felt his impact.
In fact, it was NBA veteran-turned analyst Kenny Smith who said prior to the season (referring to Felton’s performance) that "17 points and eight assists will get the Knicks over the top." While his numbers during the Knicks’ recent surge certainly more than reflect Smith’s prediction, Felton’s overall season numbers are not too far off. Though he is actually superseding Smith’s suggested point average at 17.6, Felton is averaging just a hair under eight assists.
Smith also went on to mention that he felt as though Stoudemire, on his own, would add five victories to the Knicks’ win column. However, Felton is proving just as important to the team's win total as STAT as of late.
The two had struggled to build chemistry on the court early on, but Felton’s ownership of the importance of a point guard in D’Antoni’s system has already benefited them both.
Embracing his role as his new coach’s floor general, Felton is learning how to be an effective leader. As the season has progressed, he has visibly grown more confident and aggressive. While that confidence has to do with forming a sense of comfort with his teammates, it also has to do with Felton taking smarter shots for himself. By being aggressive, he has also been able to drive to the basket with ease more so than any Knicks point guard in recent seasons.
The point guard and power forward positions are the keys to success in D’Antoni’s system. Communication between Felton and Stoudemire is crucial. However, the mutual understanding between the Knicks has not always been present this season. The team appears to set up plays too quickly at times, with not enough players on the floor ready to execute.
With time, the pick and roll will come to be as effective as it should be in this system. Should the Knicks’ co-captains begin to lead by example, teammates like Landry Fields and Timofey Mozgov (who are both, granted, learning the NBA game in general as rookies) will cease to clog up the lane, no longer preventing a more fluent pick and roll.
That being said, in two seasons under D’Antoni, even Chris Duhon and David Lee made the pick and roll look like a thing of beauty at times. The problem was that the fluidity was not consistently there.
And that is where Felton becomes so important, because he is undoubtedly an upgrade over Duhon at the point. While the learning curve may not be lightning-quick, the increased success for Felton under D’Antoni is evident. As the team continues to improve, there is no reason why the communication between Felton and Stoudemire cannot be as strong as the type Stoudemire had with Steve Nash while on the Suns.
That type of coherent communication is bound to lead to win thing for the Knicks: success.