The Knicks’ season begins in eight days. (!!!) We couldn’t possibly be more excited — finally, a Knicks team with barely an Isiah Thomas fingerprint on it! — so we’ll be counting down the eleven most important Knicks twice a week until opening night on October 27. The best sign we can give you: Eddy Curry isn’t among the eleven. Today: point guard Raymond Felton.
The Knicks do not need a brilliant point guard. Well, that’s not exactly true: Every team needs a brilliant point guard, particularly one coached by Mike D’Antoni, who was never more of a genius than when he had Steve Nash. But the Knicks, right now, don’t need a brilliant point guard; they just need a competent one. Two years of Chris Duhon would make any replacement look like Magic Johnson.
Raymond Felton, at his best, is a slightly above-league-average point guard. Last season with the Bobcats was the most accomplished of his career, thanks largely to a spike in his three-point percentage, from 28 percent in 2008-09 to 38 percent in 2009-10. He had the advantage of being coached by Larry Brown — who, for all his flaws, can coach the hell out of a point guard who’s willing to listen — and is likely to regress a bit this year, but, again, compared to Duhon, he should feel like a godsend.
If he’s really into this, anyway. A likable fellow, Felton still showed up to camp slightly overweight and hasn’t exactly meshed with everyone in the first few preseason games. To be fair, the whole team still looks confused on offense, and Felton played better over the weekend. Strangely, the Knicks looked most efficient when Felton was paired in the backcourt with Toney Douglas, which won’t happen often; more likely, the two men will be alternating at the one-spot. (Neither has the size to guard other team’s off-guards.)
This is a terrific opportunity for Felton, who has underwhelmed since fifth overall in the 2005 draft. (It hasn’t helped that two other point guards drafted that year, New Orleans’ Chris Paul and Utah’s Deron Williams, have turned into superstars.) He will have more offensive firepower to work with than he’s ever had before, and he should have plenty of spacing for three-pointers, assuming he can hit them close to the rate that he did last season. The Knicks will have him for only two years, holding down the fort until they can make a push for Paul or even Williams. The Knicks don’t plan on winning a championship in the next two years anyway, unless Carmelo Anthony ends up here in that time, in which case they’ll make an even stronger immediate case for Paul or Williams. As Basketball Prospectus points out in their terrific new book, Felton can make himself quite a bit of money in the next two seasons, working toward a 2012-13 contract. That contract likely won’t be with the Knicks, but they’ll be more than happy to help him make it as large a contract as possible. If Felton plays the next two seasons the way he did last year, you’ll forget Duhon ever existed. Though you still won’t forget about what Paul or Williams could do.