How Do Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd Factor into New York's Offense?
It just wouldn't be an NBA offseason if the New York Knicks weren't responsible for some incredible clamor. After being linked to every free agent imaginable (as is the Knicks' custom), New York's summer was ultimately defined by the move not made. The Knicks declined to match the offer sheet given to restricted free-agent point guard Jeremy Lin by the Houston Rockets, based largely on team finances—a strange decision given the Knicks' spending history, and an even stranger one considering the fate of their point guard rotation.
New York salvaged the latter a bit by signing both Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd to multi-year deals, but neither addition brings Lin's skill set or promise. They're true consolation prizes, capable of giving the Knicks more than they had previously (and certainly more than they had during their 2012 playoff run), but woefully incapable of truly elevating the play of a confusing offensive team.
Felton is New York's mulligan. The one-time Knick will undoubtedly step back into his former role as starting point guard and eat up a majority of the minutes at the position. Unfortunately, it's going to be incredibly difficult for Felton to live up to his Big Apple reputation; the 54 games Felton played for the Knicks in the 2010-11 season were some of the best of his career, as a perfect storm of hot shooting, offensive freedom and balanced scoring brought about an unprecedented success. The context is a bit different this time around, and Felton himself isn't even the player he was just two seasons ago.
That said, it seems safe to say that Felton won't play as poorly in the year to come as he did in Portland last season, if only because the basketball he played for the Blazers was so consistently miserable. Felton had his moments at the beginning and end of the lockout-shortened season, but the bulk of his performance was unexpectedly horrendous, and the Blazers—who for a very brief moment looked to be one of the better teams in the Western Conference—ultimately suffered for it.
With both of those extremes understood, we can reasonably expect the 2012-13 iteration of Felton to fall somewhere in between. He won't be breathing new life into the franchise, and he won't be chased out of town by angry, torch-wielding basketball denizens; this is a chance for Felton to settle into his comfortable, unremarkable game and put two roller-coaster seasons—that took him from New York to Denver to Portland and back— behind him.
There's little reason to think Felton can really instill New York's offense with a sense of order that would provide for its long-term success. He was certainly good enough to lead the Knicks to a hot start two seasons ago, but the Knicks' current surrounding fixtures create a decidedly different atmosphere, and Felton's shooting is far cooler than it was then. Anthony will now be a pivotal part of the offense one way or another, and though plenty of sharp basketball writers and fans have tossed around the idea of Melo shifting up positionally as a slotted power forward, it's worth considering if that adjustment would actually take.
Would changing positions legitimately alter the way Anthony approaches the game? Or, to voice another concern, would Anthony embrace such a shift if it left Felton (and Kidd) responsible for getting him the ball, as opposed to a slightly more reputable playmaker? It's one thing for the Knicks to import Steve Nash (or even to lean on a breakout prospect like Lin) and another entirely to hand the keys to a pretty average point guard coming off of a career-worst year.
Anthony clearly did quite well as the nominal 4 for an abbreviated stretch last season, but even if Knicks head coach Mike Woodson elected to shift Anthony's default position, I'm not quite convinced that it would deter the most iso-centric player in the NBA from bogging down New York's offense—mostly because Felton doesn't quite have the cachet to demand full-time control of the ball.
That said, Felton should still be good (and insistent) enough to run a decent chunk of New York's offense from the top of the key next season, albeit imperfectly. After all, Felton—regardless of his overall struggles in Portland—truly does make solid passes in pick-and-roll situations:
He just gets himself into trouble when relying too much on his mid-range jumper:
Those very same shots provided much of the fool's gold that anchored Felton's initial tour with the Knicks. According to Hoopdata, Felton converted an uncharacteristic 43 percent of his shots from 16-23 feet during that time—a good four percent higher than his average in any other season—despite his remarkably unchanged shot selection and decision-making. Playing alongside a pick-and-roll threat like Stoudemire surely helped open up some opportunities for Felton, but we have much more reason to believe that his shooting from that range next season will hover around the league average (38.2 percent) rather than that initial New York figure.
All of which ignores the fact that those pull-up jumpers are some of the least-efficient shots in basketball (and a worst-case scenario rather than a primary option) to begin with. The goal of every offensive possession is to generate a quality look at the rim or at the three-point line (the two zones of highest shooting efficiency), and to draw a foul if neither is possible. Forfeiting the advantage created by a high-ball screen in order to take a long two-pointer defeats the purpose of the play action, and if Felton is going to make a substantial difference for the Knicks this season, he'll need to cut down on those pull-ups and commit to his otherwise productive playmaking and driving.
Really, that's the kicker. If Felton didn't have other weapons at his disposal, the pull-up jumpers would be an unfortunate reality. But Felton can be clever and deceptively quick; he's capable of surging to the rim:
...and of using his body to overpower guards with a makeshift post-up:
All of that doesn't make Felton anything resembling a savior for New York's crooked offense, but it does give the Knicks a sturdy pick-and-roll option to edge away from Anthony's iso-heavy style and create shots when New York's primary scorers are on the bench. Felton isn't good enough to re-align the system entirely, but he'll likely balance out the offensive structure a bit and give Woodson some point-generating alternatives.
Kidd is decidedly less imposing and could very well make for the more agreeable complement if the Knicks fully subscribe to Melo-ball; if Felton's primary value comes in theoretically pulling the ball out of Anthony's hands (and thereby putting New York's franchise player in a position to get more efficient looks), Kidd's role is to do the exact opposite. The future Hall of Famer was once a brilliant, ball-dominant guard, but for those who haven't kept a close eye on the Dallas Mavericks over the last season and change, his offensive role has essentially been reduced to this:
Kidd simply doesn't have the ability to dribble-penetrate at this stage in his career, but his improved jumper does make him a nice candidate to make post entry passes and spot up on the perimeter. Simplicity has long been the understated core of Kidd's passing game, and with his best days behind him, Kidd's greatest value now comes from safe passes and precise placement. Even that playmaking accuracy went a bit haywire last season in Dallas (Kidd seemed particularly turnover-prone, and a career-high turnover rate would seem to concur with that perception), but Kidd is nonetheless a significant upgrade over the Knicks' reserve ball-handlers of a year ago and a good initiator of basic offense at this point.
He, too, makes good reads in pick-and-roll situations, but due to his complete avoidance of any shot attempt within 10 feet of the basket (and his inability to convert relatively standard layups), opponents typically play him for the pass in such scenarios in order to avoid plays like these:
Kidd's game is undoubtedly that of a moderate-minute reserve at this juncture, no matter what his reputation suggests. That alone makes his addition far less important than it might initially seem, particularly when the far more crucial development is how Felton and Anthony coexist on the court—not to mention where Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler fit alongside a pick-and-roll point playing in a historically stagnant system. There are a lot of unknowns here and few compelling reasons for hope; New York is poised to be competitive this season, but unless Felton, Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler are reconfigured to open up the offense in unexpected ways, we can lean on a default expectation of offensive mediocrity.
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