Raymond Felton is back to playing like his old self, but how is he doing it?
It’s often said by the wise that history repeats itself. For the New York Knicks and their impressive 8-1 record, they hope for their sake the age old adage is true. The last time the Knicks achieved an 8-1 record was over 40 years ago, back in the 1972-73 season. That was the last time the Knicks won a championship.
Sure, Carmelo Anthony has been great, Tyson Chandler is still a force in the paint and they're collectively shooting the ball well, but there is one player in particular who deserves a lot of credit: Raymond Felton.
After a tumultuous past season in Portland, Felton is finally playing to his full potential and is certainly a candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award. Let’s explore a few reasons why we’re seeing some of Felton’s best work as of late.
In basketball, the importance of conditioning is often overlooked by the casual fan.
Playing defense is more than guarding the guy with the ball, it’s a full-time job. You have to switch on screens, rotate, run back on turnovers or misses, stay with your man—overall it’s an incredibly taxing job over the course of a full game.
Combine all of that effort with playing offense, and it’s painfully obvious that, if you’re not in basketball shape, there’s no way you can play at a high level consistently. This was very, very apparent for Portland Trailblazers fans who watched Raymond Felton last season.
Felton came into last season (a lockout year by the way) looking flabby and bloated—hardly the appearance you want for a guy expected to run the pick-and -roll with LaMarcus Aldridge. Now with the Knicks, Felton has come back in what he says is “the best shape [he's been] since college.” He elaborated further on his workout, talking with the New York Post:
...[I've been] getting in the weight room, something I never did in my life. I did a lot of running...training two times, three times a day...and then I had a great chef on board. I didn’t drink nothing but water for like three months.
By losing the weight (Felton claims he's lost more than 20 pounds), it sends a message that Felton is serious about maintaining a full effort throughout the game, something he failed to do in Portland. Now that he's lost the bulk, Felton should continue to keep the Knicks' sixth-best scoring offense churning ahead.
If you’re an athlete or competitor, it’s only natural to have a desire to prove people wrong.
Although it could be said Ray wasn't motivated last season, there's no questioning his heart this year. Raymond Felton and his resurgent season so far are a testament to that competitive will of an athlete.
Although it’s impossible to quantify someone’s “want” or “desire” necessarily, we can certainly see it play out on the court. Raymond Felton has that same desire, and it is certainly motivating him mentally to keep up the solid work on the court.
Felton is not oblivious to the criticism, deserved or not deserved, he is more than aware of what people have said about him following last season’s ongoing debacle. He even said he would “drop 50” on the Internet naysayers upon making his way to the Rose Garden Arena (March 14) later this season.
The man is motivated, and his actions have spoken louder than his words have. Although showing up overweight to Blazers camp last season isn’t the professional move, it is certainly time for both parties to move on and focus on the present, rather than harping about past missteps.
Regardless, his inspired play as of late has been infectious, and it’s certainly played a big part in the Knicks’ current success.
Another reason Felton is playing as well as he has is due to the fact that he’s seamlessly functioning within the offense. Last season Felton never seemed quite comfortable with Portland's scheme. Oftentimes, he overdribbled or turned the ball over. However, this season, all of those mistakes may be a thing of the past.
He’s been incredibly efficient as of late, and despite the fact that this season’s numbers (15 points, six assists, two turnovers while shooting 43 percent) are virtually identical to some of his past “decent seasons," he’s had some phenomenal games lately.
In the Knicks’ recent win over the New Orleans Hornets, his efficiency was on full display. Over a course of 30 minutes, Felton had five three-pointers on 5-of-6 shooting, six assists and only a single turnover. That is incredibly efficient output, and it shows that he took shots he was given and didn’t force anything—which is exactly what the Knicks need from him.
During another one of Felton’s impressive games this season against the San Antonio Spurs, Felton was the standout player. He scored 25 points, dished out seven assists and finished with only two turnovers, all while 10-of-20 from the field. On a night when Carmelo was struggling (he finished with nine points but made up for it with great effort by snatching 12 rebounds), Felton flipped the switch from role player to offensive focal point—something that any great team is looking for from its auxiliary players.
Felton has done a great job of playing well in important games so far, and if he keeps it up over the long run, the Knicks are going to be a tough team to stop if he’s playing at his best.