J.R. Smith is no stranger to being wrong. His shot selection can be questionable, he takes unnecessary risks on defense and his social excursions are risqué at best. But this time, at the expense of Jeremy Lin, he's right.
Speaking candidly in an interview on The Michael Kay Show on ESPN New York 98.7 FM (via Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com), Smith declared his belief that Felton is a better point guard than former teammate Lin:
He’s so much (more) dynamic in the pick and roll than Jeremy was last year. Just finding the lob and finding the guys in the corner for a 3...not always just looking for his shot.
Could Smith's sentiments be the direct result of the "ridiculous" contract Lin received from the Rockets this summer? Of course, but ultimately, they aren't. Because Felton is the better fit for New York, and it doesn't take a teammate such as Smith talking on a radio show to figure that out.
To start the season, Felton is averaging 17.1 points and 7.5 assists on 43.8 percent shooting per 36 minutes. Lin, on the other hand, is posting a disappointing 10.7 points on 33.3 percent shooting and 6.8 assists. Felton is also shooting a 42.2 percent clip from downtown to Lin's horrific 22.9 percent.
And yet, while the stat line indicates that Felton has the clear edge, it only begins to describe why he is a better fit for New York.
I'll be the first to admit Lin has potential. He's at his best—like Felton—when he's attacking the rim. Lin boasts above-average court vision and is actually better on defense than Felton at manning the passing lanes.
But again, that's at his best. And if we learned one thing from his time in Houston, it's that Lin is rarely at his best.
Because he's a 24-year-old project, who is being viewed as a cornerstone of a franchise, with less than a full season's worth of games under his belt (37 starts to be exact).
Of course, there's nothing wrong with that. Everyone has to start somewhere, has to begin their path to success at some point. At the same time, however, that's just the problem. Lin is just starting out. He has a wide array of kinks to work out, including his current difficulties of adjusting to defensive schemes implemented to stop him.
He has yet to prove he is capable of doing that. Again, he's only 24. Sure, he's in his fourth season with the league, yet he has just 15 games more experience than second-year guard Kyrie Irving.
In other words, despite having plenty of potential, Lin has plenty of question marks. And "what ifs" are the enemy of contention.
What if Lin approaches his lofty ceiling this season? What if he leads the Rockets to a playoff berth? What if he becomes a star by season's end?
Well, then the Knicks may experience a bit of envy.
But what if Lin fails? What if he isn't the point guard everyone, including the Knicks, thought he was? What if he's years away from actualizing his potential?
Here is where the discrepancy lies, the one that goes beyond the box score.
New York doesn't have time to navigate a minefield of "what ifs" and "possibilities." As the oldest team in NBA history, it doesn't have the luxury of actively stocking its roster with uncertainty. That's for rebuilding teams, like the Rockets, to do.
The Knicks aren't rebuilding, though. They spent years attempting to position themselves for contention, and to render such an excruciating endeavor anything but fruitless, it had to chase guaranteed production, not 35 games of near greatness.
Was there a risk involved when the team acquired Felton? Absolutely. He was coming off the worst season of his career with the Portland Trail Blazers and had even admitted he wasn't in the best of shape.
Yet the Knicks knew that wasn't the real Felton. They understood that the relentless athlete who scored 17.1 points and dished out nine assists per game for them less than two years ago was. So they went with what they knew worked, not with what could quite possibly work down the road.
Teams don't win championship built on ambiguity. They can't. Not in a league where the most successful of organizations are built upon conviction and commitment to a plan.
Could the Knicks have been successful with Lin learning the ropes from both Felton and Jason Kidd? Certainly, but that wasn't a viable option. Whether it wasn't possible for financial reasons or James Dolan's ego is irrelevant. It just wasn't going to happen.
New York, in turn, had to make a choice; a team whose title window was open now had to make a decision.
And the Knicks made the right one, opting for the point guard who has proven to keep their door to contention ajar.
Not the one who had the potential to slam it shut.
All stats in this article are accurate as of November 23, 2012.
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