5 Adjustments the Knicks Must Make Without Raymond Felton
Ever since Felton went down with a broken pinkie, the once-scorching Knicks have fallen off without him. On defense, they have been susceptible to big scoring runs, and their offense is missing his penetration and ability to finish at the rim.
In the three games since his injury, the Knicks have two close but ugly losses, and their only win came by way of J.R. Smith's improbable buzzer-beating heroics.
New York's current style of basketball is not sustainable or even effective. To play without Felton, the Knicks are going to have to make some changes. Otherwise, this early season juggernaut is in for a rough stretch.
Stats accurate as of Jan. 3, 2013.
Don't Overextend Jason Kidd
Jason Kidd has been a vital part of the Knicks' success, but at age 39, there are some things he is no longer capable of.
He still shows flashes of brilliance on the defensive end. His hands, for example, haven't slowed one bit. Kidd can still expertly play the passing lanes and strip the ball in the post.
Yet while Kidd has his technique down, he just doesn't have the foot speed he once did.
Now in his 19th NBA season, Kidd is as savvy defensively as anyone to ever play the game. However, he needs more than smarts to stay in front of agile point guards nearly half his age.
That speed issue impacts his offensive game, too. Though Kidd is as adept a passer as ever, he does not have the dribble-drive ability he once did. In Felton's absence, that's crucial, as Kidd cannot make up that part of his offense.
Kidd is still a fine player, but the Knicks can't expect him to replicate Felton's game, and they should not ask him to do so.
Play Pablo Prigioni in Crunch Time
At this juncture, Pablo Prigioni is the Knicks' best bet at point guard late in the game.
The smaller the sample size, the less efficient play matters and the more explosiveness can swing a game. So in the final minutes of a close game, New York needs a point guard with the quickness to hold up on the defensive end.
The 35-year-old Prigioni is never going to be confused with Chris Paul, but he is still nimble enough to contend with the league's fastest guards.
He wasn't able to stop Damian Lillard's dagger late in New York's loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, but he was a big step up over Kidd. Lillard ran circles around Kidd all game, making it abundantly clear that the Knicks needed to try something different down the stretch.
When Felton is healthy, Prigioni is clearly third on the Knicks' point guard depth chart. Without him, though, New York cannot afford to be rigid. It was out of the ordinary to play Prigioni in crunch time, but it was the right decision against a player like Lillard.
Get a D-League Point Guard
New York needs another point guard more than it needs James White.
Even with Felton out, White is clearly the last man off the Knicks' bench.
The 6'7" shooting guard is a tremendous dunker who could probably contribute on some team, but there is no reason to give him significant minutes when Kidd, Smith and Ronnie Brewer are available.
White is a shoo-in for a D-League assignment when Iman Shumpert returns from his ACL injury. With that in mind, why don't the Knicks use his roster spot on a player they would actually play?
Now, Ben Uzoh is not a great point guard; after playing for three NBA teams in two disappointing seasons, that's why he's with the Springfield Armor right now. That said, he's averaging 16.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game for the Armor. He's ranked as the second-best player in the D-League and the top point guard by NBA.com's D-League experts.
Kidd and Prigioni are both better than Uzoh, but they need some help in the backcourt. Someone, anyone who could run the point would be more useful in New York than James White. The Knicks ought to send him down and call up a player they need.
Have J.R. Smith Run the Pick-and-Roll More
Even before Felton went down, J.R. Smith began creating off the pick-and-roll as a means of settling down the offense. But what began as a way to take the burden off Carmelo Anthony when he was cold could lead him to pick up Felton's slack in a similar way.
In a nice little paradox, Smith is so effective off the pick-and-roll because defenses don't expect him to be so good at it.
One of the most dangerous dribble-drivers in the NBA, Smith can use the pick-and-roll to gash defenses and get to the rim, where he is a superb finisher. Since J.R. is not known as a passer, he sucks in defenses with his drives, opening up perimeter shooters for threes and freeing Tyson Chandler for high-percentage shots.
If opponents respected his ability to dish the ball, perhaps Smith would not be able to pass off the drive as well. Then again, perhaps he would be able to get to the rim more easily. That quandary is what makes Smith so difficult to stop.
Down an offensive weapon, the Knicks need to get their best players the ball now more than ever. Allowing Smith to create for himself and others does just that.
Without Felton, the Knicks are as slow as anyone in the league. They are also one of the toughest teams around and must play that way.
New York has some of the NBA's most physical players at every position.
In the paint, the Knicks have a ton of size with Chandler, Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby. Carmelo Anthony is a load for a power forward to handle, let alone a wing. Ronnie Brewer is as strong as any swingman in the league. And while Jason Kidd is now slower than most point guards, he is bigger than just about all of them.
When the Knicks jumped out to their impressive start, the catalyst was unselfish passing that led to open shots. That is not the M.O. for coach Mike Woodson, who is known for playing physical basketball and grinding out victories.
Now is the time for Woodson to enforce his signature style of play. When shooters aren't getting open and the offense isn't ticking, the Knicks can still body up on D and wear opponents down.
It's not an ideal way for the Knicks to play, but this is not an ideal situation. For New York to win without Raymond Felton, compromise is necessary.