Raymond Felton's Return Will Spark NY Knicks Back to Contender Status

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJanuary 26, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 17: Raymond Felton #2 of the New York Knicks celebrates his shot as Carlos Delfino #10 of the Houston Rockets runs up the court on December 17, 2012 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Since Raymond Felton has been shelved with a hand injury, the New York Knicks have been cruising the skies without a qualified pilot.

No team can afford to lose the guy who quarterbacks the offense, particularly one whose two backups are a combined 69 years old.

Without Felton, the Knicks have reverted back to Carmelo Anthony versus the world.

Felton gives the team order. A lineup consisting of Melo, J.R. Smith and Amar'e Stoudemire needs someone to allocate the touches accordingly. 

Felton is also the only member of the Knicks with the ability to break down the defense off the dribble. Against teams like Boston, Indiana and Chicago, all of whom the Knicks lost to over the past few weeks, passing the ball around the perimeter and waiting for someone to shoot don't make up a formula for success.

He gives the team some bounce, something that can't necessarily be quantified.

Carmelo's offensive potency has been able to keep New York's head above water, but there isn't much room for error. Against the premier teams in the league, Felton is a weapon the Knicks just can't go to battle without. Before going down, he was contributing 15.8 points and 6.3 assists, a substantial chunk of the Knicks' total offense.

With Felton sidelined, there have been a lot of jump shots and off-balance looks at the rim. He'll immediately allow the offense to get some easy points in the half court, whether it's off a pick-and-roll to Tyson Chandler or one of Felton's strong takes to the rack.

Not only does Felton's return help the Knicks restock their depth, but he bolsters the starting lineup and gives them a lethal closing unit. A lineup featuring Felton, Iman Shumpert or J.R. Smith, Melo, Amar'e and Chandler has the makeup and balance of a title contender.

We saw the Knicks' potential during the first quarter of the year, and then we saw it fade. Upon Felton's return, the Knicks will be close to full strength for the first time all year.

We haven't even seen their best yet.

If we're getting into specifics, Felton gives New York an advantage at the point guard position against Mario Chalmers and Miami and helps neutralize a healthy Derrick Rose. Just his toughness on the perimeter makes playing the Knicks a more strenuous experience.

Now that Shumpert is healthy, Felton is the last piece to complete the nucleus. With a core that's finally intact, the Knicks are about to put the rest of the league on high alert.