Last year, the world was introduced to "Linsanity" in all of its pomp and splendor. On Feb. 4, 2012, a young man largely unknown to the casual NBA fan stepped in to the bright lights and on to the big stage of Madison Square Garden to begin living a dream. A dream that was deferred for a time after Lin was cut by the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets. He would lead the Knicks through their most exciting February in recent memory.
Jeremy Lin has since gone on to greener monetary pastures with the Houston Rockets, and the New York Knicks are fighting the Miami Heat for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. It appears that all is well that ends well, and point guard Raymond Felton is a large reason why. He is currently averaging 14.9 points, 6.3 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game and will match his high mark for season average if he continues scoring at the same rate.
In Houston, Lin has been placed alongside combo guard James Harden, arguably the best combo guard in the game today, and now the man who once sparked an international media frenzy is enjoying his third season in the NBA, averaging 12.5 points per game to go along with 6.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds.
Though the after glow of "Linsanity" has since faded, many Lin fans are still disappointed he left, while fans of the seemingly steadier Felton are glad to have him back.
They both showed, and continue to show, flashes of being downtown point guards who get down to business, while delighting the crowd with of uptown flare. Felton has started 37 games for the Knicks this season, Lin started 25 games for New York in 2011-12.
So, who was/is better for the Knicks? I have selected five categories to measure their comparable skill sets: scoring, rebounding, assists/play-making ability, strength and athleticism, and defense.
The Tale of the Tape
Jeremy Lin (6'3", 200 lbs.)
The former phenomenon known as Jeremy Lin is indicative of being in the right place at the right time. The Knicks were floundering out of the gate at the start of the strike-shortened season of 2011-12 with an 8-15 record.
Shoot-first combo guard Toney Douglas was starting at point guard at the time because of a season-ending injury to Chauncey Billups. He was backed up by aging point guard Mike Bibby, another player whose best attribute was his shooting, and he was not doing that very well at the time either.
There was very little ball movement for the Knicks, and the stagnant offense was not unlike water collected in a filthy garbage can—it stunk to high heaven. Lin would get his shot when Douglas went down with an injury, and back up guard Bibby failed to provide the Knicks' with a needed spark to get them over the hump. After not starting the first two games of the month, Lin would go on to average 19.4 points per game in the month of February, averaging a jaw-dropping 26.3 ppg and 9.2 assists over his first 10 starts.
Lin would miss the last 17 games of the regular season and playoffs due to injury. But, when asked if Lin was going to be a Knick the following year, coach Mike Woodson said the Knicks would "absolutely" match the four-year, $28.8 million offer sheet the Houston Rockets presented to Lin. I suppose "absolutely" doesn't quite have the same meaning as in the past. Lin would later sign with the Rockets where he currently starts alongside James Harden.
Raymond Felton (6'0", 205 pounds)
Felton was drafted by the Charlotte Bobcats. The now New York Knicks point guard, Felton has had a pretty decent run so far in the NBA. However, he seems to start off hot early each season before eventually falling back toward the mediocrity line of demarcation by the All Star break. Despite that, Felton is averaging a very respectable 13.2 points, 6.7 assists, 3.3 rebounds per game for his career.
The year he was traded to the Denver Nuggets, Felton was averaging a career best 17.1 points per game, along with a career best 9.1 assists over 54 games. However, he would only average 11.5 points per game and 6.5 assists in 21 games coming off the bench for the Nuggets, having to share minutes at the point with Ty Lawson, Andre Miller and a swirling cast of others.
The 2010-11 season began as the best of a myriad of Felton's "Get Smart" seasons in which he would miss taking his game to the next level for whatever reason. At times, I feel like I've been watching Felton struggle to let out a big sneeze for eight years, as he's been "almost" and "kind of" pretty good his entire career. Sneeze already, man! In 2011-12, Felton would play for the Portland Trailblazers before resigning with the Knicks for the 2012-13 season.
Jeremy Lin is averaging 13.5 points per game on 44 percent shooting from the field, 32 percent from three-point range and 78 percent from the free throw line over his last 88 games, which includes 10 games that he did not start prior to "Linsanity" in February of 2012.
Raymond Felton is averaging 13.1 points per game on 40 percent shooting from the field over his last 95 games, which includes his time as a Portland Trailblazer. Felton also shot 33.4 percent from 3 point range and 79 percent on freebies.
The scoring averages of both Lin and Felton are very similar, but a closer look at the numbers tells a tale of offensive efficiency—or lack thereof. Lin is averaging slightly more points per game than Felton and is shooting the ball at a higher percentage (44 percent to 40 percent), while Felton is shooting the three ball at a slightly better rate (33.4 percent to 32 percent). Felton averaged 3.7 three-point attempts per game while Lin shot only 2.5. Lin has 19 games of at least 20 points since Feb. 4, 2012. Felton has 12 such games over the same time frame.
Felton shoots more, but the numbers say Lin is the better shooter. Scoring advantage Lin.
You don't expect rebounding from point guards because they're generally the smallest players on the floor. But for the sake of this comparison that's okay, because Lin and Felton (averaging 3.3 and 2.7 respective rebounds per game over the course of the last two seasons) will never be mistaken for Reggie Evans. Neither have had a double digit rebound game within the past calender year.
This category is what separates the guards from the point guards. Both Jeremy Lin and Raymond Felton are good passers with a penchant for occasional flashiness. Both are great lob passers as well.
Lin is averaging 6.1 assists per game since last February to Felton's 6.4 assists. Both players played, albeit briefly for Lin, under Mike D'Antoni and flourished in his run-and-gun style offense, which relied heavily on point guard play and decision making. Turnovers were seen as somewhat of a necessary evil in that offense.
Lin sported a dismal 1.71 assist to turnover ratio as a Knick, and turned the ball over almost as much as he assisted on scoring plays. Felton's assist to turnover ratio under D'Antoni was 2.83. A five-year veteran during his first stint in New York, Felton had more experience running the point on the NBA level, and took fewer risks than the flashier Lin.
This likely explains the deep crevice that exists in this category between the two. Felton's assist to turnover ratio since leaving and returning New York is about 2.47 while Lin's is now a very efficient 2.06.
The improvement in Lin's ratio may likely be attributed to All-Star combo guard James Harden (averaging 5.7 assists to 3.8 turnovers per game) taking over much of the ball handling responsibilities during Lin's current stint with the Houston Rockets. In addition, Harden does not need to be fed the basketball to score and is a very capable facilitator himself.
Advantage to Felton.
Both Felton and Lin are pretty decent at finishing over length with the floater, and scoring over and under defenders with an assortment of difficult shots—many of which involve precision body control, switching to their off-hand in traffic, or both. Though both can dunk, Lin's length (6'3", 200 lbs.) and quickness give him the clear athletic advantage here.
Meanwhile, Felton's running back build (6'1", 205 lbs.) allows him to clear space with his body and seal defenders off the dribble en route to the basket. Once he turns the corner, it is very difficult to alter Felton's path without committing an obvious foul.
When Lin attacks the rim off the dribble, he relies on a deceptively quick first step. But his quickness is sometimes negated when defenders are allowed to bump him in ways officials might otherwise find excessive.
Unfortunately for Lin, games aren't called the same way all the time. His first game against the Miami Heat, for example, Lin turned the ball over eight times, and if memory serves me correctly Dwayne Wade and Mario Chalmers were allowed to be hands on defensively.
Despite that, the point guard needs to be strong enough to maintain his balance and dribble when bumped until the whistle blows. Otherwise, a turnover is likely to occur. Lin is clearly the quicker, more agile of the two. But Raymond Felton's strength advantage is just as clear. For the sake of comparing the two, one attribute negates the other.
It's a tie.
Jeremy Lin is currently ranked 4th in the NBA in steals with 1.9 per game. Raymond Felton is ranked 44th with 1.1 per game. A good ball thief does not make a great defender, though. Point guard, taken literally, means to lead the defensive attack, and to be the first line of defense.
But, with all due respect, Felton appears to be dancing to jazz when attempting to guard speedy point guards, like Chris Paul, the way he seems to shake, shimmy, jump, jive, jiggle and spin trying to keep them in front of him.
Lin's wingspan, quickness and anticipation give him a substantial advantage playing passing lanes, but he gets crossed over at least twice a game because he reaches and gambles just a bit too much.
Be that as it may, advantage Lin.
When "Linsanity" was peaking, the New York Knicks reaped the financial rewards via attendance, increased viewership and merchandising. Jeremy Lin almost seemed ambivalent toward his new found stardom. Raymond Felton was clearly disappointed when he was initially traded during the 2010-11 season, and I can't say I blame him. Raymond was on track for a career year in points and assists.
Now, after stops in Denver and Portland, Felton is a key reason why the Knicks have the record they have. The team needed a point guard to facilitate to Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Ama're Stoudimire and especially Tyson Chandler—who does not have the ability to create a shot for himself.
But said guard must also be able to score the basketball effectively and efficiently when called upon to do so.
Though Felton tends to get caught up in a dueling mindset when the league's top point guards come to town, he is about as steady as they come as illustrated by his career average of 13 points per game and his current assist to turnover ratio. Lin is currently in his third year in the NBA and now has the privilege of learning from one of the best in the business in James Harden.
Learning experiences in the NBA are usually taught from the bench, but Lin is starting alongside his would-be mentor. Lin's uncanny court vision trumps Felton's. There are certain passing angles he sees that many starting point guards in the league cannot or do not see. However, Lin's confidence in said court vision may have something to do with his turnover issue as well.
Some passes, even if you see that creative angle that no one else does, still should not be thrown. Lin's fearless, lightning quick forays into the paint are just as frequent and acrobatic in Houston as they were in New York, as is his occasionally habit of dropping 25-plus points once or twice a month.
But, as in the classic tale of tortoise vs. hare, slow and steady wins the race. The New York Knicks, as a championship contender, need stability at the point guard position over virtually all other attributes if a deep playoff run is to occur.
Six or seven assists, play hard-nosed defense, score between 12 and 15 a night and don't turn the ball over. While Lin's projected upside is through the roof, he still has much to learn about running the point in the NBA. If I were building a Knick team for the future, Lin would be my choice. But the Knicks aren't building for the future. They are locked and stocked to win the NBA championship now.
Lin wins on scoring, rebounding, defense and shot selection, but seven-year veteran Felton, at his best, is exactly what the Knicks need right now. Walt "Clyde" Frazier isn't walking through the locker room door any time soon, and if he does he won't be wearing a uniform. Felton is scheduled to make over $3 million this season to Lin's $8 million. Felton is clearly the better fiscal value.
While Lin has more upside, Felton is a steady NBA vet with an obvious chip on his shoulder.
He wants to win big, and he wants to win right now. The benefit of having a veteran point guard in the NBA playoffs in critical situations cannot be overstated.
Overall advantage Raymond Felton.