There is no doubt the New York Knicks upgraded when they unloaded Jeremy Lin in favor of Raymond Felton. The Raymond Felton-Jason Kidd tandem instantly hushed the echoes of Linsanity in Madison Square Garden’s rafters—and in the media.
Jason Kidd, intended originally as an insurance policy and veteran, playoff-experienced presence, has mostly exceeded expectations, pushing the limits of age to help catapult the Knicks toward the top of the Eastern Conference. His seamless slip into the No. 2 paid huge dividends early on.
Remember how locally, nationally and globally huge Jeremy Lin was when he burst onto the scene? What now? How often do you hear about Jeremy Lin?
Compare the hype of 2011-12 with today. No comparison.
And what about the bottom line?
Even with that respectable Carmelo Anthony-less loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder, New York once again has a hold of the second seed in the East, tied with the Indiana Pacers. Neither will catch the Miami Heat, who have extended their lead to eight games.
But with the rest of the conference fading, it’s a good bet the Knicks will finish second or third and face any of the five other teams who refuse to outpace one another.
The Knicks have rocketed from a seventh-seed, 4-1 first-round loser in 2011-12 to where they are now: a viable contender to make the Eastern Finals.
One can point and say Anthony, Tyson Chandler, or even J.R. Smith are the reasons for the Knicks’ big (and greater than expected) turnaround, but they were all here last season. Yes, they have been playing at or above their best levels, but the real difference in this team over last year is to be found in the new backcourt.
“Felton is just as important to this team as Carmelo Anthony or Tyson Chandler,” says CBS’ John Schmeelk:
When Felton is on the floor this year, the Knicks have a 111.9 offensive efficiency rating, higher than any other player on the team. This can be traced to the ball and player movement that comes from the Knicks’ pick-and-roll offense with Felton up top.
Bleacher Report columnist Ciaran Gowan points out Jason Kidd’s “huge impact”:
Kidd keeps everyone accountable and under control. [He] may no longer be the triple-double threat he once was, but [he] shows that he still contributes in multiple categories, ranging from points, assists, rebounds, steals and even blocks.
The Knicks suffer greatly when Felton and Kidd are either out or not playing to par.
Felton’s finger injury was felt by the whole team: The 20-8 Knicks hit the skids when Raymond hit the bench, going 6-6 with the point guard out. Collaterally, Felton’s absence wore Kidd down.
Kidd's arms (and back) are tired. His field-goal percentage is significantly down from the first months of the season, and his contributions have waned.
The result is a much weaker squad. Since the Felton injury, the Knicks have gone from a .714 club (20-8) to a .548 one (37-22). That is a huge drop in percentage attributed to just a couple of role players, really.
Together, Felton and Kidd average 22 points, nearly 10 assists, 10 rebounds and three steals per game. They cough up a not-too-bad 3.5 balls a game. And they play some defense, too.
Meanwhile, Lin and the Houston Rockets hang onto the seventh seed out West with the Los Angeles Lakers stirring and stalking. The Rockets should at least finish eighth, though, and squeak into the postseason. Either way, they will be a one-and-done against the San Antonio Spurs or Thunder.
Houston didn’t make the postseason last year, finishing ninth. While the Rockets are now a playoff team, they really haven’t improved that much—and that’s with the addition of James Harden, too.
The Rockets do have the No. 1 offense in the league, though, posting a huge 107 PPG. And Lin does have something to do with it, as summed up in the New York Times:
Lin has been a solid if unexceptional contributor…as his 12.8 points and 6.2 assists a game attest. The Rockets’ up-tempo offense, along with their commitment to spreading the floor around the pick-and-roll, fits Lin’s skills wonderfully. The result is not exactly Linsanity redux, but he is developing into a point guard who could be a factor in the N.B.A. for years to come.
True, the question might have a different answer two years from now, but in 2012-13, the results show the Knicks are an improved, contending team with Felton and Kidd over Lin.
The Knicks essentially got a two-for-one deal—and on the cheap. They swapped a young, inexperienced, somewhat-talented guard with a bit of potential for two players who bring better statistics and leadership, more experience and, in the end, a better record and team—all for about $8M less over the next three seasons.
Admittedly, New York has some issues to work out. None of which would have been solved by Mr. Lin.
All stats used in this article are accurate as of Mar. 7, 2013.