The addition of Raymond Felton was one of the best moves the New York Knicks made in the offseason, and as the season winds down, he is going to have a huge impact on whether or not his team can make a deep playoff run.
As the team's point guard, Felton is clearly an important player. The position was the team's biggest need in the summer and he's been a huge upgrade for the Knicks to this point.
Before Felton's arrival, the team struggled offensively. Jeremy Lin helped out in February, but for the most part, the offense was stagnant as there was no one truly capable of running the show.
Since Felton made his return to New York, the Knicks have been a much different team. The ball has actually been moving in the offense, which has emerged as one of the league's top three units in terms of efficiency.
The additions of veterans Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni have also helped out, but Felton is much more important because he can create his own shot and penetrate.
Unlike the other two point guards, Felton is still very much in his prime, as the 2012-13 season has probably been the best year of his career so far.
Felton's presence at the point has actually allowed Kidd to log a lot more minutes off the ball, where he has thrived as a shooter and a second passing presence in the backcourt.
By penetrating the lane and running the pick-and-roll with Tyson Chandler, Felton has truly become the heart of the Knicks' offense. He makes things happen for the big men and opens up space on the perimeter, which the Knicks have used to emerge as the league leader in three-pointers.
Equally important is Felton's ability to score himself. He's an improved shooter and is capable of finishing in traffic. He may have lost weight over the summer, but he's still strong for his position and is deceptively fast as well.
Felton was fantastic to start the season, averaging 14.6 points per game in November while shooting 40 percent from outside.
After a series of hand injuries in December, however, he just hasn't been the same. His field-goal percentage has dropped to 41 percent and his three-point percentage has fallen to 35 percent.
Not coincidentally, the Knicks have also struggled over the same period, going from 15-5 in November to 23-17 since then. Whilst Felton was out with a fractured finger, they were only 6-6 and looked frankly terrible on offense.
Carmelo Anthony is the Knicks' star and Chandler is their defensive anchor, but those 12 games without Felton proved that he is their most important role player. Without him, the Knicks just break down.
Put simply, they need everything he brings to the table because there's no one else on the roster who can do it. He's the only point guard who can penetrate, run the floor in the fast break and find his own shot, all of which are essential to New York's offense.
For the Knicks to succeed in the playoffs and make a deep run, Felton will have to return to his early-season form. They need a consistent second scoring option behind Melo now that Amar's Stoudemire is out, as well as a point guard who can make things easier for the other role players.
The Knicks are at their best when Felton is at his best. So long as Melo is playing at an MVP-level and Chandler is holding down the paint, Felton's play will be the difference between a playoff team and a true title contender.
Stats used in this article were accurate as of March 11, 2013.
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