The Boston Celtics have a general idea for how they'd like to defend Raymond Felton in their first-round series against the New York Knicks.
That idea tracks with the way most teams have tried to defend Felton throughout his career. Because Felton has generally been a poor outside shooter—33.4 percent from three—since entering the league out of North Carolina eight years ago, teams will most often have his defender go under the screen on pick-and-rolls, while having the big man defender hang back near the lane to bait him into long jumpers.
There are times when Felton happily takes that bait and goes extended stretches just taking pull-up jumpers and not attacking the lane out of pick-and-rolls. This is giving the defense exactly what it wants. Felton and the Knicks are far better off when he uses the space he's given to attack the lane and either get a layup or draw extra defenders to create an open shot for one of his teammates.
Throughout this opening round, Felton has been aggressive in attacking that space more often than not. As a result, he is 11-for-18 from the field as a pick-and-roll ball handler, according to mySynergySports. Eight of those 11 baskets have been layups, and two were jumpers inside the lane. All told, he's 8-for-11 on layups and 3-for-7 on jumpers, but 1-for-4 on jumpers outside the lane, out of the pick-and-roll.
The fact that he's doing this against Boston, which ranked third best in the league at defending pick-and-roll ball handlers this season, is all the more impressive. The Celtics allowed just 0.72 points per play to pick-and-roll ball handlers this season, holding them to just 38.7 percent shooting and forcing turnovers on 21.7 percent of possessions, per Synergy.
Meanwhile, Felton is shooting 61.1 percent from the field and has dished eight assists to only two turnovers out of the pick-and-roll thus far.
As with his scoring, the key to Felton's assists out of the pick-and-roll has been his aggression coming around the screen. Look how much open space he has here as he comes off a double screen from Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony in delayed transition. The Celtics want him to enter that pocket of space and pull up for what is sure to be an open jumper, but Felton attacks the space hard and heads toward the basket.
Felton draws multiple Celtics defenders by the time he gets to the basket, which gives him a nice angle to dump the ball off to Chandler for an easy dunk.
This is when Felton is at his best—when he attacks downhill and makes the defense make a decision between allowing him a layup or committing an extra defender to stopping him. Here, he draws three defenders on his way to the basket and throws some sort of balloon pass out to JR Smith outside the arc for a three.
When he's being that aggressive, that forces the Celtics to alter their strategy a bit. Look how much farther out Kevin Garnett is on this Felton-Chandler pick-and-roll than he was in the first quarter. The screen is being set at the exact same spot on the floor—right at the three point line—but Garnett jumps all the way out to cut off Felton's dribble penetration this time rather than allow him to get directly into the lane. So what does Felton do?
If Felton had his choice, he'd probably throw this exact pass every time down the court. He's taken to hunting lobs at times this season rather than just taking them as they come, but when the Celtics defend him like this, they're gifting him one.
It's bad enough for the Celtics that they have to deal with defending Anthony and Smith off the dribble in this series, but things start to get impossible when Felton gets the pick-and-roll game working.
Chandler and Kenyon Martin just dive to the rim and waits for their lobs, Anthony, Smith, Iman Shumpert, Jason Kidd, Pablo Prigioni and Steve Novak spread out around the arc and wait for kick-outs, where they can either shoot or drive.
Felton is the key to their spread attack, though; when he's getting in the lane and drawing multiple defenders on his way to the rim, it makes everyone else's job that much easier.
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