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Raymond Felton Is the Key to NY Knicks' Contender Status This Season

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Raymond Felton Is the Key to NY Knicks' Contender Status This Season
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The fate of the New York Knicks in 2013-14 will largely be determined by Carmelo Anthony.

Melo will need help from his shot-happy buddy J.R. Smith, the hot-and-cold Iman Shumpert and an oft-injured power forward in Amar’e Stoudemire on his journey to a potential title.

But more than anyone else, Anthony will need Raymond Felton.

Felton is the forgotten member of the Knicks. He’s the one who always gets the blame in tough times and never the credit when things are going well.

But the stocky, hard-nosed guard will be the key to New York’s championship chase in 2014.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

After thriving with Stoudemire during the first half of the 2011 season, Felton was sent to the Denver Nuggets in the deal that brought Melo to the Big Apple.

He soon found himself out of shape and unhappy on the Portland Trail Blazers during Jeremy Lin’s “Linsanity,” but he ended up with the Knicks once again a summer ago. Outrage ensued when the team let its breakout star sign with the Houston Rockets, but Felton was confident the Knicks were making the right decision.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

And he was correct.

The University of North Carolina graduate put up about 14 points and six assists per game for New York last season. He hit big shots, made clutch plays and dished out highlight assists.

But his hot streaks were too often followed by ice-cold stretches.

In the first round of the playoffs against the Boston Celtics, Felton showed up—17 points and five assists per game on 47 percent shooting. Against the Indiana Pacers in the next round, though, he was nowhere to be found.

With the season and the team’s title hopes on the brink of elimination in Game 6 against Indy, Felton managed just two points and missed all seven of his attempts from the field.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

But that was the old Felton—the one who succumbed to the big moment. Next season he'll be ready when the time comes. He's already got his sights set on a 2014 playoff run, as reported by ESPN's Jared Zwerling.

I thought we had a great year. Unfortunately, it didn't end the way we wanted it to, but it's something to build from. We got past the first round, which we haven't done in 13 years, so we've got to get over that hump. As long as we get better each and every year, our goal is to get out of the second round and then move on to the Eastern Conference finals, and see what happens when we get to that point.

The Knicks launched a lot of three-pointers (the most in the league, actually) and thrived off of chemistry last season. But when facing adversity, they reverted back to Melo-ball—otherwise known as the “give the ball to Anthony and get out of the way” offense.

Felton needs to demand the ball next season, even in crucial moments—he’s the point guard, and that's his job.

Anthony is a great player, but he isn’t LeBron James. The Knicks can’t just hand him the offense every single night and hope he carries them to a win. Likewise, they can't reach the postseason and expect Anthony to single-handedly win a championship.

Melo absolutely has the capability of doing so, but not every game. New York will go no further than it did last season being dragged along by one guy.

Last season, Felton would either shoot too many times or not enough on a given night. In 2013-14, his erratic shot total needs to find a happy medium, even if his actual average doesn’t change statistically.

A healthy 13 shots per night (his 2012-13 average) is much better than heaving up close to 20 one night and fewer than 10 the next.

After coming into training camp last season lighter and slimmer, Felton says he’s shed another 15 pounds over the summer, according to Ian Begley of ESPN New York. The less weight he’s carrying, the easier it’ll be for him to split double-teams and cause havoc in the paint.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Although Jason Kidd is gone, Mike Woodson is still going to run his patented two-guard offense primarily through Felton and Pablo Prigioni, as well as the new addition at guard, Beno Udrih.

When the 36-year-old Argentine is handing the ball, Felton will give NY another shooter on the perimeter and an addition slasher if the play breaks down.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Per Synergy Sports, Felton connected on an extremely efficient 78 percent of his attempts while cutting to the basket and hit on 40 percent of his shots as a spot-up shooter.

But when he's running the offense, Felton has the ability to dive sharply into the paint and let Tyson Chandler finish at the rim.

There are going to be games where Smith goes for 30. There will also be nights that Shumpert can’t miss and times when Stoudemire appears to travel back to his 2008 Phoenix Suns days.

But those guys can’t do it every night.

The Knicks lacked a reliable offensive threat outside of Anthony last season, but Felton will take over that role in 2013-14.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

He won’t score more than Smith, have as many highlight dunks as Shumpert or take over on a given night as Stoudemire can.

Nonetheless, Felton will give his team a consistent effort that it can count on each and every night. He’ll never be the superstar and, more often than not, he’ll receive a lot of blame when the Knicks lose.

But without Felton next season, the Knicks have no shot at making a title run.

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