Knicks Bench Raymond Felton, but That Won't Solve Their Point Guard Issues

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Knicks Bench Raymond Felton, but That Won't Solve Their Point Guard Issues
USA Today

In many ways, the New York Knicks looked like the same old team in their 94-90 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night, their third defeat in a row.

They were led in scoring by Old Reliable, Carmelo Anthony. They foolishly stuck to their "double every big" defensive game plan, running a second defender at offensive non-entities like Portland's Robin Lopez while allowing wide-open three-pointers to the Blazers, the team with the second-best combined three-point shooting percentage in the entire league. 

But one aspect of the loss was noticeably different: Woodson kept starting point guard Raymond Felton glued to the bench throughout the fourth quarter.

Starting shooting guard (and reserve point guard) Pablo Prigioni manned the point for all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter, and the Knicks responded well, outscoring Portland 22-17 in the quarter. While it wasn't enough to capture the win, it was a positive development for those who would like to see Felton's minutes cut.

Though Felton was a key contributor on last season's 54-win Knicks team, he finds himself increasingly under fire in 2013-14, the worst statistical season of his nine-year NBA career. Felton came into Tuesday posting career lows in points per game (11.6), three-point shooting percentage (29.9), free-throw attempts per game (1.8) and free-throw percentage (70.6), all while playing absolutely wretched defense for New York.

Felton has grown testy with the media recently, walking out without answering questions following New York's 101-98 loss to the league-worst Milwaukee Bucks on Monday, in a game that saw him torched repeatedly down the stretch by opposing point guard Brandon Knight.

Following Wednesday's loss, he did his best to explain away his media no-show on Monday, per Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal:

He also wisely couched his reaction to his fourth quarter in diplomatic team-speak, praising Prigioni for his performance:

But make no mistake, the Knicks now have a serious Felton problem. As the team's floor general, he is often the difference between victory and defeat, and his struggles are bringing the Knicks down with him, per Herring:

Felton is turning the ball over almost 20% of the time in pick-and-roll situations, and his shooting percentage is the lowest it's been since 2006-07. And those shots matter: The Knicks are 10-3 this season when Felton shoots better than 40%, but just 4-15 when he shoots worse than 40%.

That 56% disparity in winning percentage is easily the biggest in the league among point guards, according to Stats LLC. Indeed, a handful of stout defenses, Chicago's in particular, have utilized game plans that show they're content with simply letting Felton shoot.

That record is now 4-16, as Felton finished Wednesday night's game shooting 2-of-6 from the field (33.3 percent). 

It appears the Knicks need to replace Felton's minutes. But who can they turn to?

 

The Candidates

The Knicks have four point guards on the roster—each with his own strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, those weaknesses usually far outweigh the strengths.

Here is a side-by-side comparison, updated through Wednesday afternoon, in terms of player efficiency rating (PER) and win shares per 48 minutes (WS/48):

The Knicks' Four Point Guards
MP PER (15 is average) WS/48 (.100 is average)
Raymond Felton 1043 12.1 .031
Pablo Prigioni 627 12.2 .114
Beno Udrih 588 12.6 .054
Toure' Murry 229 11.7 .013

www.basketball-reference.com

 

1. Pablo Prigioni

Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

He's been the Knicks' best point guard over the past two seasons, and he has been starting recently as Mike Woodson has gone back to last year's two-point guard lineups. If he were seven years younger, there is no doubt he would be starting at the point.

But Prigioni is 36 years old and has already missed significant time with a fractured toe. He is the best team defender among New York's guards (by far), but he struggles when matched up on quicker, younger point guards. He simply might not be able to take a massive increase in minutes.

 

2. Beno Udrih

Though he is just as terrible a defender as Felton, Beno Udrih has had a better season thanks to a 42.5 three-point shooting percentage. He isn't worth playing when his shots aren't falling, but unlike Felton, his shots do occasionally fall in.

But Udrih has run afoul of the Knicks brass and has already requested a trade out of New York, per ESPN New York's Ian Begley. He clearly doesn't get along with Woodson, and the Knicks head coach has simply stopped playing him. Udrih hasn't seen a minute of playing time since the Knicks' blowout win on Jan. 24.

Udrih won't play serious minutes again for the Knicks unless Woodson is fired or another point guard goes down with injury.

 

3. Toure' Murry

The 24-year-old rookie has a chance to develop into a credible rotation guard, thanks to his athletic on-the-ball defense and pick-and-roll skills. But he needs to develop a jump shot, and he needs to find an organization to develop him.

That probably won't happen with the Knicks, who have shown time and again that they have little use for developing young players.

 

Moot Point

Have the Knicks reached the breaking point with Felton? Knowing Woodson, probably not.

Woodson is one of the most stubborn coaches in the NBA. He doesn't want to increase Prigioni's minutes for practical reasons. He doesn't want to play Udrih for personal reasons. And he won't play a raw rookie like Murry for philosophical reasons.

He is loathe to give up on players who have already earned his trust. Felton is clearly one of those players. He may have been benched on Wednesday, but Woodson is likely to put him right back into the fourth-quarter rotation in the next game.

This wouldn't be the first time Woodson has benched a player for the fourth quarter, only to reinsert him into the lineup one game later. He pulled the same trick with shooting guard J.R. Smith in New York's 111-106 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Dec. 14.

Though the Knicks played well without the struggling Smith, and pulled away for the win, Smith was back in the lineup for the next game. He would continue to play poorly and annoy the organization for nearly an entire month, before Woodson finally benched him for an entire game on Jan. 9 against the Miami Heat.

Instead, Woodson probably used Wednesday's fourth-quarter benching as a wake-up call for his struggling point guard. Felton will likely play most of the fourth quarter on Friday night against the Denver Nuggets.

The question now becomes how Felton will respond? Is he even capable of raising his game in the near future? Judging from what we've seen so far this season, the answer is no.

 

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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