Raymond Felton: 5 Reasons He's a Perfect Fit for the Portland Trail Blazers
While teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards spent the 2011 NBA Draft searching for prospects to aid their franchises, the Blazers made their big draft day splash in a three-team trade with the Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets. Though they gave up veteran floor general Andre Miller, the team acquired the incredibly talented Raymond Felton, who can finally give Portland's point guard situation some stability.
Though Miller did a commendable job running the team, it seems like since he came over in a trade with the 76ers two years ago fans have been asking, "Who's going to be the point guard of the future?"
In Felton, Portland gets a team-first player who should be able to easily mesh with the team's core players while enabling them to play a different manner of basketball than they could with Miller at the point.
With the introduction of a new player into such a pivotal position on a team like the Blazers that have really great chemistry, there's bound to be some skepticism, but let's take a look at why Raymond Felton could be the guy who pushes this gifted Portland team over the top.
No.1: He's Athletic Enough to Play at Different Paces
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The Blazers averaged a league-low 90.5 possessions a game last season, and while part of that had to do with the team's injury issues, it also had to do with the 35-year-old Miller playing far better at a slower pace.
Portland has an incredibly athletic roster and needs to get out in transition as often as possible. Though Miller could run the break, Felton could sustain a brisk pace for much longer stretches of time. He excelled in the uptempo systems of Mike D'Antoni and George Karl this year, while also being able to play in a slower, grind-it-out style like the one Nate McMillan uses.
Remember, the majority of Felton's career has been spent with the Charlotte Bobcats, who were excellent at controlling tempo and were one of the league's better defensive teams in the 2009-2010 season.
Even when playing in "seven seconds or less"-type systems like D'Antoni's, Felton was never a poor decision maker, always trying to find the best shot available or the open man instead of chucking a pull-up jumper. He's a capable perimeter defender and paired with Wesley Matthews, Portland would have a backcourt that could really shut down opposing guards.
Felton's proven abilities and versatility allow the team to add a new dynamic to its offense while not compromising the style of basketball that yielded success in the past.
No. 2: He Has Great Chemistry with Big Men
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Any point guard who's going to fill Andre Miller's shoes must be able to play well with L.A., the new face of the franchise and the main option on offense. While it's impossible to know whether LaMarcus Aldridge and Felton will click until the season begins, Felton played very well alongside another star power forward with a very similar offensive game: Amar'e Stoudemire.
It took them a little while to really get in sync, but once they were, Felton and Stoudemire were executing nearly as well as STAT and Steve Nash back in Phoenix. Whether they were playing a pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop game with Stoudemire driving to the basket or nailing an open jump shot, or executing a halfcourt alley-oop with Stoudemire making a backdoor cut, the chemistry of Stoudemire and Felton was really peaking right when he was traded for Carmelo Anthony.
Though he was only in Denver for a couple months, Felton did mesh well with the Nuggets big men Nene and Kenyon Martin.
While Aldridge and Stoudemire are obviously two different players, their offensive games are remarkably similar. Both can hit 17-18 footers with regularity, are athletic enough to catch lob passes and finish at the rim, developed into decent centers for their teams out of necessity and have a solid set of post moves.
If Felton and Aldridge can capture that chemistry that he had with Stoudemire, Aldridge and Felton could become one of the most dominant point guard-forward combinations in the NBA.
No. 3: He Has Excellent Pure Point Guard Abilities
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One of the main reasons Andre Miller thrived in Rip City was because he was a true pass-first point guard on a team with plenty of offensive options, which enabled him to play to his strengths and be a facilitator first and foremost. Raymond Felton's a capable scorer, but the reason Portland traded for him is because he's a true point guard in Miller's vein, not a score-first one like a Russell Westbrook or a Derrick Rose.
Felton's an excellent passer, averaging 8.3 assists per game last season and 9.0 per as a full-time starter in New York. He has excellent court vision and can find the open man and isn't afraid of driving into the paint to collapse the defense so he can kick the ball to the perimeter. He can also throw a nice alley-oop pass, which was undoubtedly on the checklist for the next Blazers point guard.
Felton can execute effectively both out on the break and in the halfcourt, which will make the transition from the fast paced playing styles of the Knicks and Nuggets to Nate McMillan's slower system easier.
Though his number of turnovers is on the high side—2.9 per game last season—he isn't a reckless player and rarely forces the issue. In addition, he has excellent hands, averaging 1.8 steals per game as a starter, and his lateral quickness makes him a solid on-ball defender.
He was even effective playing off the ball with Ty Lawson in Denver, meaning that he doesn't need to have the ball to be a contributor, a huge benefit to a team with a player like Brandon Roy, who thrives with the basketball in his hands.
If Felton can continue to play his game as a prototypical NBA point guard, he should fit right in to the Blazers roster and really strengthen the team as a whole.
No. 4: He Can Shoot Consistently from the Perimeter
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Though Andre Miller is one of the league's consummate point guards, he was lacking in one key skill that really would've helped the Blazers: consistent outside shooting. Miller is a 20.4 percent career three-point shooter, and though he made an impressive 40 percent of his beyond-the-arc attempts in the playoffs, there were many times during the regular season where he was left open on the perimeter and simply couldn't make the shot.
Miller had an excellent post-up game for a point guard, but were he able to hit 20-25 footers with more regularity the Blazers floor spacing would've been much improved, allowing for open lanes to the basket for slashers like Gerald Wallace or Nicolas Batum.
Portland also traded Rudy Fernandez, who—when he wasn't complaining about playing for the Blazers—could usually light it up from three. He went through a major slump last season, but prior to that he had been a major part of the offense and was integral in the team's floor spacing and offensive execution.
Felton shot 35.3 percent from deep this past season, including a stellar 45.9 percent during his 21 games with the Nuggets. Pairing Felton with Wes Matthews gives Portland a backcourt that can really stretch out a defense as well as any in the NBA.
With the additions of Felton, as well as draft picks Nolan Smith and Jon Diebler, the Blazers could go from being one of the poorer three-point shooting teams in the league to one of the best.
No. 5: Felton Can Be the "Point Guard of the Future"
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The Blazers took a risk on Felton, who has one year remaining on his contract, that he'll want to stay in Portland and become the team's point guard long term. Felton wanted out of Denver so he could resume a starting role and has to be happy ending up on a competitive, playoff team like the Blazers when he could have easily been dealt to Sacramento and forced to play for a team in a massive rebuilding phase.
Should this season (if there is a season at all) be successful for Portland and Felton, the team will likely offer him a new contract to stay with the team for the next few years and there's simply no reason not to. Felton's 26 and is in the prime of his career. There are only a handful of elite teams who need a quality point guard, and Portland is one of the few that stand a chance at paying his salary with a new CBA significantly lowering the salary cap.
He's also expressed a desire to be in Portland long term, which he told the press during his introduction to the team last Thursday. Considering Felton has really bounced around the past two years from Charlotte to New York to Denver to Portland now, it's understandable he wants to find a team he meshes with and stay there, and Portland's as good a fit as any.
As a player, Felton is extremely durable, playing in 474 of 492 total games and less than 78 games a season only this year, which was partially due to him being traded. Felton has averaged more than 30 minutes a game since his rookie year and has had no significant injuries throughout his career.
If all goes well, the Blazers' core of Aldridge, Batum, Wallace, Matthews, Felton could be together for the next seven to eight years and could really become a powerhouse in the Western Conference.