Comparing Early Season Performances of Jeremy Lin and Raymond Felton

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistDecember 27, 2012

Comparing Early Season Performances of Jeremy Lin and Raymond Felton

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    Jeremy Lin’s unceremonious departure from the New York Knicks initially caused unrest, but both the Knicks and Houston Rockets have benefited from the transaction.

    When the 24-year-old leaped off the bench to save a Knicks team plummeting down the standings, Lin became a fan favorite in the Big Apple. After scoring 14.6 points per game and capturing the country’s affection, Lin’s return to the Knicks seemed like a mere formality.

    So it stung that much more when Lin signed an offer sheet with Houston that New York failed to match.

    The Rockets, before acquiring James Harden, needed someone to draw excitement to a squad that constantly finished just shy of a playoff bid. Angry at Lin for forcing their hand with a backloaded contract, the Knicks turned back to Raymond Felton, who led the team two seasons ago before they shipped him away in the package for Carmelo Anthony.

    Around one-third into the season, both the Knicks and Rockets can feel satisfied with their decisions since each point guard is playing at a high level for a team surpassing expectations.

    Let’s take a further look to see how New York’s former floor general stacks up against its new one.

Scoring

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    At first glance, Felton is running circles around Lin offensively, but a closer look says otherwise.

    Felton is averaging 15.8 points per game to Lin’s 11.9, but the higher average stems from significantly more shot attempts.

    While Felton is attempting a career-high 16.4 shots a game, Lin is putting up 10.5 field goals per night.

    Lin was expected to score at a less efficient rate in Houston, but he’s the one picking his spots while Felton continues to jack up shots.

    After a slow start, Lin is now posting a 42.7 field-goal percentage. After a blazing start, Felton is now registering a 39.6 scoring percentage.

    Both players function at their maximum capacity when driving to the basket. Still in need of a better jumper, Lin has only converted 28.6 percent of his three-pointers.

    Felton shoots 35.3 percent from long range, but he’s missed all 15 of his three-point attempts through the past five games.

Ball Distribution

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    In terms of running the show, Lin and Felton are nearly even.

    Felton has shelled out 6.3 assists per game this year, which sits around par with his 6.7 career average.

    Lin lies slightly behind at 6.2 dimes per contest. Although Lin averaged the same amount last year, those numbers were accumulated in about five less minutes a night.

    When Lin burst onto the scene in New York, he was the first point guard since Felton left who could aptly manage the offense. Knicks fans reveled at finally having someone who could handle a pick-and-roll.

    Without Lin, the Knicks have spread the floor and hit the open man with precision. Felton helps greatly, but Jason Kidd’s presence truly has shifted the Knicks’ offense into a graceful work of art.

    Nobody shoots more three-pointers than the Knicks, but the Rockets are a close second. Lin is managing a high-powered, fast-paced Houston offense hitting its stride.

    Over a current five-game winning streak, Lin has averaged 7.4 assists and Houston has tallied at least 120 points in three of the victories.

    Turnovers still plague Lin occasionally, but he's slashed the rate significantly from 3.6 to 2.8 per game. 

Defense

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    Lin’s flaws on the defensive end helped justified New York’s decision to cut him loose.

    While Lin won’t lock down a spot on the All-Defensive Team any time soon, he is at least making progress. He has increased his totals for rebounds, blocks and steals in his third professional season.

    Felton, on the other hand, is perceived as one of the NBA’s toughest players who helped reinforce a commitment to sturdy defense in New York.

    But looking at the advanced metrics from Basketball Reference, Lin has actually performed slightly better than Felton defensively this season.

    The site’s Defensive Rating measures how many points a player allows in 100 possessions. Lin has posted a mark of 105 while Felton’s rating sits at 109.

    Felton has posted a 0.6 Defensive Wins Share while Lin has earned a 0.9 DWS, which places him above Kobe Bryant.

    So neither player is a force to be reckoned with defensively, but the disparity of play is not as lofty as some may think.

Head-to-Head Play

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    Any Knicks fans basing their opinion on the two matchups between the Knicks and Rockets this season must wish Lin never skipped town.

    The Knicks are the better overall team, ranked second in the Eastern Conference at 21-8, while the Rockets are hanging on for dear life in a crowded Western Conference at 16-12. You’d never know from watching them face off.

    The Rockets didn't just sneak away with both victories—they won in convincing fashion.  

    On Nov. 23, the Rockets lit up the Knicks in a 131-103 rout. Lin, however, mostly veered out of the way as Harden and Chandler Parsons obliterated the Knicks with a combined 64 points.

    The two point guards played relatively evenly that night. Lin made six out of 12 shots to earn 13 points alongside seven rebounds and three assists while Felton notched 17 points on 11 shots with eight assists. If anything, Felton outperformed Lin individually that night.

    Bu Lin stole the show in their rematch at Madison Square Garden. In front of a crowd unsure how to welcome its former hero, Lin went 9-of-15 for 22 points, eight assists, four boards and two steals.

    Felton scored 14 points, but he missed 11 of his 18 attempts from the field, including four misses from downtown. Houston won by 13 points despite a valiant effort from rookie Chris Copeland in Carmelo Anthony’s absence.

Recent Play

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    Felton and Lin are verging down opposite paths.

    A few weeks ago, any side-by-side comparison would reveal Felton as the clear winner. But lately, the veteran is marred in a slump while Lin and the Rockets are blasting off to relevance.

    After recording a 41.8 field-goal percentage in November, Felton is shooting 37.7 percent this month. He’s scoring more points, but needing far more touches to boost his numbers.

    A left hand injury that Felton has played through could help explain some of his recent struggles, but not why he is battling the pain by taking more shots.

    Meanwhile, Linsanity is spreading once again, this time infecting the Western Conference. Lin is shooting a Lin-credible (he's playing well enough to bring back the Lin puns) 48.2 percent this month.

    Ever since tallying 38 points against the Spurs, Lin has averaged 15.9 points per game. Much like his destruction of the Nets last season, that Spurs game might have been the fuel Lin needed to catch fire.

Bottom Line

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    Both players are experiencing up-and-down seasons, but the Knicks and Rockets should overall be pleased with their point guards.

    Those expecting a massive drop-off from Lin have not received their wish. Even though he’s not matching the height of his play during Linsanity, Lin is holding his own as a solid NBA starter.

    Instead of regressing, Lin is maturing into a point guard who is proving that his launch to success was more than a flash in the pan. Fading quietly away from New York has allowed Lin to undergo growing pains without his every possession getting dissected.

    Luckily for the Knicks, they need not feel bad about calling Lin’s bluff and severing ties with the dynamic young guard. Felton, Kidd and the rest of a veteran-laden squad have erased any possibility of fan backlash by winning.

    And Houston, originally planning a rebuilding project around Lin, now could snag a playoff spot with Lin and Harden managing the backcourt.

    It’s a rare win-win situation, for now at least.

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