10:49 am Dec. 20, 20129
A dozen games or so into the decision by the New York Knicks to jettison Jeremy Lin for Raymond Felton, the verdict had come in from all over: Felton was a better fit for the Knicks than Lin after all.
The Knicks, including J.R. Smith, Tyson Chandler and Felton himself, said so. And with the Knicks off to a roaring start, while Lin struggled to make the James Harden-centered offense work in Houston, lots of people agreed with them.
It's a case that's become a lot harder to make.
As the Knicks have continued to play well since that strong beginning, improving to a 19-6 start for the third time in franchise history, thanks to a 100-86 win over the Nets Wednesday, Felton hasn't.
Over his first 12 games, he shot 44 percent overall, and 44 percent from three-point range. In his last 13 games, he's shooting 36 percent overall, and 31 percent from three. And in his last seven, he's at 33 percent overall, just under 23 percent from three.
Compounding the problem of the shooting slump is the fact that Felton seems to be responding by trying to make up for it in volume. Over those first 12 games, he took just over 14 shots per game. In the next 13, that jumped to 18 attempts per game. In the past seven, he's up to 19.4 shots per game.
It gets worse from there. Though he took 14 shot per game in the first 12 games, 4.5 of them were threes, with many of the rest coming on penetration to the basket, making his attempts higher-percentage ones around the rim. But even as he's taken more shots, they haven't been the high-value three-point shots (just 3.1 attempts from three over his last seven) nor generally on drives to the basket. Instead, Felton is settling for long twos, and they've usually been contested.
It is commendable that he's playing with stress fractures in both hands. It's less commendable that he won't compensate for this by taking higher-percentage shots.
The impact of poor choices like this from a point guard go beyond just wasting those offensive possessions; it stifles other players' attempts to get involved, and can bog down an offense. Fortunately for the Knicks, the presence of Jason Kidd has mitigated the harm. It's precisely the arrangement the Knicks had in mind when they signed Kidd. Except of course he was supposed to be the steadying influence on Lin, not Felton.
As for Lin, his struggles working with James Harden seems to be nearing an end. Harden was acquired at the very end of training camp, meaning that Lin and Harden needed to figure things out, in-season, with minimal planning time. The Rockets coach Kevin McHale missed much of the subsequent few weeks, dealing with the tragic loss of his daughter. Interim coach Kelvin Sampson is not exactly known for his expert offensive work. The pairing sputtered.
But McHale is back, and Lin and Harden seem to have worked some things out. After routing the Knicks on Monday, they went to Philadelphia, and put the same gameplan to work. Lin got more time on the ball as facilitator. Harden certainly didn't lack for opportunities. The results were 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting for Lin, mostly on the sort of driving to the basket that Felton is doing less of, and 33 points for Harden. The Rockets beat the Sixers, 125-103.
Felton is now shooting just 39.8 percent, below Lin's season rate of 41.9 percent. The two have comparable assist percentages, even with Lin playing a large chunk of his time off the ball. Felton has a better turnover percentage, but the value of that is mitigated by all the missed long twos, making for wasted possessions.
Felton is in his eighth year, playing right to the median of his career work. This is who he is.
And then there's Lin, whose 2011-12 season was significantly better than anything Felton has ever done, appearing to adjust to a very difficult situation in Houston roughly 25 games into the season. Both Lin and Felton are signed for three years, which also happens to be the length of remaining time of the contracts of Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler. Getting the best point guard for them, for the next three years, was paramount.
The Knicks are winning, but it's not because they replaced Lin with Felton. It's because the rest of the Knicks are playing well enough to make up for it.