Raymond Felton may finally be nearing a return to the court (Saturday?), but what will that mean for a starting lineup that has changed a lot since he last played?
While Chris Copeland has been starting at the 3, the real difference maker could be the insertion of Iman Shumpert (returning from a torn ACL) as the starting shooting guard. Felton played mostly coupled with Jason Kidd in the backcourt, which resulted in great guard play, and some would say was the key to the hot start by the New York Knicks this season. But with Felton’s return does Kidd go to the bench? Is Shumpert moved to small forward? And most importantly, how would any move effect the quality of the team’s play?
Felton is having his best season since the last time he was in New York, averaging 15.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, 1.2 SPG, and 2.3 TPG, on 40% shooting from the field. While his shooting numbers are a tad low, his production has maintained crucial to the Knicks success. Also, Felton is the team leader in assists, and pushes the ball up the court faster than the aging Jason Kidd. The offense has stalled early on in games, and Felton’s penetration may assist in getting easy shots for his teammates to help get them going.
So it’s clear that Felton will be the starting point guard, but who does that mean gets bumped from the starting lineup? My bet is on Jason Kidd. Kidd was not signed to play a starter’s minutes, and he is well aware of that. Mike Woodson has made it clear that it is not healthy for Kidd to be playing the 30+ minutes he has logged since Felton has been out, and a solution to this problem would be bringing him off the bench.
Another option would be moving Copeland to the bench, Shumpert to the 3, and Kidd to shooting guard. No matter what happens I envision Shump staying in the lineup. He has the talent to start, and his defensive drive is adored by Coach Woodson. This lineup would allow for Carmelo Anthony to stay at power forward, and allow the stellar backcourt of Kidd and Felton to continue their run. The downside could be the smaller lineup, and that it would not help reduce Jason Kidd’s minutes directly.
There is a third potential lineup, but I would call it the least likely of them all: Felton, Shumpert, ‘Melo, STAT, and Tyson Chandler could all share the floor at tip-off. On paper, this is the strongest lineup the team can put out on the floor, but there are several significant drawbacks. First, the jury is still out on the true effectiveness of Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony sharing the floor. They have yet to prove that they can win consistently. Another issue is that Tyson Chandler plays the main roll-man on this team, and when STAT and he are on the same floor they can end up crowding the paint. Also, ‘Melo has shown that he is most dominant as a stretch 4. The sample size is large enough to prove that is where he consistently plays at an MVP level.
Felton’s return will not hurt the team, but it could complicate things. While they are desperate for his penetration and speed, the team’s depth may become a problem (what a nice problem to have, right?). However, the problems will most likely come at the end of games–not the beginning.
Jason Kidd has the playmaking skills needed for end of game decisions. Iman Shumpert has the shut down defensive abilities that can create the stops needed in the last few minutes. J.R. Smith, the Knicks’ resident sixth man, has that x factor that can make him so dangerous offensively when the team needs him most. Not to mention the value of Carmelo, STAT, and Tyson. So who plays at the end of games? That is for Mike Woodson to decide, and with so many options, it is certainly not a position I’m envious of.