Though the New York Knicks have squandered two opportunities to move into the second round of the playoffs, losing to the Boston Celtics in Games 4 and 5, there has been a consistent bright spot for New York this series: Raymond Felton.
His basic stats are impressive enough on their own: 18.4 points on 48.8% FG, 4.6 rebounds, 5 assists, 1.6 steals, and 2 turnovers per game in 41.3 minutes per game. In the playoffs, Felton is second on the Knicks in points per game, but he’s beating both Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith in field goal percentage, and by a wide margin as both players are below 40%.
However, beyond basic stats, Felton’s impact on the series has been notable. He’s third on the team in True Shooting Percentage (of players getting consistent minutes), behind only Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin, both of whom only score at the basket. His effect on the offense is reflected in his Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions), which is 99.2, according to NBA.com’s stats site – almost three points better than the Knicks’ average OffRtg of 96.3. The only players with better OffRtgs than Felton are Iman Shumpert, Pablo Prigioni, and Chandler, none of whom handle the ball or score as much as Felton.
Felton has also helped lead the squad to a better defense. He ranks fourth on the team (again, of players getting regular minutes, so Quentin Richardson, Marcus Camby, James White, etc. aside) in Defensive Rating – points allowed per 100 possessions – behind only, again, Shumpert, Prigioni, and Chandler. With Felton on the court, the Knicks are allowing 90.7 points, compared to their series average of 91.7 points.
Going back to the offense, however, Felton has helped the Knicks enormously with his ability to get into the lane and score at the basket. The Celtics’ only shot-blocking threat is Kevin Garnett, and he has even lost a step on his ability to keep up with penetrating guards. Thus far, he hasn’t had any effect on Felton’s drives to the basket, as 58.7% of Felton’s field goals in the playoffs have come inside the paint.
One would imagine that Felton’s penetration would have opened up the Knicks’ dynamic three-point game, but so far the Knicks have struggled to get those looks they knocked down so regularly during the season. In the postseason, the Knicks are shooting just 31.7% from three-point range and are knocking down an average of 7 threes on 24 attempts per game. In contrast, they shot 37.9% from downtown in the regular season, with about 11 made threes on 29 attempts per game. Part of this has been the team-wide shooting slump from beyond the arc. Only Shumpert and Steve Novak are shooting above 40% 3FG, but they only combine for four total attempts per game. Elsewhere, Jason Kidd, Prigioni, Felton, Smith, and Anthony are shooting a combined 30.5% on a combined 21 attempts per game.
However, credit must be given to the Celtics’ defense. Their strategy has appeared to concede drives (and the occasional Chandler alley-oop) to Felton, while denying the Knicks’ drive-kick-and-swing offensive philosophy. Take this Felton-Chandler alley-oop from Game 5, for example:
Notice that while Chandler and Felton run the pick-and-roll, Garnett and Avery Bradley try to double and trap Felton, thus leaving Chandler open. However, the Celtics don’t send any perimeter help to try and contain Chandler’s roll to the basket and subsequent throwdown. Brandon Bass, Paul Pierce, and Jeff Green all stay glued to Anthony, Smith, and Shumpert, respectively. Make no mistakes that the Celtics would like to find a way to deny the Knicks’ pick-and-roll, but they appear willing to give up two points than allowing the Knicks to get open looks from downtown.
Even on this Felton drive, the Celtics’ perimeter defenders don’t make any concentrated effort to deny Felton’s drive. Though they left some space for the Knicks’ shooters behind the line, the Celtics still cut off an easy angles for Felton to make a drive-and-kick pass out to his teammates.
Considering this staunch, responsible defensive strategy by the Celtics, Felton has taken advantage as well as anyone could expect. His dribble penetration has carried the Knicks’ offense for stretches and has denied the Celtics’ from completely shutting off all of the Knicks’ options. However, with some help from Mike Woodson and his teammates, the load on Felton’s shoulders should lighten. He’s been arguably the Knicks’ best player in the first round series, but if the Knicks want to go deep in the playoffs, he shouldn’t have to be playing that role.
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