The news that Raymond Felton will make his return to the court this coming weekend is undoubtedly welcomed news by the Knicks.
In his absence, New York’s ball movement has struggled mightily. But that isn’t because Felton is the type of player who will drop ten dimes per contest.
Instead, it’s simply because the team’s lack another player with steady court vision into the mix.
Even as they now employee Jason Kidd, one of the best floor generals to ever hit the NBA hardwood, the Knicks’ offense need not run through only one or two players. Instead, the team has thrived this season by riding and dying by the unorthodox “hockey assist.”
When it comes to the hockey assist (as it relates to basketball), spacing on the court is undoubtedly the key. In that sense, Felton not only represents a point guard, but also someone with decent range no matter where he stands on the hardwood. The guard may not be asked to take as many shots or be expected to dish out a career-high in assists on any given night, but the fact that he remains a threat to do these things makes him valuable.
As a 28 year old rookie, Chris Copeland is perhaps the boldest shot taker (as it relates to his selection and quick reaction) to done a Knicks uniform since Nate Robinson. Though many of his shots can cause you to cringe, they often go in. What’s more, his fearlessness nature to hoist up such bombs often catches opponents off guard. A defending squad may spend time contesting the other four players on the court, leaving Copeland open behind the arc.
It’s just up to the Knicks to find him.
New York saw a similar hero emerge last season in the form of Steve Novak. As Jeremy Lin started to rise up as one of the team’s leaders, the Harvard alum found his buddy Novak in all the rights spots. A true NBA journeyman up until that point, opponents were slow to recognize the forward’s offensive prowess from long range.
From the likes of Copeland and Novak, to the unconscious efforts of more dominating players like Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, the Knicks have a bevy of offensive weapons in their arsenal. All represent players who embrace having the ball in big moments. Such players are even so versatile that it gives New York the ability to catch opponents off guard by scoring in any which way, be it letting the bombs play or driving the ball inside.
It’s all about mixing things up, staying on your toes, and hitting opponents hard by being aggressive. By continuing to use the hockey assist as the key to their success, no one possession will be the same for the Knicks.
As opposing teams start to recognize the Knicks as a threat, they’ll also begin to understand what makes them so good. By cutting off their spacing, applying pressure, and forcing them into quick shots, opponents can slow down New York. Perhaps the team’s success thus far is due to the fact that slowing down such a versatile effort is a hard thing to do.
Getting Raymond Felton back in the fold will only make the Knicks harder to beat—not because he hits the hardwood looking to fill up the stat-sheet, rather because he plays well within the team’s style of play. Players like Felton (and even the likes of Rasheed Wallace and the recently returned Amar’e Stoudemire) open things up for the team offensively. Having so many weapons makes it easy to constantly change things up.
As dominant as they can be, the Knicks won’t win by isolating players like Anthony and Smith. Instead, the team needs to return to letting the bombs fly from all over the court. Such an effort will keep their opponent constantly guessing. Felton of course, is simply another key cog in the engine that works from hoisting up such shots.