As excited as everyone seems to be about this summer’s trade for Tyson Chandler, the center isn’t the only player Dallas received in the trade. Don’t forget about Raymond Felton, because if the point guard has the season he’s hoping for, this could be a season to remember.
Felton admitted earlier this summer that last season wasn’t his best as a pro. He and his team, the New York Knicks, both struggled during the 2013-14 campaign — injuries and off-court issues limited the team after a solid, 54-win 2012-13 season. The change of scenery should definitely benefit Felton, as well as his buddy Chandler. While it’s impossible to account for the unpredictability of injuries, Dallas is a very stable franchise with a head coach known for bringing the best out of his players. If Felton is looking to bounce back, Rick Carlisle is the guy to turn to in order to do just that. And, better yet, his offensive system is designed for players like Felton.
The NBA is becoming a pick-and-roll-heavy league, and no team ran more of them last season than Dallas. The biggest reason behind the Mavericks’ success last season was the team’s number of creators — between Monta Ellis, Devin Harris, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, and Jose Calderon, the Mavs always had at least two or three players on the floor who could create for themselves and/or others off the bounce. Adding Felton to this season’s stable of point guards alongside Harris, Jameer Nelson, and Gal Mekel gives the team yet another player who can perform in the pick-and-roll.
The UNC alum was almost exclusively a pick-and-roll player last season; per SynergySports, almost half the plays he was involved in last season were as the ball-handler in a screen-roll. This is where the struggles come in, however. Felton scored just 0.65 points per possession as the ball-handler in screen-roll sets, down from a respectable 0.8 the season before, and his shooting percentage during such plays dropped from 43.2 percent to 34.6 percent. Much of that has to do with the Knicks’ overall health and the rest of the roster. Chandler missed time with a leg injury last season, and the Knicks lost quality shooters like Steve Novak and Jason Kidd after the ’12-’13 season, taking away court spacing. Carmelo Anthony is a brilliant isolation player, but most of the time last season Felton was the only other threat off the bounce on the floor. A combination of defensive attention, spacing issues, and injuries contributed to Felton’s down year.
The Mavericks, however, do not suffer those same concerns. With the addition of Felton, Dallas now has five of the top 51 players in the NBA last season ranked by rim drives per game.
Rim Drives Per Game
|Monta Ellis||10.2 (T-4)|
|Jameer Nelson||7.5 (T-15)|
|Chandler Parsons||6.3 (T-33)|
|Raymond Felton||5.3 (46)|
|Devin Harris||4.8 (51)|
Those five players obviously cannot all share the floor at once, but at least three of them can at any given time during a game, and that will give opposing defenses a lot of things to think about. No other team in the NBA has a returning cast that was able to find the rim with that type of volume last season. Felton, meanwhile, led the Knicks last season. Only one other player, J.R. Smith, got into the lane more than three times per game. The Mavs’ driving tendencies are just contagious, especially when the perimeter guards benefit as much as they do from Dirk Nowitzki’s presence on the wing and rollers like Chandler and Brandan Wright affecting the defense in their own ways. Dallas is simply a pick-and-roll machine, and Felton will be yet another important cog.
There should be all types of space in which Felton can operate this season, especially given the impact the above creators will have on defenses. We haven’t even mentioned shooters like Richard Jefferson and Jae Crowder who will be on the receiving end of Felton passes on drives to the rim, either. Jefferson was one of the league’s sharpest shooters last season, knocking catch-and-shoot threes down at a 41.6 percent clip and hitting 49.1 percent of his corner treys. The Knicks, like the Mavs, rarely shot from the corner last season; both ranked bottom-five in the league in percentage of three-point attempts that came from the corner. But Jefferson, Crowder, and Parsons were all excellent from the spot last season, so that could change this season. And if it does, Felton and the other point guards will find them.
Felton wasn’t the focal point of last year’s Knicks team, but he was the only player on the squad who could consistently get in the lane and create. He might not have been asked to do too much, necessarily, but no one else could do what he did. That won’t be a problem this season. But, if Felton has his way in 2014-15, he could be a problem for opponents.