New York Knicks: Raymond Felton Proving His Worth with Early-Season Play

Ciaran GowanContributor IIINovember 17, 2012

Nov. 9, 2012; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks point guard Raymond Felton (2) gestures on the court against the Dallas Mavericks during the first half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

Heading into the summer, the New York Knicks knew the key to their offseason was going to be how they handled the point guard position.

After struggling for much of the 2011-12 NBA season with Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby manning the 1, the Knicks benefited greatly from the sudden emergence of Jeremy Lin in February.

The twist, though, was that Lin went into free agency as a highly-coveted free agent, leaving the Knicks with the decision to either overpay him or look for another option.

Enter Raymond Felton.

The UNC product was coming off of the worst season of his career out in Portland after coming into camp overweight, resulting in him being one of the more under-the-radar point guards on the market.

Felton posted career lows in points and rebounds with the Blazers, and he generally looked like he didn't belong in an NBA starting lineup. But as bad as Felton was, the Knicks took the risk, giving him a four-year, $14.86 million deal.

New York had seen firsthand what Felton could do when motivated. This was enough for the Knicks to be comfortable in letting Lin go and giving a long-term contract to a player who didn't really deserve it based on his recent play.

One of the most important factors in this decision was Felton's relationship with the Knicks' $100 million man, Amar'e Stoudemire.

Back in his first season with the Knicks, Felton helped Stoudemire post very impressive numbers (25.3 points per game, the second-highest total of his career).

Felton and Stoudemire made up one of the best pick-and-roll combos in the league that year, and the chance to recreate that was something the Knicks couldn't pass up.

Stoudemire, too, was coming off of a disappointing campaign in 2011-12, and it looked like the two could help one another get back on track. But so far in his second stint with the Knicks, Felton has yet to play alongside Stoudemire, and he is still proving his worth.

Simply put, Felton is giving the Knicks exactly what they need out of the position: a leader, with the selflessness to run what was previously a stagnant offense.

With Carmelo Anthony struggling to play as a point forward last year, Felton has taken the pressure off of the Knicks star by taking charge of things himself. Felton's ability to penetrate and dish has been huge so far this season, and he's averaging 6.3 assists on a team that has embraced the idea of ball movement.

Felton is quietly averaging 16.1 points per game so far this season, including a 25-point performance in a huge win against San Antonio this past Thursday.

More importantly, Felton's shooting percentages are higher than they've been since he was back in Charlotte; he provides a genuine shooting option on a three-point-happy Knicks team.

On defense, Felton has been the hounding defender he's always been and a major contributor to one of the top teams in the league in terms of defensive efficiency and turnover differential.

What makes him such a safe option for the Knicks is that he protects the basketball so well and is sneaky when it comes to taking the ball from the opposition.

Alongside future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, Felton is part of what has been one of the most effective backcourts in the league so far. The star power may not be there at this stage, but they've got passing, shooting and defense all covered between them.

Before the season, Felton told us he thought he was a better point guard than his predecessor, Jeremy Lin (as did Deron Williams). He's proven himself right so far.

But comparisons to Lin aren't what matter at this point. What matters is that the Knicks finally have their answer at point guard. His intention was to shut people's mouths, and there aren't many critics out there still doubting Raymond Felton.

Stats used in this article were accurate as of Nov. 17, 2012.