The New York Knicks lost a tightly contested Christmas Day matchup to the Los Angeles Lakers, and given the circumstances surrounding the game, the result was not all that surprising. Yet this does not change the fact that the defeat highlighted Raymond Felton's recent struggles as the leading man in the New York offense.
The Knicks found themselves in a very hostile environment in Los Angeles, matched up against a rejuvenated Laker team that badly needs victories. Despite being pushed around by the Lakers for much of the game, the Knicks hung tough behind intermittent hot shooting from Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith.
But when Anthony and Smith weren't creating offense, there wasn't much cohesion to be found when the Knicks had the ball. As the point guard for a team that fancies itself an NBA title contender, much of the blame for this failure has to fall on Felton.
This isn't the first time Felton, who finished the game 5-for-19 from the field, has struggled offensive in a Knick loss. In New York's four previous losses, Felton had combined to shoot 28-for-88 with only 17 total assists.
The poor assist totals highlight one of Felton's weaknesses which was on display against the Lakers, his propensity to look for his own shot against the flow in the offense. Felton has averaged over 21 shots per game in the Knicks' last five losses, a tremendous volume for a lower-efficiency scorer who does not even initiate most plays in the New York offense.
Too many possessions against the Lakers ended with poor Felton decisions, including a crucial sequence with three minutes remaining in which no other Knick touched the ball while Felton missed two shots in 25 seconds.
Felton's poor game was further highlighted by his matchup with Steve Nash, an extremely high-efficiency player who knows when to look for his own shot and when to act as a distributor. Nash's 16 points on 12 shots provided a stark contrast to Felton's 10 points on 19 shots, and observing each player's shot selection made the contrast pretty easy to grasp.
It is obviously unfair for the Knicks to ask Felton to play at Nash's level, but the Knicks do have a pretty efficient point guard option in Jason Kidd. Kidd is past his prime and not the creator he used to be, but he is still an extremely smart basketball player.
Felton remains the Knicks' best ball-handler at the point guard position (J.R. Smith may compete for that title otherwise), and as a favorite of Mike Woodson's, his role is not likely to diminish much in the near future. But if he continues to make poor decisions in critical moments, it would not be a big a surprise to see plays run through Felton less and Kidd more.
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