Yes, Carmelo Anthony's Knicks. There's no question about that anymore. But the key to New York's playoff fortune stretches beyond 'Melo's reliable greatness.
Some could say the biggest wild card is J.R. Smith's consistency, but his recent penetration-heavy offensive mindset seems to have settled the sixth man's dependability issues for the short term.
Mike Woodson will need to keep an eye on his players' health through May, but the team has shown an ability to compete while undermanned. So even that isn't the Knicks' biggest variable heading into postseason play.
What remains the most effective way of differentiating a win from a loss on the stat sheet is starting point guard Raymond Felton's play. This makes him the one Knick whose performance directly affects New York's playoff formidability—or vulnerability—the most.
Felton has played with a bum finger through most of the season, which led to some shoddy overall play through the middle portion of the year. He's recovered nicely since, but the Knicks' lead man is just one aggravation away from a lost season.
Felton says it himself in this video: Another break to his pinkie would mean months on the sidelines—months the Knicks don't have to spare. Staying healthy is the first priority for Felton and plenty of other Knicks from this point forward.
Felton has put up a so-so shooting line overall in 2012-13—42.5 percent from the field, 35 percent from three-point range and 79 percent from the stripe—but those numbers in Knicks losses are especially staggering.
When his squad comes out on the losing end, Felton's field-goal percentage drops to 38.5 percent and his clip from the arc plummets to 26 percent.
Turning to efficiency numbers, Felton sports an impressive plus-16.4 net rating in victories and a troublesome minus-15 in losses. His assist-to-turnover ratio is nearly cut in half from wins to losses.
Felton possesses the ability to penetrate the lane and get the ball to the rim. However, he finds it difficult to finish the play once he gets there. This problem only exacerbates in losing efforts.
In losses, on shots from within eight feet, New York's point guard is making under half of his attempts at 47.54 percent.
In victories, Felton's shots from in close still aren't sparkling, but they are markedly better. He's 117-of-216 or just over 54 percent from within eight feet in 45 games.
Another frustrating Felton-habit that Knicks fans have been exposed to all season long is his sporadic love affair with his mediocre mid-range game.
Despite his ability to penetrate into the paint, Felton goes into spurts of jumper-heavy ball. Predictably, those shots come less frequently and with more success in wins and more frequently and with less success in losses.
The team as a whole usually thrives when it has Felton manning the point, and nearly every number can prove this. Baskets come a lot easier with a true point guard at the helm.
The team's offensive efficiency jumps from 105 with him on the bench to 111.5 when he's on the floor. That on-court number is good enough for tops in the league, over the Miami Heat's and Oklahoma City Thunder's rating of 110.
New York shoots at a higher percentage from every area of the hardwood when Felton is setting up the offense on the floor.
The same goes for Anthony's shooting splits. Felton's presence on the court is key in finding buckets for Anthony and the rest of the Knicks.
Arguments can be made that Felton is a mediocre point guard with a sub-par ability to run an efficient offense. Felton, like most point guards, has various flaws and could improve several areas of his game.
He's not the perfect point guard, but he's the man in charge of running the Knicks offense. When he's playing at his best, New York is at its very best. When he's not, the the team suddenly has to win despite their point guard, not because of him—never a recipe for success.
If Felton is being the productive version of himself—which means making open spot-up threes, handling the ball securely, penetrating defenses and making most of his layups while finding open shooters on kickouts—the Knicks can hang with any of their potential playoff opponents in a seven-game series.
When Felton isn't doing those things well, the Knicks don't stand a chance. This makes him the team's most important factor and biggest wild card in its hunt for a championship—a team whose window for a title is closing faster by the day.
Follow me on Twitter at @JSDorn6.
Stats used from NBA.com/Stats
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