Why Raymond Felton Will Be NY Knicks' Most Critical Piece in 2013-14 Season

Ciaran GowanContributor IIIJuly 3, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 10:  Raymond Felton #2 of the New York Knicks in action against the Los Angeles Clippers during their game at Madison Square Garden on February 10, 2013 in New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Bringing in a new set of point guards made a huge difference for the New York Knicks last season, and once again the play of Raymond Felton will be critical in 2013-14.

Felton was a huge upgrade for the Knicks over the likes of Mike Bibby and Baron Davis. His ability to penetrate into the paint and facilitate the ball to his teammates was a large reason for the Knicks success last season.

At the start of the year, Felton was truly fantastic as he averaged 16.8 points and 6.5 assists during their six-game win streak to open the regular season.

By the end of the season, his numbers fell to 13.9 points and 5.5 assists, but a lot of that had to do with midseason injuries that threw him off rhythm.

In December, Felton suffered a bone bruise in his left hand, and was inefficient when he tried to play through it. Then, in February, Felton went on to fracture his right pinkie, causing him to miss 12 games.

If there's anything that proves Felton's value to the team, it's how they fared without him as he recovered from that fractured pinkie. They went 6-6 with Felton out, and continued to play mediocre basketball while he was out of rhythm.

Towards the end of the regular season, the Knicks went on a 13-game win streak, and again Felton's fingerprints were all over their success. His numbers during that stretch weren't flashy, but he shot 50 percent from the field and turned the ball over only 1.5 times per game. He also came up big in the clutch during a number of close games.

The most impressive stretch of Felton's season came in the playoffs. He was arguably the Knicks' best player in their first-round series against the Boston Celtics, averaging 17.2 points on 47 percent shooting.

Injuries aside, Felton proved to us once again that he can handle the New York spotlight, and is perfectly capable of handling this high-pressure job. He doesn't let anything faze him, and he will need to continue with that attitude going into 2013-14.

Put simply, the Knicks need everything he brings to the table. The team's offense feeds off his penetration, as he's capable of collapsing defenses and causing a lot of trouble in the paint.

More importantly, Felton makes Tyson Chandler—an otherwise limited offensive player—extremely effective in the pick-and-roll.

The combination of Chandler's height and Felton's innate grasp of the pick-and-roll was a nightmare at times for defenses, and the Knicks need it to be working to take the defensive focus off Carmelo Anthony.

Felton's play will also be important when it comes to integrating Amar'e Stoudemire to the offense when he's healthy. They, too, were great pick-and-roll partners in 2011-12, and can still be effective given the chance to play with each other for an extended period of time.

Even new acquisition Andrea Bargnani can benefit from Felton, and the two could create a nice change of pace option with the pick-and-pop.

If J.R. Smith leaves in free agency—or if he just continues to play inconsistently—New York will also need Felton to be a consistent third scoring option, something that he failed to do at key moments last season. Again, injuries did limit Felton's scoring ability, but he will need to improve moving forward regardless.

Next season, the key for Felton and the Knicks on offense will be for him to take a more assertive leadership role. The entire team focused way too much on isolation in the playoffs. Felton needs to demand the ball and make sure he runs the offense properly.

Felton may not be the face of the franchise, but he is the point guard, and when isolation isn't working, he needs to be the one who dictates Melo and J.R.'s ball supply. The Knicks had plenty of other weapons in the playoffs, but they just didn't use them properly.

With Jason Kidd retiring and Pablo Prigioni potentially leaving in free agency, there's an even bigger need for Felton to step up as a leader. He's now a veteran presence in the backcourt and can help the likes of Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. find their way in the NBA.

During his exit interview on KnicksNow, when asked what he needs to focus on next season, Felton said:

Just being a better leader. Being a better point guard on the court...being a little more vocal and [having] a more aggressive approach in that sense.

Defense is another area that needs improvement. Felton is capable of causing opposing point guards a lot of trouble, but he rarely did that last season. He was a mediocre defender at best, and needs to increase his intensity on that end of the floor.

There's a good chance the Knicks will go up against a player like Derrick Rose or Deron Williams in the playoffs, and they can't afford to have Felton playing passive defense against them.

Keeping turnovers down will also be important, but Felton was just fine at that last year. As a whole, the team was tied for second in the NBA in turnovers, averaging just 11.6 per game.

Moving forward, the Knicks need to find Felton a suitable backup. Having Prigioni back to join him off the ball in the backcourt would be fantastic, but they also need someone more energetic to come off the bench.

The likes of Will Bynum, Nate Robinson and Aaron Brooks could all be good fits, and should be around New York's price range if they use the taxpayers' exception of $3.2 million.

Ultimately, though, it's Felton who is going to need to bring his A-game next season. The offense can't work without his penetration and leadership, and the defense will continue to be average unless he does a better job of keeping opponents out of the paint.