Mavs + Felton: Doesn't Have To Be 'Black Eye'

Could Raymond Felton - to some the Mavs' lone 'offseason black eye' - turn out to be a valuable asset in Dallas? At the risk of sounding like a contrarian, I say 'yes.'

Since late June, Raymond Felton has been tagged as the black eye of the Mavericks’ offseason. When Dallas traded for him, fans looked at him as the price you pay for getting Tyson Chandler back. As weeks went on the thought process was, “Are the Mavericks really going to start Raymond Felton at point guard?" As more time passed and they re-signed Devin Harris and landed Jameer Nelson that attitude shifted to “Thank God the Mavericks aren’t going to have to rely on Raymond Felton!"

Felton himself is ... aware.

"When you come off a season like I had last year, there’s always a point where you’ve got to prove yourself coming back the next season," he says.

At the risk of being contrarian, I feel some optimism to having Felton on the Dallas Mavericks roster. Starting here: we often tend to make the mistake of thinking that a player can stick around for a decade in the NBA by accident.

The criticism of Felton in recent years is certainly valid, however. The hard truth is that he was probably the worst starting point guard in the NBA last season. He had his worst scoring season of his career at 9.7 points per game and was just shy of his worst season in both assists and field-goal percentage. His past three seasons he has been inconsistent in terms of being a reliable playmaking and his defense has been just as shaky.

The best excuse we could afford Felton is that he played for the disastrous New York Knicks. Defense was nearly non-existent on that team. There have been issues of ownership and coaching and the game plan seemed to be something along the lines of “let’s see how many points Carmelo Anthony can score.”

Now, that may sound like a flimsy excuse for a player’s consistently subpar performances, but Mavs fans much more easily sprinkle up their language with the same justification for Chandler. The New York situation was nearly as draining on Chandler and he did not play the past two seasons at the level that Mavs fans expect from him going forward. Both players struggled and missed time from minor and nagging injuries, but there is a general belief that Chandler is the one who will bounce back, partly because he helped bring the Mavericks a championship in 2011.

In that same season, Felton was having quite the year himself. Before Felton played alongside Anthony he was traded for him. He was part of the package that New York sent to Denver in exchange for Anthony during the 2010-2011 season. At the time, many questioned whether the Knicks gave up too much to get Anthony and part of that thinking was because of the great season that Felton was having prior to being traded.

Felton played 54 games with New York that season on a Knicks team whose primary offense featured a pick-and-roll between he and Amare Stoudemire. In exactly 2/3 of an NBA season Felton’s averages before being traded were as follows:

17.1 points per game
9 assists per game
1.8 steals per game
3.6 rebounds per game
42% field goals

As a point of comparison, here are Tony Parker’s averages for the totality of that same 2010-2011 season:

17.5 points per game
6.6 assists per game
1.2 steals per game
3.1 rebounds per game
52% field goals

Felton was traded to a Denver team loaded with guards, which affected his minutes and thus his averages for that season. No one is arguing that Felton is anywhere near the level of Parker or was even as impactful as him that season, but there was a time in the recent past when Felton was a valuable point guard able to thrive in just about all assets of the game. In fact, those numbers are not far from the averages that Monta Ellis achieved with Dallas last season.

Felton has never been thought of as a great set-up point guard, but this is actually an underrated part of his game. For the majority of his career he has been a better distributor than Jameer Nelson. Felton does lack a consistent three-point shot. Having Jose Calderon on the team last season, allowed Ellis to take over playmaking responsibilities while Calderon could spot up behind the arc. Felton is capable of knocking down three-pointers, but is nowhere near the shooter that Calderon is. Nelson’s shooting makes him more suited for this role and for this reason he will likely get a spot in the starting lineup.

However, Felton is quite adept at running the pick and roll. At times when Carmelo was out of the game, the Knicks often relied on a Chandler/Felton pick and roll as one of the rare semi-reliable offensive go-to plays. Even during last year’s disastrous Knick season this was run with relative success. It is something that the Mavericks will be able to rely on as well. It will be determined whether he can implement similar success running pick and pop plays with Dirk Nowitzki.

Speaking of Nowitzki, he is much less of a ball-stopper than Anthony. A point guard’s role in a Carmelo Anthony team can become somewhat insignificant as Anthony likes to take the ball up the court himself or feel out his defender in an isolation set. The boring and unheralded job of getting Nowitzki the ball in the perfect location to initiate an offense is actually not the easiest job in the world. Calderon exceled at it as did Jason Kidd. Felton is a very good ball-handler who can handle a press defense and find passing lanes in a half-court offense.
He may not have the defensive quickness that he once had, but he is quite strong for his size (much like Nelson) and if he commits to that end of the floor he shouldn’t be much of a liability—though guard penetration will likely be an issue for the Mavericks’ defense all season.

Once an athlete gets the treatment from the New York media, it’s hard for anyone to think of that athlete as anything but a bum. Felton has underperformed the last few years, but he has true NBA skills for Rick Carlisle to take advantage of. The years leading up to Devin Harris’ return to Dallas were not exactly impressive, but there was plenty of optimism from Mavs fans based mostly on the good graces he had earned in the beginning of his career. Felton may have shifted into a New York punch line, but he is in probably the best basketball situation of his career where less will be asked of him than past years.

There are still bumps in this road, starting with his season-opening four-game suspension and the on-going view that Felton is nothing but trade bait (a view addressed here by Mark Cuban in this exclusive visit.) But eventually? The offseason black eye could turn out to be a valuable asset.

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