Mavs Felton: What's The Point?
Raymond Felton has been no more than a footnote on the Mavericks’ season thus far and it’s a lot easier to find NBA followers ready to count out his career than jump on his bandwagon. Yet still, at least in the immediate future, the Dallas Mavericks are going to have to rely on him to contribute. Even further down the line, Felton could be a steady member of the rotation as the team inches closer to the playoffs.
First let’s talk about the here and now. Rajon Rondo will miss at least the upcoming back-to-back games against the Warriors and Kings and possibly more due to the collision his face endured with Richard Jefferson’s knee. Then on Monday night Devin Harris injured his ankle and knee in the fourth quarter in the win over Minnesota. He was listed as "questionable'' for tonight in Oakland but now says he plans to give it a go.
The injuries will leave the normally point-guard-abundant Mavs with only two fully-healthy options: J.J. Barea and Felton.
Barea started Monday’s game in place of Rondo and was aggressive, scoring 10 points to go with eight assists in 29 minutes. Felton played far less (only 5:10), but looked promising when he was on the court. He entered the game with 10:51 left in the first half. Two minutes later he captained the fast break and finished it off with a beautiful no-look alley-oop to Al-Farouq Aminu. The very next possession he pulled up and knocked down a three-pointer.
Felton came out of the game with 5:51 left in the quarter and didn’t return. This was probably a decision to avoid throwing him into large chunks of game time after having played so little this season.
They won’t have a choice over the next few games. We say he might get to play at least 15 minutes per game depending on the availability of Rondo and Harris. (hough Devin's X-rays were negative and he's hoping the knee and ankle soreness will allow him to participate tonight at Golden State, he'll still need to be monitored going forward, including for Thursday in Sacto.) But even in the event of Harris being OK ... Felton's reliability as a point guard, historically, is a plus here. And Carlisle says he's been nothing but a pro over the course of this season after coming to Dallas as a throw-in in the Tyson Chandler trade.
“I like the way Felton plays,” Carlisle said in mid-January when he gave Felton a rare shot with a start in Denver while Rondo and others sat. “He’s a very good player. He’s definitely a rotation player and he’d start on a lot of teams. We’re fortunate to have him.''
Among the issues we want to keep an eye on: how Felton plays with Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler on the floor with him, something he has seen virtually none of this season. In fact, that group hasn't likely even practiced together, in part because Felton opened the season with an ankle injury that kept him from working, and in part because when it comes to working alongside the top guys, Felton was too far down the totem pole for it.
Rondo and Harris will eventually be back at full strength, but that doesn’t mean it will be the last we see of Felton. Barea’s "revenge game'' against his former Minnesota squad notwithstanding, we can make the argument that Felton may actually be a better option in the rotation than Barea for a couple of reasons.
The Mavericks’ offense was considerably more efficient prior to the Rondo trade. Acquiring Rondo was still a net gain for Dallas and will only improve over time, but Jameer Nelson (dealt away to Boston to get Rondo) was an easier immediate offensive fit along with the other four Mavericks’ starters. This is mostly because he is a threat from three-point range. He could play off the ball allowing Ellis to initiate the offense. Defenders had to run Nelson off the three-point line and as soon as defensive scrambling ensued the offense executed easily.
He was also underrated in terms of his ability to throw lobs. It wasn’t so much about Nelson’s level of play -- he was poor defensively and his "threat'' as an offensive player didn't always translate to production -- but his tendencies and skillset represented a fine fit for the offense.
Raymond Felton can provide those tendencies.
In fact, he is the best three-point shooter of all the Dallas point guards and probably a better shooter than the departed Nelson. The Mavericks’ offense is still potentially lethal with Rondo at the helm, but has not been consistently fluid. There is a possibility that Felton can alleviate that issue with a role as a ball handler/off-the-ball-three-point-threat.
He is by no means a great defensive player, but he is strong for his size and far less of a defensive liability than Barea. Backcourts consisting of Ellis and Barea will be a threat to be eaten alive by aggressive and well-executing offenses. Barea will always be a good option to shake things up at Carlisle’s discretion, and we're aware of all these ideas of Parsons as a point forward and Monta shifting over for more ballhanding ... but Felton may be the better choice for consistent playing time if he proves to be in good shape. (A legit "if'' as we watch him fill out his jersey.)
There was also a time when Felton and Chandler had really good pick-and-roll chemistry in New York. It would be a nice treat if that could be recreated. ... and if we see it, watch for Felton also being very good at keeping his dribble alive after coming off a pick, re-initiating the offense.
Felton’s often been something of a punchline for his time on the Knicks and he certainly deserved his share of criticism, on the court and off. But let’s not pretend Raymond Felton was the reason the Knicks were a joke. They are still very much a joke without him. And let's not pretend Felton's career is a joke. An elevation into the rotation would provide him a chance to recapture what he was in Charlotte, when early in his career the 30-year-old scored 14 points per for three straight seasons. Heck, he was even better than that one year as a Knick, when in 54 games (all starts) in New York in 2010-11 he contributed 17 points and nine assists per.
Harris probably dodged a bullet here and will be back sooner than later. The Mavs are continuing tests with Rondo and, as we reported initially, have been obligated to explore surgery.
So ... there's Raymond Felton.
“I’m a professional,'' he said back in Denver. "I’m on a great team. There’s a lot of guys on this team that have been All-Stars. Now we’re all on one team. You’re going to go through times when you’re not going to play. I get that. I’m just happy to be on a good team.”
This upcoming and unexpected Dallas Mavericks reliance on him may be less than a "happy'' thing for the 33-17 Mavs, fighting as they are for a top-tier seed in the West, but it’s also worth watching. It could also be Felton's chance to prove his worth and earn spot minutes on a playoff team. ... and that would prove quite a point.
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