Hot! Felton Down, But Knicks Not Out For the Count

Hardly a downgrade, Jason Kidd becomes the team's starting point guard and will continue to run the floor and lead the Knicks to victories.

Hardly a downgrade, Jason Kidd becomes the team’s starting point guard and will continue to run the floor and lead the Knicks to victories.

 

The theme of this year’s Knicks is that no single player is above the team. When one man goes down, another is ready to step in and take his place.

And who better to serve as a replacement point guard other than future Hall of Famer, Jason Kidd.

Raymond Felton, the Knicks starting point guard and second leading scorer, will be sidelined for the next 4-6 weeks due to a fractured right pinky suffered Christmas Day against the Lakers. While an injury to such an important player would be detrimental to most teams’ success, the Knicks are built to cope with it. Their depth will be tested, but there is little reason to doubt that it will continue to score an A+ grade.

The Knicks roster has so much experience and talent, in fact, that they remain an essential lock to rank high in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

New York certainly needed a lift against Phoenix on December 26th, and naturally, Kidd delivered. He finished with 23 points, six rebounds and dished out eight assists, one of which set up JR Smith’s dramatic fade away buzzer beater for the win.

Jason Kidd will continue to start, and some would make the case that, if not for Kidd’s age necessitating a limitation on his minutes, the team is better with him running the point than with Felton. Kidd may be 39 years old but he’s proven on the floor that he is still in solid physical shape. His leadership skills are second to none in the NBA.

Kidd’s exceptional skills make it much easier to imagine the benefits of Felton having a month off. Felton will be afforded valuable rest to help him perform better down the stretch, and have the opportunity to allow his various other nagging injuries to heal.

The truth about the Knicks recent 99-97 win against the Phoenix Suns is that such a victory would not have been possible last season. The 2011-12 Knicks would have folded under the pressure of losing multiple starters, and the players probably would have made up excuses in order to pass the blame around to one another.

But last year, the Knicks didn’t start the season 21-8, never sniffed second place in the Eastern Conference, and didn’t have overwhelming veteran leadership. It’s not hard to make the jump that the biggest difference between this year’s team and last year’s is that they did not have Hall of Fame talent like Jason Kidd on the bench to step in and take charge when they were in need of a lift.

Twenty-nine games into the new season, the players clearly trust in coach Mike Woodson and know their roles. Woodson preaches stingy defense and an offense predicated around sharing the ball and allowing the player with the best look to take the shot. He also gives his players the freedom to take advantage of their unique skill sets. They displayed this play style against a decent Suns team, and proved that even without Felton, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert and Rasheed Wallace, the Knicks are capable of winning a tight game on the road.

Without Melo, Wallace had been serving as the first big off the bench. With both unable to suit up, however, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas are able to provide leadership, aggression and strong defense. When a player is hurt, and even when that player’s primary backup is hurt, there is always another viable option with this Knicks squad. Before the season started there was plenty of concern regarding the Knicks ability to win with the oldest roster in the league, but as the Knicks have showed, there is great value to having years of experience on the bench on nights when the regular starters are unable to suit up.

Jason White may have started at shooting guard against Phoenix, but that was not to be taken as a slight against JR Smith. Smith is the superior overall player to White, yet Woodson recognizes the value of having depth throughout the first and second units. He has made the wise decision to trust the older players to start the game and set a slow paced, disciplined tempo, so that when younger shooters like Smith and Steve Novak come in, they can feast on the opposition’s second string defense. Once these players get into a groove, they are able to build off of their momentum and continue to rack up big numbers even when the opposition’s first unit returns to the floor.

This strategy could potentially be even more effective once Amar’e Stoudemire returns. Stat is targeting New Years Day against the Portland Trailblazers and if Woodson decides to play him with the second unit, the Knicks strong depth will receive a significant boost. He should be able to thrive in Woodson’s system with the second unit because he shares the same aggressive free-shooting mentality of Novak and Smith.

And let’s not forget, Amar’e should provide New York a quality inside scoring option, something that the team needs, especially when Carmelo doesn’t play.

Besides Kidd, the Knicks still have other options to plug in at the point guard slot and keep Jason Kidd fresh. Pablo Prigioni has played well in his limited minutes, especially on the defensive end. Since the Knicks will choose to limit Kidd’s minutes to keep him in peak condition, they will get a good chance to see what they have in Prigioni, and perhaps help him develop an improved jump shot to pair with his already strong high-effort play. JR Smith has shown an improved ability to handle the ball, and Woodson may give him the chance to distribute the ball when necessary.

Last year, the Knicks roster was essentially one man deep. This year, the entire bench contributes to their success. As long as Woodson continues to instill that mindset in his players, the Knicks will overcome the loss of Raymond Felton and power through the Eastern Conference.

Author

Nicholas Kostopoulos

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