By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
A point guard's worth is always hard to quantify. We can roughly measure passing, shooting and ball handling, but at the end of the day, we want to know how the floor general directs his troops. At this position, individual glory hinges on the success of the collective.
Raymond Felton knows this.
After bowing out of the playoffs at least one round before he and his teammates expected to, he has an idea of how he can prevent the same thing from happening again next year. Before leaving the MSG Training Center for the summer on Monday, he made clear that he's focused on the intangibles -- "being a better leader, being a better point guard on the court, being more vocal."
It starts, of course, with the kind of work every NBA player must go through in an offseason; after showing up to training camp in top condition this year, he's ready to take it to the next level. Asked what he can do individually to prepare for next season, Felton's response was smple: "staying in shape, coming back stronger next year."
Not that he was particularly interested in discussing his own goals outside the context of the New York Knicks. "I don't like to speak of myself as an individual," he said, "because I'm a big team person." Playing alongside the NBA's scoring champion in Carmelo Anthony and running the pick-and-roll with All-Star Tyson Chandler, he understands his role as a facilitator, and he relishes being "a key part of it."
He recognizes that the talent is there, and that while some may be quick to call for outside additions, there is plenty of room for growth from continuity. "When you start making too many changes, you can't build on something. A team has to be together for a while. Things take time."
With the core in place, Felton will spend the summer learning how to be a better leader. He'll "go spend some time with J-Kidd in the Hamptons," he said. He'll "work out with him, pick his brain."
After leading the Knicks to 54 regular season wins and a trip to the second round of the playoffs, he proved capable of leading his team at an elite level. We saw what he could do as an individual and how the team clicked when his decision making was in top form. When the Celtics opted to stay home on shooters and forced Felton to beat them in Round 1, he responded by averaging 17 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds and almost 2 steals a game while shooting 47 percent from the field.
But against Indiana's length and discipline, the Knicks' offense stalled and Felton's efficiency dropped. When the Knicks are at their best, it's Felton who kickstarts what finished this season as the NBA's third-best offense. They need him to score, to pass, to drive and kick, but most importantly, to know when to do what.
The plan is that by focusing on the mental side of the game -- which includes working with Kidd, the future Hall of Famer -- he'll be even better prepared next year.
The Knicks took a giant leap forward this season. The next step for Felton is taking the same core group and leading them to maximize their collective talents. It's a tall task for a 6-foot-1 point guard, but that's the job.