The Knicks are back.
Massive billboards in Times Square proclaim it, so it must be true.
And it would be good for the league, in the same way it is good for baseball to have the Yankees in the playoffs. New York is good for the league.
Amar’e Stoudemire has brought his high-flying dunks and amazing athleticism to New York to save Knicks basketball from the wandering in the desert, which is what recent seasons felt like.
Plus Knicks fans are falling in love with Timofey Mozgov as part of that revival. Knicks fans feel like they are finally getting a quality player everyone overlooked, as opposed to an overpaid player nobody wanted.
Then there are rumors of another savior — Carmelo Anthony — forcing his way out of Denver to New York. A forward who can light up the scoreboard with a 3-pointer or a post move. An elite scorer (although that can be up for debate) who would certainly change the future of the Knicks.
There’s a lot of hype about the saviors of the Knicks.
But as often happens with the trendiest restaurants and newest Broadway shows — the hype in New York has got it wrong.
If the Knicks are turning it around this season, it will be Raymond Felton who does it.
Stoudemire was a force in Phoenix, but he had Steve Nash feeding him the ball. Right now Carmelo has Chauncey Billups at the point taking pressure off him, and before that Allen Iverson taking shots away from him. Both of those amazing forwards have only known success with a strong point guard.
In the Mike D’Antoni system the point guard is king. And last season Chris Duhon didn’t wear the crown well, so the Knicks spent $7 million to bring in Felton to run the show. This was the less-discussed, less-hyped change that really will determine how the Knicks will play.
And on one level it made some sense — last season Felton was far better in transition offense than Duhon. In transition, Duhon shot 36.6 percent, Felton 66.4 percent. Duhon turned the ball over on 17 percent of his fastbreak opportunities, Felton 12 percent. Felton was also better in shooting percentage, points per possession and lower turnovers as the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll last season than Duhon.
He was the man who could make it work.
Except that so far he hasn’t.
Through much of the preseason, Felton looked lost and unsure. He has looked a little heavy and slow. He has shot just 34.9 percent. Toney Douglas has outplayed him and has fans wondering if the backup shooting guard was really better off as the starting point guard.
Frankly, Felton has looked like the Felton from two and three years ago. The one that historically is no better than Duhon. Felton’s play has further fueled Knicks fans’ obsession with Chris Paul, but that doesn’t solve the now.
This has to be the biggest concerns for the Knicks — Stoudemire and Mozgov provide a good front line, and both are very good as the roll man in the pick-and-roll. Both can run the floor. There are some good shooters and role players on the roster. But that only works well if they have a point guard that can really set everyone up, who reads the floor well coming off a pick or can spot the lob coming on a fast break.
Maybe Tuesday Felton started to turn the corner, scoring 13 points and dishing out 11 assists against the Nets. (Of course, Douglas had 24 points and six steals, but don’t tell anyone). Also, no matter how he shoots, Felton is a better defender than Duhon — he fights over picks, doesn’t just sag under every single one.
Knicks fans had better hope the corner is turned. Go to church and light a candle, meditate on it, do whatever it is you do to bring good vibes to a situation.
Because for all the billboards and hype, it is Raymond Felton that is the savior of Knicks basketball. This year, anyway.