Tyson Chandler’s injury was a major blow to the Knicks. That’s to be expected when your team’s best defender, rebounder and most consistent player goes down. But Chandler’s absence has a more far-reaching effect than the team merely missing his presence — certain players on the roster are heavily reliant on his game. One such player is Raymond Felton, who with Tyson Chandler out shouldn’t be in the starting lineup and shouldn’t be playing starter’s minutes. Here’s why I think so.
Felton’s a skilled player, without a doubt. However, his single greatest contribution to this team — one that no other point guards on the roster can bring — is his prowess in the pick-and-roll. Felton’s scoring ability from mid-range pull-ups and takes to the basket, combined with Chandler’s dominant rolling off the screen, has created a tandem that is tough to stop. So much so that it was a huge key in getting Carmelo Anthony catch-and-shoot looks last season and helped the Knicks finish with the third best offensive efficiency in the league.
Problem is, outside of this very specific attack, Felton doesn’t have a real edge over the Knicks’ next-best one guard: Pablo Prigioni. In fact, Felton’s game has a major hole that Prigioni doesn’t. I’m, talking of course, about the defensive end.
The Knicks surrendered a third-worst league ranking in opposing points and field goal percentage from the point guard position last year, per 82games.com. Felton was scorched time and time again — too slow to be effective in the pick and roll, too short to contest shots and too lacking in concentration or IQ (who knows) to make the right rotations and help out defensively. As soon as Prigioni took the floor, the Knicks played their best basketball.
The Knicks’ NetRTG was highest with Pablo Prigioni on the court over any other player last year other than Kenyon Martin (who played in 60 fewer games and totaled 800 fewer minutes than Pablo) and Earl Barron (who played 36 minutes all season.) In the Playoffs, a similar picture appears: Prigioni once again was the largest positive influence for New York (behind James White, who played 9 minutes) with a 21.1 (!) points per 100 possessions increase when on floor.
Of course, this doesn’t all have to do with Prigioni’s pesky steals and timely help on defense, neither of which Felton brings to the degree that Prigs does. It’s also his shooting.
Prigs has been cooking so far this season, making 8-15 threes (53%) after shooting a solid 39.6% from long range last year. For an offense that is at it’s peak launching as many threes as possible, Felton’s 36% and 20% shooting marks from downtown in 2013 and 2014 aren’t exactly a great help.
In the remaining areas, both Felton and Prigioni have their own advantages, though none are too significant. Prigioni’s turnovers have always been a source of skepticism surrounding his game, but it’s to be expected from a player who’s put up .07 shots per touch this season. Where Felton is ahead in that regard, Prigs evens it out with his work on the boards: He was tied for 7th last year in offensive rebound rate among point guards per ESPN, whereas Felton just barely topped Prigioni in RPG despite the minutes gap.
Felton’s lone upside over Prigioni is his being a threat scoring the ball on the pick-and-roll. With Chandler out, there’s no reason to be playing Felton 34.4 minutes per game to Prigioni’s 19.9. Pablo has even developed a deadly pick-and-pop game with Andrea Bargnani, certainly not the weapon the Felton-Chandler P&R was, but a respectable placeholder:
The Knicks aren’t the same team without Tyson Chandler — not just for what he brought as an individual, but for the effect he has on his teammates as well. Although the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, Chandler’s injury has silenced Felton’s biggest weapon for this team: the P&R. If Mike Woodson is so indulged in the idea of this team making adjustments when called upon, perhaps he should give Prigioni the starting point guard slot for the time being. It couldn’t possibly be worse, right?