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November 22, 2010
The Clipboard
Felton is Failing on the Pick-and-Roll

by Sebastian Pruiti

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The New York Knicks signed Raymond Felton this past offseason and by not adding another "true" point guard to their roster, the Knicks' basically handed over the keys to the offense to him. To his credit, Felton has improved upon his 2009-2010 performance. He is shooting better, scoring at a higher rate and has increased his usage (from 19.3 percent to 21.2). All told, Felton is on pace for 11.1 WP82, up from the 9.5 he put up in his last season in Charlotte.

Despite the bottom line improvement, Felton's showing has been uneven in the numbers that measure traditional point guard duties. His assist rate (Ast%) is up (7.9 percent with Charlotte to 10.4 with New York), but his turnover rate (TO%) has spiked--15.4 percent to 22.2 this year. The rise in Felton's turnover rate is largely due to his poor pick-and-roll play. Unfortunately for him, this is a large portion of the Knicks' offense. According to MySynergySports, the pick-and-roll has been run on 16.6 percent of the Knicks' possessions, second only to spot-ups. In addition, 40.7 percent of Felton's individual possessions have been pick-and-rolls.

Simply put, this year's version of the Knicks' pick-and-roll still hasn't been able to reach the level of last year's team, on which David Lee and Chris Duhon were the main pick-and-roll tandem. Last year's team scored 1.28 points per possession on those plays, good for first in the NBA. This year's team is scoring 1.15 points per possession, good for fifth in the league. Given the fact that Amar'e Stoudemire is just a souped-up version of David Lee, you have to look at the point guard for an explanation of the decline in the Knicks' pick-and-roll game.

The biggest problem I have seen in Felton when he runs the pick-and-roll is his decision making. Coming off of that screen Felton just seems to make the wrong decision (in terms of hitting the roll man or attacking himself), and these poor decisions lead to turnovers (Felton has turned it over on 14.9 percent of his pick-and-roll possessions). It is almost as if he predetermines what he is going to do before even coming off the screen:

Here, Felton comes off of a Timofey Mozgov screen and immediately tries to throw a jump pass to him. The pass gets deflected and stolen but even if it hadn't been, this would have ended up as a turnover. Mozgov has three people surrounding him on the roll, and Felton has no business forcing a pass into him. There is no read and react, Felton was making a pass to a predetermined location, leading to a turnover.

In the above clip, Felton decides that he wants to try and get to the rim after using an Amar'e screen. However, the Bulls jump him hard and trap him along the baseline, where he is forced to try and squeeze a pass in to Amar'e, eventually turning it over. Felton should have recognized this hard hedge and kept his dribble out by the corner. This would have given space to Amar'e, allowing him to roll to the lane unguarded.

I think part of the reason that Felton predetermines what he is going to do is because he is unsure of himself when coming off of screens with the basketball:

In the above clip, Felton hesitates multiple times as Mozgov tries to set a screen for him. Eventually, he uses the screen to try and get to the middle of the lane, but all of this hesitation allows Derrick Rose to stay with him and force the turnover.

Another problem that Felton has when running the pick-and-roll is that he seems to pick up his dribble too early:

In the above clip, Felton comes off of a Stoudemire screen and gets himself to the free throw line, where he picks up his dribble. When playing in Phoenix with Steve Nash, Nash would keep his dribble alive as Amar'e trailed him, often resulting in an easy lay-up or dunk. Amar'e starts to do that here, but because Felton picks up his dribble, he stops and Felton gets the ball deflected.

Here, Felton uses a screen to get to the lane where he takes a floater, but misses. I don't have a problem with Felton trying to score off the pick-and-roll (in fact, if a point guard is a threat to score coming off of the screen, the pick-and-roll is more effective). My problem is where Felton picks up his dribble:

Look at the defense around Felton. Nobody is putting any pressure on Felton, so there is really no need to pick up his dribble. Felton can probably squeeze out one or two more dribbles to get closer to the rim and get an easier attempt.

The final problem that I have noticed with Felton when running the pick-and-roll is that he tends to give up too early on the roll man:

Here, Felton comes off of a Stoudemire screen, and as Amar'e rolls to the basket, he comes open. The problem is that Felton has already given up the ball to Mozgov. If Felton would have kept his dribble for one more second, he would have seen that the help on the backside was late and that Stoudemire was wide open for the lob pass at the rim.

Again, Felton comes off of a Stoudemire screen here. DeMarcus Cousins actually gets caught showing too much, and this allows Amar'e to slip by him and get wide open at the rim with no weak-side help. The problem is that Felton gave the basketball up too early once again. The result is Bill Walker trying to get the ball into Stoudemire, but by then the defense recovers. All Felton has to do there is keep his dribble (or even just hold the basketball) for one more second, and he has Stoudemire for an easy bucket.

In my opinion, all of this poor decision making and hesitation is due in large part to Felton's lack of confidence when running the pick-and-roll. The lack of confidence is there because he isn't very good at hitting his teammates on the move, which might be the most important skill for a point guard playing in a pick-and-roll system.

Here, Felton comes off of a Ronny Turiaf screen, and both Kings' defenders decide to try and trap him. The defenders leave a nice little hole for Felton to pass it through. Instead of throwing a nice and easy one-handed bounce pass, Felton pounds the basketball off of the floor and the ball bounces away from Turiaf.

Here, Stoudemire rolls after setting a screen for Felton and all he needs is a pass to lead him to the rim. Felton throws a high pass behind him that goes out of bounds.

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Felton isn't a bad point guard, and his numbers show that. That being said, he is not very good when running the pick-and-roll. This forces the Knicks into a tough decision. Either they spend practice time working with Felton, trying to help him develop into a solid pick-and-roll point guard, or they start going away from the pick-and-roll and start running sets that Felton excels in. They can't continue to throw Felton into pick-and-roll situations if he keeps performing like this.

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You can follow Sebastian on Twitter at twitter.com/@SebastianPruiti.

Sebastian Pruiti is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Sebastian by clicking here or click here to see Sebastian's other articles.

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