Besides the Thunder’s lifelong search for a serviceable 3-and-D wing player, the backup point guard position for the team has also been a wasteland. That’s where Raymond Felton comes in.
Since Eric Maynor, bet you weren’t expecting to hear him, the Thunder has seen the likes of Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith, Sebastian Telfair, Cameron Payne, and *shudders* Derek Fisher running Westbrook’s backup.
While Payne excelled at running the pregame dance routine with Westbrook, Jackson saved the Thunder’s season against the Grizzlies and Fisher did Fisher things, none of these players did what a backup point guard is supposed to do: make the game easier for his team.
Now enter “Treymond” Felton, the backup point guard of your dreams. While Felton’s body does not scream NBA point guard, Felton has done everything the Thunder have desired from its backup point guard. Felton can actually run the offense, whether he is with the starters or with the bench.
As most experts observed during Westbrook’s One-Man Band Triple Double Tour and especially during the first round matchup with the Rockets, once Westbrook hit the bench, the Thunder went from outscoring opponents by 4.9 points per 100 possessions to being outscored by 51.3 points per 100 possessions. It does not take a math genius to know figure it out.
“That’s what he does,” Russell Westbrook said. “It’s what he’s been doing all season long, just being solid.”
The main reason for this drastic drop off was the Thunder’s bench could not run an offense to get any quality looks at the basket and it certainly did not help having Semaj Christon piloting that unit. Although Felton’s stats: 7.0 points; 2.7 assists; and 2.1 rebounds per game are not eye popping, they do not reflect Felton’s real value to the team.
“His greatest strength is how cerebral he is, how smart he is,” Thunder head coach Billy Donovan said. “That to me is the biggest thing, that he’s a very smart, experienced player who’s got a calmness and a disposition when he’s out there.”
With Felton—an experienced 12-year NBA veteran—Donovan has felt comfortable allowing Felton to run pick and roll with Jerami Grant or Patrick Patterson. Whether it leads to a Grant drive or dunk, or a Patterson three-pointer, Felton makes the game easier for his teammates.
Sometimes the best way to judge a player is to use the eye-test. Despite only shooting 34 percent from three and 40 percent from the field this season, and averaging 32.7 percent from three over his career, you’ll notice Felton’s uncanny ability to hit key threes in succession to hold of an opponent’s run or take the lead. Felton’s impact is being felt by the opposing teams, because Felton has demonstrated an ability to hit an open three, so the opposing teams have to respect that threat.
Felton’s underrated ability to control the pace can go unnoticed.
“Really good feel how to play,” Donovan said. “Great tempo. Reads defense. Understands matchups.”
Even when Felton is playing alongside Westbrook and the starters, Felton helps make the game easier for the team than Payne or Christon could. If Donovan chooses to keep Felton in with Westbrook, then both players can take turns bringing the ball up court and initiating the offense, which allows the other to conserve energy. If Donovan plays Felton with either Carmelo Anthony or Paul George, Felton can either initiate a pick and roll, or play off the ball Anthony and George can draw attention looking for their shot, which leads to either an open three for Felton or another Thunder player.
“A lot of guys I play with demand a lot of double-teams and a lot of attention, so it’s giving me chances to have a lot of open shots,” Felton said. “And I just got to take advantage of it.”
While this season the bench is scoring 25.1 points compared to last season’s 36.1 points, there are reasons to explain the drop: this season’s starting unit is vastly stronger. You can account that to Donovan staggering his lineups to usually have one starter with the bench, and the Thunder shortening its bench in the two 2-for-1 player trades it made for Anthony and George.
Say what you want about the Felton’s numbers and his body, the guy has been the backup point guard the Thunder have needed for years.
“Whatever it is this team needs me to do, whatever coach needs me to do to help this team out, to help us get a win that night,” Felton said, “I’m gonna do.”
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