Ray Felton Plays Off the Ball

Imagine that: In a two-day span, Tony Allen (he of the occasional dribbling impediment) runs the point in a Celtics win, and Raymond Felton (he who can't shoot) starts at the two-guard in a Bobcats victory.

With TA's exploits already well covered on this site, it seemed worth taking a few moments to dissect Sam Vincent's latest lineup shuffle in Charlotte.

Monday's Charlotte Observer quoted the Cats' rookie coach on his decision to insert point guard Jeff McInnis into the lineup next to Felton:

Vincent is now of a mind that Felton doesn't play his best when he has primary responsibility as the team's playmaker. Hence, veteran McInnis becomes a starter.

"I'm not saying he's not a point guard," Vincent said of Felton. "He's a point guard who is still learning how to best get his game comfortable. In trying to do that, we're losing some of his aggressiveness.

"He's a combo guard who can play the point."

This move might come off as a more sensible one if not for two slight snags: Felton is undersized and doesn't shoot like a two guard (that's one), and Felton is the man who drives the offense in Charlotte.

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The first issue is a simple disagreement of mine with Vincent on Felton's capability as a shooting guard.  At 6-foot-1, he makes Ben Gordon look like a giant at the two, which means that his presence at the two is likely to lead to defensive mismatches against the 'Cats.  Further, if there is one prevailing problem with Felton's game, it has always been that he doesn't shoot the ball all that well.  He is shooting just 41.3 percent from the field this season, and that is a career high, with Felton having not hit the 40 percent plateau in each of his previous two seasons.  Playing Felton off the ball, which one would expect to press him into more shooting and less playmaking, would seem to only exacerbate this problem.  Whether or not Felton should be on the floor at the point is one thing, but moving him to the two just to keep him on the floor doesn't appear to be a viable solution.

But then again, neither does moving Felton from the starting point guard's job in the first place.  While he isn't a shooter, Felton is one of the game's most promising young point guards with the potential to become one of the best in the game over the next couple of seasons.  He has lightning speed up and down the floor and can push the ball as hard as anyone in the league.  He excels at penetrating into the paint and making plays from there to get open looks for his teammates as well as lay-ups and trips to the line for himself.  This is Ray Felton's game, and this is why the Bobcats re-signed the hyper-athletic Gerald Wallace and brought in Nellieball man Jason Richardson from Golden State: to run with Ray-Ray. 

Felton pushing the ball and wreaking havoc in the lane catalyzes this offense, and far more importantly, it is he who will be the caretaker of this Charlotte offense for years to come.  Perhaps he is slumping at present, but so is the rest of this team, and that is what happens to basketball players, especially young ones: they slump, and they learn.  Felton is 23 years old and in the third of what should be many seasons at the helm of the offense for the Charlotte Bobcats.  He is for better or for worse the franchise point guard, and he deserves the opportunity to keep learning through trial by fire on a day-to-day basis.

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