Every weekday throughout the season, ESPNNewYork.com will tackle a burning question about the Knicks in our "Opening Tip" segment.
Today's Burning Question: Could Raymond Felton be in contention for Most Improved Player this season?
When Felton admitted this summer that he entered last season in Portland out of shape, but was determined to change course in New York for his second stint, Knicks fans, as they usually do, said, "Okay, let's see it. We don't want to hear it." That's what eight years of mounting losses and early playoff exits can do.
Well, after the preseason and two regular-season games (both wins), Knicks fans like what they see. Felton has been consistently explosive up the court, aggressively attacking off pick-and-rolls, and finishing strong at the rim. He's also been accommodating Mike Woodson's demand to dictate the tempo in the first quarter, especially to protect home court.
"It's important when you step out on the floor at home that you set the stage," the coach said before facing the Sixers on Sunday afternoon.
While Felton isn't putting up staggering offensive numbers, he doesn't have to with Carmelo Anthony in the starting five and J.R. Smith off the bench. Felton's job has been to facilitate the offense and initiate quick ball rotation, as well as establish a perimeter presence on defense, and he's done all of those things. Woodson's whole shtick is holding players accountable on D, and Felton (2.0 steals per game) appears to be buying in, along with his teammates.
"I think it's the blueprint for anything," Felton said postgame on Sunday. "If we play defense, you're going to give yourself a great chance to win games. So as long as we continue to do that, offense is going to take care of itself."
So far, Felton's play has prevented Jeremy Lin's name from coming up related to what's developing on the court. That's because Felton has earned rave reviews for helping the Knicks build important initial leads, playing smart and with heart, and knocking down shots.
Felton has a chip on his shoulder, based on last season, and he's already proving to be one of the best financial steals from free agency, as his salary is only in the $4 million range.
With all of the starting point-guard shuffling in the offseason, Felton won't be the only one competing for MIP. There's also Darren Collison (Mavericks), Goran Dragic (Suns), Jrue Holiday (Sixers), Ty Lawson (Nuggets), Lin (Rockets), Kyle Lowry (Raptors), Greivis Vasquez (Hornets) and Kemba Walker (Bobcats).
Do you think Felton could be in contention for Most Improved Player this season? Leave us your comments below.
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