The trait that defines Raymond Felton as a basketball player is his explosiveness. He is an outstanding leaper and a speedster, to be sure, but that burst of athleticism in his first step has made many a defender simply wilt. When he attacks the basket, he just isn't going to be stopped without help. While this shows up in his drives to the basket, it also shows up in other areas. On the fast break, he changes direction and is around a defender before his man fully realizes what has happened. On defense, the minute his opponent lets his guard down, Felton is on the attack. He can use his blinding lateral quickness to literally descend on and overpower his opponents in the backcourt. This translates into steals, and plenty of fast break buckets. NBA coaches dream of having a floor general that can explode past defenders the way that Raymond Felton can.
As with many athletic PG's, Felton is most successful in the open court. He seems to have an unlimited amount of energy, and always plays the game at full speed. His eyes and mind always seem to be a step ahead of the defense's. Spectacular passes on the move are commonplace when watching Felton. Combine these two traits, and you will see why North Carolina is always a threat to score on the fast break. The fact that the Heels regularly score fast break buckets immediately after an opponent's made basket is only a testament to Felton's domination in the open floor. There are times when you see a light go on in his head, and he takes over games. He picks up the pace of the game, starts being more assertive with the ball, and literally runs teams into the ground. Many are top-tier ACC opponents. If there is another guard with this type of game-changing ability, I would like to watch him.
A knock on Felton in the past has been his shot. He made just 42% of his FG's a year ago, while shooting just 31% from beyond the arc. After dedicating himself to a summer of revamping his form, those numbers are up to 48% and 46% this season. It seems that not only does he leave it all out there every time he steps onto the court for a game; he also knows how to work hard away from the shining lights. It is a major development that teams now must respect Felton's outside shot, making him that much more effective off the dribble. Furthermore, he has shown NBA scouts that he has the dedication to make himself a better player.
So with all this high praise and natural PG ability, why can't we find Raymond on an All-American list or the country's statistical leader board? This issue is one of consistency. For every game where Felton puts his team on his back and wills the Heels to victory, he has a game in which he commits crucial turnovers over a short span and allows a team back into a game. When things are clicking for him, you won't find a better creator in all of college basketball. But when he's having an off night, you can pretty much see the turnovers before they actually happen. Every point guard has an off night every now and then, but they seem to happen a bit more frequently with Ray, as his five games of 7 or more turnovers this year will attest. Felton seems to have a bit more trouble against the premier ACC teams that have guards who can almost match his quickness. While he's anything but clumsy, his hands may be a bit slower than his mind. Many of his turnovers are of the unforced variety.
Another question some may ask is why Felton averages just 12 ppg, despite having just great ability to get to the basket. The low scoring output can be partially attributed to the talent of his teammates, and his role in Roy Williams' offense â getting them the ball. However, it seems that Felton gets complacent within the UNC scheme at times, and doesn't look to attack defenses with the dribble. This is a shame, because not only is it UNC's best weapon on offense, it's also exactly what scouts want to see Ray do more consistently.
Nothing typifies Felton's struggles with hold and cold play like UNC's loss to Duke last week. The Heels were down by nine with five minutes left, when Felton did his typical thing. He began pushing the ball, getting to the rim, and blowing by rapidly tiring defenders. The Heels got within 1 and had the ball for the game's final possession. Felton blew by Daniel Ewing at the top of the key, and had a clear path into the middle of the lane. However, he chose to pull the ball back out with under six seconds to play and set up Rashad McCants. The result of the play was a turnover, no shot attempt, and the loss. This play seems to illustrate how Felton's turnover problems come about. Most explosive PG's run into problems when they try to do too much, or push too hard. Felton seems to struggle when he's thinking too much, and thrives only when he's pushing himself (and everyone around him) to the max.
So where does this leave Raymond Felton in terms of draft stock? He is just a junior, so he could return for another season. However, I don't believe that he will. It is currently fashionable to view him as the 2nd best PG draftable PG in 2005, behind his much-hyped ACC counterpart Chris Paul. On the good nights, I have to say that I like Raymond Felton significantly better. He has a certain explosive, creative flair about him that no other college PG currently employs, and a defender knows that if he loses focus, Raymond Felton is going to make him pay. Where Paul might be a better scorer in the league, Felton has a chance to be the next great creator PG in the league, and have an impact like TJ Ford was having a season ago before the injuries. However, this incredible potential has to be balanced out with the bad nights, where turnover could be his middle name. For some, the night-to-night lack of consistency drops Felton to the end of the lottery, maybe even further down into the middle of the first round. I am still taking a "wait and see" approach before I move him too high up in the lottery on my personal draft board, but he just plays the game right. I can't help but root for his long-term success.
Raymond Felton certainly has the chance to solidify or even raise his draft stock in the coming month. The eyes of the nation will be on North Carolina, generally considered the most talented team out there. Felton has made a name out of stepping up his play in short bursts, and putting teams away. If he can assert himself and do this over a stretch of games on a national stage, hearing his name called in the top 5 on draft night is a real possibility.