For the past four-plus weeks, the New York Knicks have depended on a 39-year-old starting point guard with a 35-year-old back-up. As good as Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni might be for their respective ages, that's a scenario spelling disaster for practically any team, championship aspirations or not.
New York generally survived the lengthy stretch of über-seasoned point guard play, posting a 6-6 record to remain second in the Eastern Conference standings, but survival isn't exactly the goal when the season's midway point has already passed.
Luckily for the Knicks, their other point guard, Raymond Felton, will be returning to the court Saturday night after missing the past few weeks with a finger injury. Compared to the guys manning the point in recent days, the comparatively spry Felton should be a healthy addition to New York's increasingly ISO-heavy offense.
While Kidd has generally been a pleasant surprise for New York this season, proving to be an efficient long-range shooter while doing lots of other good Jason Kidd things, he's simply no longer able to penetrate defenses like he could at a younger age.
In Felton, the Knicks have a weapon they haven't had in recent weeks, someone capable of kicking passes out to open shooters after breaking down his man on the perimeter. Without that option, New York has depended more and more on one-on-one situations of late, which has taken away a lot of easy baskets.
With Felton in the lineup this season, the Knicks are 7.5 points better per 100 possessions, turning from a quality offensive unit into an absolute juggernaut. While the team also sees some defensive improvement without Felton on the floor, it's clear he makes New York a better team.
Felton's presence takes pressure off lead scorers Smith and Carmelo Anthony in particular, as they're counted on to create their own opportunities more often in his absence. Neither player has been as efficient without him -- Anthony is shooting just 41 percent this month, while Smith has been even worse, hitting 37 percent of his shots so far in January.
Against good defensive teams like the Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets and Indiana Pacers, the Knicks haven't found any offensive rhythm without Felton, much of it resulting from the lack of penetration and ball movement provided by his replacements. That often exposed the team's streaky shooting as easy buckets proved hard to come by.
Even if Felton isn't 100 percent in his first night back on the court, the Knicks should be able to see a boost from his presence. Not only does it push Kidd back into a more appropriate role, but his presence should limit how frequently we see the likes of Anthony or Smith taking on a defender one-to-one, only to toss up a difficult jump shot.
With Felton in the lineup this season, the Knicks are 20-8. Without him, they're 6-6. That's not entirely a coincidence.