Walt Frazier was an anomaly in his era. When training camp began, he was already in great shape because of an offseason of conditioning work and following a proper diet. Most of his teammates used camp as a means to get into game shape and work off some of the extra pounds put on by a summer of rest and relaxation. In today's game, that kind of approach can lead to injuries and, more notably, below-average performance.
Which leads me to the point guard of today's Knicks: Raymond Felton.
Eddy Curry was vilified for being the last player to show up before training camp and now he's paying the price -- and undoubtedly will in his next contract, if there is one -- for it. But not much was said about Felton, who arrived barely a week before camp to work out with his new teammates. One would think a point guard with an entirely new system to learn, and one of the game's most dominant finishers to work with, would want to get in as early as possible to work out the kinks.
Instead, Felton followed the same schedule he had in Charlotte and, apparently, the same offseason conditioning plan. When he came to New York in mid-September, his first appearance was at a team-sponsored function in the city where he looked more like an NFL fullback and feasted on guacamole and chips.
Let's immediately make something clear: Ray Felton is a hell of a guy and he has real talent. He has the skill set to run this offense and by run I mean lead a dynamic transition game with some very athletic teammates. It is because of this that he provides the best chance for the Knicks to win this season and be a playoff team.
But there is enough concern about his performance in the first three preseason games, not to mention what you see in practice, that forces this to be an issue. He was brought here to make the Knicks faster. So far, that progress has been slow.
Felton's listed weight is 205, but the Knicks won't say it, but they know he's well above that. He's always had a stocky build and, the way he explains it, his bulk and strength is to his advantage, especially when you combine it with his speed.
The trouble is we're not seeing nearly enough speed from him, which is supposed to be the main element he brings to this offense. What we're seeing is a guy who is clearly using camp to work himself into shape and a team that is trying to look the other way while he does it.
Amar'e Stoudemire has talked around it and said he doesn't want to put pressure on Felton by comparing him to Steve Nash (who, like Amar'e, is always in incredible shape). Mike D'Antoni has regularly mentioned the "flashes" he is seeing from his point guard, but even he offered somewhat of a resigned, "We'll get there" after discussing it.
I asked around about Felton and, apparently, this is nothing new to the Bobcats. One person with direct knowledge of the situation said Felton was notorious for coming in around 210-to-212 pounds and using camp to get into shape. "Once he gets there," the person said, "he's ready to go."
Another person I talked to in Charlotte said Felton is one of those guys who carries a bulky frame but can run all day long. It's not that he looks tired here with the Knicks or that you can notice his game disintegrating before your eyes like we saw with Chris Duhon. Felton's problems seem to be with finding comfort within the system. He hasn't yet figured out how to use his offense to set up others and, right now, spends a lot of time giving up the ball and never getting it back.
He needs more of a floor general personality out there and has to have more of a scorer's mentality sometimes, just to keep the defense honest. There may be games where he will need to take more shots. He may even have to be the leading scorer. Again, we will perpetually reference Steve Nash until someone else comes along to dominate the point guard position in this system. Nash got it. Felton is still trying to.
And he's still trying to get his legs under him. His shooting has been awful (27.3 percent from the field), which is usually a residual effect of bad conditioning and lack of rhythm. Then again, Felton is a career 41 percent shooter. Only last season, at 45.9 percent (38.5 percent from downtown), did he show a little more ability to be consistent from the perimeter.
You never want to make too much of statistics in preseason (though already we're suggesting Amar'e Stoudemire can lead the league in scoring after three preseason games), but if you check Felton's career, his averages in the preseason have gone down each year. But then check his career numbers and you see those have gone up each year.
And, I don't think I need to tell you which one matters more here.
The concerns with Felton, however, are valid. With all that Amar'e Stoudemire means to this franchise, the point guard position is still the most critical for this team. We saw it last season with Duhon. When he played well, the team usually was successful. But when Duhon struggled, so did the team.
Though Toney Douglas has had a strong camp -- he's absolutely relentless on defense, isn't he? -- and Andy Rautins has even looked good in spurts, make no mistake about it: it's Felton's ball. He has two years to own it before his contract is up.
But if he doesn't start producing, it'll be sooner than that before people start talking about other options, including Tony Parker, who, by the way, does not yet have a contract extension offer on the table from the Spurs.
And we all know who is available in 2012.