This week is going to be one of the Charlotte Bobcats' toughest of the season. They're not going to play particularly difficult competition, but they will be playing four games in five nights, including two against the team's former captain and starting point guard, Raymond Felton.
Felton is a touchy subject for those Bobcats fans among us who don't care which basketball factory one chooses to help him get to the NBA. Criticize the guy, and someone will come out of the woodwork to mention how awesome he was at UNC. I get it. He was a key part of a national championship team that meant a lot to a lot of people in the Carolinas. But that has nothing to do with how well or how poorly he played for the Bobcats.
It swings the other way, too. Felton got criticized for ludicrous things by both UNC-haters and others. My favorite line is the "we should never have drafted him" thing. Really? Consensus at the time said Felton was a fine pick to make, given the circumstances. Milwaukee took a franchise big man. Atlanta should have taken a point guard, but chose a super-high-upside swingman, instead. Utah surprised everyone by taking the second-best point guard in the draft, who'd been a combo guard in college. And then New Orleans took Chris Paul, the guy everyone expected to go second overall. Given the fifth pick in that draft, Danny Granger was the only other player who might have been on Felton's level as a college prospect, but he had knee issues that scared off everyone but Indiana, and Gerald Green was the high schooler that a lot of people thought might get picked ahead of Martell Webster. Other choices included Charlie Villanueva, a headcase who'd only played one year of uninterested ball at UConn, and Fran Vasquez, who actively didn't want to come to the U.S. All that's to say the pick was fine, but it just didn't work out as well as three of the four picks ahead of it.
If you want to sum up the Raymond Felton era in Charlotte, I think there are several fair points to make.
1 -- He was jerked around between point guard and shooting guard by his first two coaches. Sam Vincent, in particular, made the egregious mistake of starting him alongside Jeff McInnis instead of simply letting him run the offense.
2 -- Ignoring the position/role caveat, which probably reflects poorly upon him anyway, Felton hovered around being an average point guard his first four seasons, depending on what you think of his defense, and then became a well above average point during his final season, when he finally stopped shooting so much and had a corresponding improvement in his shooting percentages, across the board.
3 -- Every single person who'll go on record says that Felton was a positive presence on the team.
Are the Bobcats better for having let him go? Yes, but only because he commanded a salary out of line with his expected production. There's a chance Felton's improvement last season was real and permanent, and in 14 games with the Knicks this season, he's played some excellent basketball, even if the pace is inflating his box score stats a bit.
For his part, D.J. Augustin is a completely different player than he was his first two seasons in the league. Handed the point guard position to start the year, he, too, has stopped taking shots, even though, unlike Felton, shooting from the perimeter was actually one of Augustin's strongest skills. Interestingly, on offense, Augustin's season, thus far, is shaping up to look a lot like Felton's last season with the Cats -- only without anything near the kind of defense Felton played.