Felton beginning to find comfort zone in Denver backcourt
Newly acquired point guard breaks out in victory over Atlanta
Raymond Felton is one of those natural-born athletes who makes things looks easier than they really are.
Growing up in the small town of Latta, S.C., he was a multisport star who ran the option at quarterback, threw fastballs by hitters on the baseball diamond and guided his basketball team to back-to-back 1A state titles.
In the process, he let his actions speak more often than his voice – an approach that has served him well during his first week with the Nuggets.
“I think he’s trying to lead with how he plays, which I personally think is the best way,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “You lead by attitude and approach, not by words.”
Felton’s attitude has been outstanding since arriving in Denver as part of the three-team, 13-player trade with the New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves.
After starting 423 of 453 games in his career, Felton didn’t flinch when told he would initially come off the bench as the backup to second-year point guard Ty Lawson.
Karl is fond of saying that who starts is not as important as who finishes, and Felton was proof of that Monday night, scoring 12 of his 16 points while playing the final 15 minutes of Denver’s 100-90 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
“He’s good,” Nuggets shooting guard Arron Afflalo said. “He just plays with a lot of passion. That’s the part I love. And he has a maturity about him. He doesn’t get too up or too down about the situation going on. I definitely get a veteran feel from him.”
With nearly six years of NBA experience, the 26-year-old Felton qualified as the senior member of the five-player package that Denver received in exchange for Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter, Renaldo Balkman and Shelden Williams.
Because of his experience, Felton didn’t fret about shooting 5-for-20 from the field in his first two games with the Nuggets. He went 7-of-12 against Atlanta, including a 22-foot jumper that preceded an alley-oop pass to J.R. Smith as Denver put the game away in the game’s final two minutes.
Felton and Smith played the entire fourth quarter together in a reunion more than six years in the making. Felton was finishing his sophomore season at North Carolina when Smith chose the NBA over a scholarship with the Tar Heels.
“That was going to be a great backcourt,” Smith said. “Now we get to play together here in The League.”
Smith and Felton combined for 21 of Denver’s 29 points in the fourth quarter, while Kenyon Martin finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds for his second consecutive double-double.
In a display of their newfound balance and depth, the Nuggets had five players score in double figures and they also got defense, rebounding and energy from reserve forward Chris Andersen.
“With all the acquisitions the Nuggets have made, it makes them a little less predictable in terms of where the scoring will come from,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “They’ve got a lot of guys that can score the basketball and they’ve got a lot of guys that are just good players.”
Denver (35-26) improved to 3-1 since the Anthony trade and closed within 2½ games of Oklahoma City for the Northwest Division lead.
“I’ve got the utmost confidence for these guys in the locker room,” Martin said. “All the spectators and critics and so-called sports analysts – whatever you want to call them – everybody’s always got an opinion, but you still have to go out and play the game.”
COACH VAN EXEL: Former Nuggets guard Nick Van Exel is working as a player development instructor for the Hawks, but he did not travel with the team on its seven-game road trip.
Drew said Van Exel has been valuable while serving as a mentor to second-year point guard Jeff Teague.
“He’s been phenomenal for us,” Drew said. “Everybody knows Nick played that position with kind of a chip on his shoulder and I’m trying to get Jeff Teague to play the same way.”
ETC: Denver forward Danilo Gallinari did not play Monday and is expected to miss 7 to 10 days with a broken big toe, while Lawson was limited by the flu … The Nuggets improved to 10-1 against Eastern Conference teams at the Pepsi Center … Hawks forward Josh Smith had 10 points and five rebounds but did not play in the second half after banging knees with J.R. Smith in the second quarter … Denver committed a season-low six turnovers … Denver and Atlanta combined to go 5-for-33 from three-point range.