Raymond Felton looks people in the eye when he talks to them. That’s just how he operates. It’s how he knows what to expect.
He’s from little Latta, S.C., where stop lights are rare and no chain grocery stores exist. Felton has had to earn what he’s gotten. To date, that’s a national championship at the University of North Carolina, an NBA All-Rookie Second Team nod and an impressive 12-year NBA career with steady individual success, amid a variety of team experiences.
When he suits up for the Thunder this fall, he’ll don his seventh professional jersey, the one in which he hopes to fill that final void in his career: an NBA Championship. When players of Felton’s tenure assess their station in the NBA at the end of every regular season, often their priorities shift in one direction: where is the best opportunity for postseason success?
“Being a 12-year guy, you just want to put yourself in a situation where you’re going to win,” Felton said. “Put yourself in a situation where you’ve got a chance to try to play for something special, and that’s to win a ring. That’s always been a goal of mine, always been a dream of mine.”
“This organization has been one of the top for the last ten years, since I can remember,” Felton continued, referencing his move to the Thunder. “So to come here, just, I think we have a great chance to do something special.”
During his United States tour of the NBA, he’s played in New York, Los Angeles, Charlotte, Portland, Dallas and Denver, but he’s never experienced OKC with Loud City behind him.
“Looking at this organization, this city, how they support this team and how loud it is in here, I can only imagine how it’s going to be to be on the right side of the court,” Felton chuckled.
As a part of this NBA travels, he’s found that his ability to assess others through eye contact has often told him quite a bit about both them and the organization. From the first day he began the process of signing with the Thunder, he can tell Oklahoma City is a place where he’ll fit.
“It’s family oriented. Everybody is just so welcoming, and everybody’s just honest,” Felton noted. “With this organization, I feel like everybody’s genuine.”
“It’s all about one thing. It’s about winning and taking care of each other,” Felton continued. “That’s a good feeling to have.”
Most likely, Felton will run the Thunder’s second unit in 2017-18. Skill level and explosiveness aside, he’ll have a lot in common from an ethos standpoint with the Thunder’s starter at that position. Over the years, Felton has experienced more than his fair share of Russell Westbrook, another guy who has no problem being straight up.
“That’s one battle that you don’t look forward to coming in here, playing against him,” Felton recalled. “He brings it every night. He’s going to give it his all. So I look forward to playing with a guy like that because I play the same way.”
For his career, Felton has averaged 11.9 points and 5.7 assists per game with a wonderful 2.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio while shooting 32.7 percent from three-point range. Even into his 30’s, Felton has been productive. His per-36 numbers with the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers the past two seasons have been quite similar to those during his prime years, with one even more impressive caveat: he played in 80 games each of the past two years.
Besides durability, what makes Felton unique is also his positional flexibility. Particularly with the Mavericks, Felton showed that both on offense and defense he both understands and is competent playing multiple positions on the floor. If Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan elects to go small or to utilize some of his other playmakers on the ball, he knows he’ll have no problem putting the intelligent and burly Felton off the ball on offense while defending a shooting guard on the other end.
“(Felton) has really been all over the place in the back court,” Donovan noted. “And I think that speaks to his IQ of how he can actually impact the game.”
“When you watch him play, he’s always trying to figure out ways to impact the game and impact winning,” Donovan continued.
That will be his precise job description with the Thunder’s second unit. Westbrook and newcomer Paul George will lead a starting group that has fellow veterans in it. Felton will be charged with being a leader amongst a group of young, emerging players who can be stars in their role with the right cohesion.
In his introductory press conference, Felton stayed true to his nature. He was honest and upfront about what he sees from the Thunder’s reserves, where he sees their trajectories heading and how he can help.
Felton noted that center Enes Kanter is going to bring it every night as a force in the paint. He believes that second-year man Alex Abrines may have the biggest upside as an all-around contributor, scorer and playmaker. Finally, he pointed to Doug McDermott, who Felton believes needs to just see the ball go through the hoop a few times and have a veteran playmaker to help provide him looks as he continues to translate his prolific college game to the pros.
That trio, plus Jerami Grant and Semaj Christon, look to be the players who Felton will probably spend the most time with when he isn’t mixing in with the starters. He’s looking forward to getting to work with the youngsters so he can provide some veteran guidance and help the whole group flow.
“All those guys bring a whole lot of different things to the game,” Felton reviewed. “Most of those guys are very young and don’t really have a lot of experience, but have been in big games because of the teams they’ve been on.”
Even in his assessment of his new Thunder teammates, Felton showed why the Thunder brought him in. The confidence, the toughness, the honesty and understanding of what goes into winning ripple through Felton’s words and shine through his eyes as he speaks.