There has been lots of talk of the regrets that previous GMs must be having now that Lin appears to be for real, yo. “How could a guy like this go undrafted?”
“How could he have been waived by all thirty-six teams, including the Anchorage Yetis?”
“Fire all the GMs!”
Maybe the appropriate place to start answering this question is by looking at Lin’s numbers this season and last:
That is quite the transformation. Perhaps you’re thinking that he spent last year in a cocoon, and now we’re seeing the beautiful butterfly spread its wings. I have another thought though.
Let me start by painting you a word-picture. Jeremy Lin is on the Lakers (don’t worry – we’re just imagining). He dribbles the ball up the court, and sees a scowling Kobe Bryant thrust his shoulder back into Thabo Sefolosha as he fights for position in the high post. He raises his hand up, calling for the ball, and Jeremy Lin begins to drop the ball into Kobe, but wait, what’s this? Westbrook drops off of Lin as he starts to pass, blocking the angle. Jeremy eyes the basket from 23 feet out, but then feels Kobe’s eyes burning on his cheeks, and so he reverses the ball, and after some screen action, Kobe receives the pass and begins to back Thabo down.
Except there are more problems. OKC doubles Kobe, and their defense rotates so that Lin is open on the weak side. Kobe now has two options: swing the ball to Lin so he can miss a three (or dribble in and take a low value long two), or he can do what Kobe do and jack up a shot with two defenders draped over him.
The Laker version of Jeremy Lin looks very similar to the Warrior version of Lin, and the reason why is because what these last three games have revealed is that he has two plus skills:
- Reading the defense
- Slashing to the rim
Those skills are only valuable when you have the ball in your hands, and it takes a great leap of faith for a coach to send an undrafted rookie out in the game and give him the green light to to attack. If you look at Lin’s shot selection last year in Golden State, 64% of his attempts were jump shots. He had a putrid eFG% of 29.3% on those shots. Lin was not creating when he was in Golden State. In the few minutes Keith Smart spared him last year, he likely told him to get the ball to a more established player. Most of his few field goal attempts likely came on kick outs, and if we’ve seen one notable flaw in Lin’s game, it’s that he cannot shoot. Not only is this pattern evidenced in Lin’s shot selection, it is clear from his meek 15.7% usage rate and much lower turnover rate.
By contrast, Lin’s 29.3% USG% this year is 11th in the league, just after Derrick Rose. It is higher than Amaré Stoudemire’s (26.8%). Combined, Lin’s USG% and AST% is 76.5%, so when he’s playing, Lin either shoots, turns the ball over, or assists on more than three-quarters of the Knicks’ possessions. That’s higher than Westbrook, Rose, and Paul, and slightly lower than the offense-starved Nets’ Deron Williams.
In addition, Lin’s skills are particularly well suited to D’Antoni’s offense. As we have seen from our point guard play this year and even from Chauncey Billups last year, the pick and roll is easy to run but hard to have consistent success with. This is because the passing angles and driving lanes change on every play. One time down, Lin might have a window to pass to Chandler as soon as he rolls to the basket. The next time down, he might have to cut diagonally towards the paint to get that angle, another he might have to hesitate at a certain spot and wait for the angle to develop. This doesn’t even take into account potential passes to perimeter players. There are a ton of decisions to make in a very short period of time, and if you miss your window to make a play, the defense will recover, and you will either have to reset, or you will end up with a low percentage shot.
So to answer the question, “Why has Lin been so successful?” it is mostly because D’Antoni’s system emphasizes Lin’s specific skillset and almost entirely hides his weaknesses. Seven Seconds or Less puts its point guard in the control room. With a good roll man, it will almost always yield an opportunity for a high percentage shot, and if the point guard can sniff it out, things will go great. This should be no mystery to people. Remember that guy Steve Nash? He was supremely talented passer, but back in 2003 no one would have guessed that he would one day be a two-time MVP. Consider his numbers from his last four years in Dallas and his first four in Phoenix.
Those are some HUGE jumps for a guy who – 29 years old when he moved to sunny Phoenix – was supposed to be entering his twilight years. I don’t mean to say Lin is the new Nash, but they share those two critical skills.
Unfortunately, the one major difference between Lin and Nash is that Lin can’t shoot. One thing we have some reason to be concerned about here is what happens when Anthony and Stoudemire return? You have to remember that playing Jeremy Lin heavy minutes makes this team even more dependent on Seven Seconds or Less because as an off ball player, he is a huge liability. The isolation, a play which has been dreadfully ineffective for New York so far this year, will be even more useless. Will Anthony continue his solid team play, or will he revert to his old ways?
Maybe the best comparison here is the 2007-08 Celtics. A second year guard has emerged as a great playmaker, but will the newly-united stars share their spotlight with him for the benefit of the team? Their choices will decide the future of the nation of D’Anmelarélinson.