A Win-Lin Situation?: How Jeremy Lin Will Always Be a Success, Even If He Fails

Yeah, I know…I tried to avoid the cheesy “Lin-ization” of a word for the title of this article, but it is difficult to do.  Especially, if I want a modicum of traffic.  Plus, it is better that my original idea of replacing every instance of “in” throughout this article with “Lin.”  But that thought made my Lintestines hurt.

Anyway, I have avoid jumping onto the bandwagon of writing about the impact and awesomeness of Jeremy Lin.  I mean, writers and sports talk show hosts and television analysts have salivated over the Harvard product enough.  So, why add to the stack?  Well, because I have nothing better to do.

Over the past two weeks, Jeremy Lin has gone from being an obscure player on a sinking team to an international star that has helped the Knicks rise like a phoenix.  His explosion on the scene surprised almost everyone associated with the NBA.  While Houston Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey stated that the team “should have kept” Lin, he followed that up with the logical statement that he “did not know that [Lin] was this good.”  Most agreed that the talent was there to be an NBA player, but few knew he was going to explode like this.  Truth is that he was anonymous to most.  And while I knew who he was — my wife is Taiwanese, after all — I am not going to pretend that I knew either.  Kevin Martin said it best:

I couldn’t tell anything about him.  . . . He was cut [with the Warriors]. We cut him. That should tell you something. … It’s pretty amazing. We and the rest of the league are pretty stunned.

But look at his numbers both pre- and post- Mike D’antoni’s epiphany and you can see just how stunning it is.

GP

Min

FG%

3Pt%

FT%

Reb

Ast

TO

Ast/TO

Stl

Pts

Pre-Star

9

6:02

48.14

0.00

84.53

1.11

1.89

0.89

1.50

0.33

3.56

Post-Star

9

38:43

52.96

34.16

69.64

3.78

9.22

5.89

2.40

2.22

25

TOTAL

18

22:23

49.70

32.30

73.60

2.44

5.56

3.39

1.64

1.28

14.28

In addition, he is shooting 15 shots more than over those previous nine games in obscurity, and getting to the free throw line an average of eight time a game (versus just over two times a game pre-star).  Of course, minutes have a ton to do with that.  But his production has been outstanding, especially when you consider the new burden on him for minutes.  Not only that, remember that he only played in nine of the Knicks first 22 games!  And in a couple of those games, he was actually down in the D-League.

But Lin’s sudden rise to stardom has not gone over well with everyone.  Certainly, Kobe Bryant took a dig at him prior to the Knicks’ game against the Los Angeles Lakers, but that was Kobe being Kobe; not praising anyone.  But, the angles have been everything from questioning the system to invoking race.  And all, of course, miss the point.

For example, Jason Terry’s notion that Lin is a “system” guy ignores the fact that many players flourish because of the system in which they play.  Terry himself benefits from Dallas’s rotation system that allows him to be a spark off the bench, garnering minutes equal to those of starters.  Ben Wallace was a defensive menace for the defensive-minded Detroit Pistons, while teams like the Denver Nuggets produce players with lots of transition points because of their style of offense.  In each case, teams implement “systems” and bring in the players to run those systems.  In other words, those players have the necessary skills to run that “system”; very few players in the NBA are so talented that they can dominate regardless.  We call those players “superstars.”  Lin is NOT a superstar, but neither is Terry.

And then you have Floyd Mayweather’s nonsense about Lin’s race.  When he is not ducking Manny Pacquiao, apparently Mayweather is busy taking shots at Lin and taking a stand “on behalf of other NBA players” [I did not know Mayweather was a basketball player].  Does “race” have something to do with the hype?  Sure.  But, it is because of the rarity of an Asian-American player in the NBA; not because of his ethnicity alone.  But the attention from the media is beyond race, as we are talking about a player waived by two teams, on the verge of being waived by a third team, and whose career was rotting on the Knicks’ bench.

Mayweather is upset because what he sees is a non-black man doing what black men are “known” to do.  That, and Money May’s apparent fear of Asians.  That is all he sees.  What the rest of us see is a man finally getting a chance after so many rejections; a story not just of an Asian man or a black man, but one of many people just looking for that one opportunity.

Additionally, as has been mentioned on sports talk radio, that this is playing out in New York City is what also makes it relevant.  Had Lin received his opportunity with Golden State or in Houston, it would not have been this big.  Maybe it would be newsworthy for a few days, but not to this extent.  I mean, it is the reason why Lin is headlining ESPN.com and Yahoo! Sports, while the San Antonio Spurs’ current 10-game winning streak and Kevin Durant’s 51-points are relatively obscured.

Regardless of the reason, Lin’s ascension has been incredible.  And his game against the Dallas Mavericks — arguably the best defense that he has faced since taking over the Knicks’ point guard position — helped solidify his place in the league, as well as wash away the bad taste from the loss to the New Orleans Hornets on 17 February.  Tuffy Rhodes he is not (although Rhodes did have a stellar career in Japan).

But, eventually, Lin’s production will slow down.  It may not go to 10 points a game, with four assists every night.  But his production will plateau.  And it is difficult to imagine that the Knicks can maintain this pace.  Remember that New York was out of playoff contention just two weeks ago, battling the New Jersey Nets for the Atlantic Division’s basement!

Will that team return?  Maybe not.  The Knicks are feeding off of Lin’s energy.  Or, more appropriately, the Madison Square Garden crowd is energized with Lin in the lineup, which in turn energizes the Knicks.  But this momentum will slow.  And when it does, will the MSG crowd turn on Lin and blame him if the Knicks fail?  Will Lin eventually “fail”?

I say no.  And the reason is as simple as tonight’s game.  Tonight, the Knicks take on the team that kick-started Lin’s rise — the New Jersey Nets.  But, more importantly, it is apparently going to also signal the return of Carmelo Anthony.  And THAT return is why Lin will still be viewed as a success, even if the Knicks fall to pieces as the season progresses.

Keep in mind that Lin and Anthony have only been on the floor for long stretches of the game once — 4 February’s game against the Nets.  In other words, they truly played together in Lin’s first significant game.  In that game, Anthony struggled from the field, going 3 for 15 from the field for just 11 points.  Lin shot 10 for 19 for 25 points.  That means that those two players accounted for 40.97 percent of the shots attempted and 35.1 percent of shots made.  Add in Amar’e Stoudemire’s 6 for 11 game and that is over 54 percent of attempted shots and 51.4 percent of made shots.  But, that percentage is far lower than a typical game from the Miami Heat trio of Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.  In other words, there appear to be enough shots for them all.

But, if Lin plays the role of a “true” point guard, then his facilitation should work well with Stoudemire and Anthony.  That 4 February game has been the only one were all three played together.  Since that time, the Knicks have won with only Lin on the floor and they have won with Lin and Stoudemire on the floor.  Tonight represents the first time since Lin’s ascension to starter that all three will be on the floor.  What if the Knicks fail?

Well, one only has to look at the variables, combinations and outcomes.  Without Lin (Stoudemire + Anthony), the Knicks were 8-15 on the season.  With Lin only (and counting the 6 February game against the Utah Jazz, since Anthony left early with his groin injury), the team was 4-0.  With Stoudemire back in the lineup (Lin + Stoudemire), New York is 3-1.  So, at this point, the Knicks have been successfully with Lin as the starter versus the times without Lin starting.

Now, of course, the only game where the Knicks’ new Big Three played was a game where Lin did not start.  So, tonight should mark the first time that all three have played together where Lin was the starter (assuming Anthony is not eased back in as a bench player).  What happens if the success ends?  Who is to blame?

Well, the answer is going to fall on the variable that was lacking during this current run — Anthony.  Even if Lin has double-digit turnovers or shoots less than 30 percent from the field, the inclusion of Anthony into the lineup is going to shift the blame from Lin to Anthony.  Lin will be heralded as the guy who got the Knicks rolling and back into playoff contention.  Anthony will be the one crucified for the Knicks’ failure to maintain that momentum.  Lin will be the unselfish energizer, while Anthony will be the equivalent of a black hole on the basketball court.

Anthony does demand a lot of shots, as he is averaging 19.6 shots per game this season.  The problem is that we do not even know how the Knicks will be with Anthony back in the lineup.  Maybe Anthony has not played with a “true” pick-and-roll point guard, but he has certainly played with PGs that dish the ball.  Andre Miller, for example, averaged 8.2 assists per game when Anthony averaged 19.7 shots (26.5 PPG) in 2005-06.  In 2007-08, Carmelo shot an average of 19.2 times per game (25.7 PPG) with Allen Iverson dishing out 7.2 assists per game (while also scoring 26.4 PPG on an average of 19 shots).

But Anthony has become so vilified as a “ball hog” and a selfish player that there is a tendency to believe that he is incapable of “sharing” the ball [all the while ignoring that the role of most small forwards is to score points rather than create assists].  This also ignores that fact that Carmelo is fifth among all forwards in assists per game and has finished in the top 10 in assists among small forwards in four of his eight previous seasons (and top 15 in all eight).

And personally, I do think that Anthony can coexist with Lin.  But, if the Knicks do indeed sputter, the blame will be on Anthony and his “inability” to be a team player, rather than on Lin’s shortcomings.

In other words, Lin will be seen as a hero regardless of how the rest of the season plays out.  For Anthony, he can only pray that the momentum continues.  Otherwise, it will be his head the Knicks faithful will be after and not Lin.

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