March 31, 2012. That was the day Jeremy Lin had to address the media and the public, announcing that he needed surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, effectively ending his season.
After he had pretty much single-handedly recaptured the magic that was basketball in Madison Square Garden and brought the New York Knicks back from certain doom, Jeremy Lin was done for the season, and, as it turned out, his career.
It all starts here, with that sense of helplessness and regret on the sidelines. A year ago, Jeremy Lin had to watch the team that made his career run into a brick wall against the heavily favored Miami Heat while enduring the whispering doubts about his injury, his commitment, his ability, and yet again his career crop up with the incessant and relentless New York media. His body betrayed him, and all he could do was watch and pray for a chance of redemption.
That chance has come, albeit in a slightly different form than he would have imagined. A year later, Jeremy Lin is back in the playoffs, this time fully healthy and in a red jersey. Instead of facing the best of the East, Jeremy Lin gets to take on the best of the West. A lot has changed since last year, but the only one that really matters is that Jeremy gets to play in April this year.
Jeremy Lin is healthy, and that alone makes all the difference in the world.
From a basketball standpoint, Jeremy Lin did not set the world on fire like many predicted, but he certainly did not disappoint either. He put up respectable numbers for a starting point guard in a system where a lot of ball control goes to James Harden, and he continuously worked to find a way to coexist with Harden maximize his talents. He ended the season averaging 13.4 points, 3 rebounds, 6.1 assists, but the average does not reflect his progress. After starting out the season absolutely abysmally, Lin ended the season on a groove, improving his numbers each and every month since the beginning of the season. Now, Lin is set up to be the ultimate X factor in what remains of the playoffs.
Like any X factor, Jeremy Lin has distinct strength and weakness in every facet of his game that, dependent on the situation, makes him either the most dangerous player on the court or the most problematic.
Breaking Down Jeremy Lin
Do not let the modest point per game fool you; Lin can score, and he can do it on anybody. Lin has a very quick first step that can get him by anyone on a dead drive to the rim, and that speed is one of the biggest strengths of his offense. His initial speed is better than freak athletes like John Wall at 13.93 mph, and his top speed of 18.85 mph exceeds that of Kyrie Irving's 18.75 mph.
Despite a still somewhat limited offensive arsenal, Lin can put up points with ease. He is capable of breaking out for double digits in as little as 5 minutes by simply attacking the rim. A significant portion of his shot attempts are short-range shots (where he shoots 58%), with nearly 40% within the restricted circle. He favors the right side, exploding much better off his left leg. If you can get to the rim consistently in the NBA, you can find a way to score, even if your jump shot is suspect.
Lin is also a much improved 3 point shooter. Despite shooting 29.7% for the first 3 months of the season, he finished the year shooting nearly 34% from 3, including 3 straight 40+% months. Because of his improved 3 point shooting, Jeremy Lin produces 0.97 points per play from spot up situations. Jeremy can make teams that game plan by leaving him open pay for their mistakes.
Jeremy Lin's overall shot chart
With that said, jump shots have been a weakness in Jeremy Lin's game this season. Jeremy only shoots 34% on his jump shots this season, a far cry from his excellent 40% mark a year ago. Among starting point guards this season only Ricky Rubio, John Wall, Avery Bradley, Russell Westbrook, and Goran Dragic have lower eFG% on their jump shots than Lin's 42.6%. Although some believe that his choice to take more 3 point shots negatively impacted his numbers, Jeremy also shoots only 35% on 2 point jumpers, far below his excellent 44% as a Knick.
There are few areas that he shoots above average percentages in, but many more where he is below average, particularly on the left side. A major reason is that Jeremy Lin decided to rework his mechanics over the summer, and the new form has not fully set in yet. Many fans have noticed that Jeremy Lin shoots differently in the game than he does in pre-game workouts. The high arching shot that Jeremy Lin takes is a tough one to gain consistent distance and roll, and over the course of the season Jeremy has had consistency issues with that shot.
Jeremy Lin's jumpshots
As good of a scorer as Jeremy Lin can be, he has a tendency to be very passive at times. There are games where he takes less than 10 shots. If he is not aggressively attacking the rim, then his shortcomings become very obvious. While it has improved, his off-ball movement still often lacks purpose. He often makes maybe 1 cut across the lane then floats off to the corner. When he does get the ball in his hands, he has a tendency to pass off opportunities to score.
Although Lin has elite speed, he doesn't have the elite elevations and wingspan to finish above the rim like Wall and Westbrook. He's also not the most creative finisher around the rim, often opting for a direct lay-up or reverse. His elevation and hang time may not be where it once was after the his surgery, which diminishes a lot of his ability for more athletic finishes. A good shot blocker can really bother Jeremy's offensive game.
Jeremy Lin and James Harden are far and away the best playmakers on this team. Harden's ability to score off of the pick and roll and make skip passes to the open 3 point shooter produces a lot of easy baskets both at the rim and from the perimeter. Lin, however, has demonstrated better ability to read the court and movement than Harden, recognizing mismatches and cutters much earlier in plays and making the right pass. Jeremy Lin leads the team in most passing stats: 6.1 assists per 36 minutes, 497 total assists, 29% assists rate. 3.2 of his 6 assists per game leads to shots at the rim.
Lin's ability to read movements especially shines when he's making outlet passes in transition. Word of advice, don't challenge Jeremy to a game of Angry birds or Gunbound; his ability to calculate trajectory is uncanny, especially to a moving target. Time and again, Lin is able to get the ball in the back court, look down court and throw a perfect pass over the top to a streaking Parsons or Harden for an easy 2 points in secondary break or transition.
Lin is at his best when he's putting pressure on the defense with his drives early in the offense. With his speed, even if he does not get a shot off at the rim, he often opens up another driving lane for the next ball handler until a quality shot appears. Harden may embody our drive and kick offense, but Lin really embraces and executes it. There are many instances when the offense runs stagnant, and Lin is often able to re-energize it by doing his part as the initiator of offense.
As a Harvard Economics major, Jeremy Lin must have missed the class on risk management. Lin has the propensity to go for difficult plays regardless of timing, which gets him into trouble from time to time. For every nifty globetrotter-esque passes he makes, there is a head scratching turnover to match. Decision making and court vision on the move is a constant work in progress for Jeremy Lin, and though his assist to turnover ratio is much improved from a year ago, but he still ranks in the bottom among NBA point guards at 2.11.
People forget that Lin played shooting guard for the majority of his life. While he is a good passer for a shooting guard, he lacks the disciplined and mindset that most point guards spent their whole life to gain. With Harden taking much of the ball handling possession, there is a constant struggle in Lin's mind about what to do with his own possessions, which takes away from both his scoring and his playmaking. Both he and Harden really do their best playmaking as scoring threats, but the preconceived notion that Jeremy is a "point guard" has at times hurt his play on the court.
Jeremy Lin is an underrated defender. He's a tall point guard that's surprisingly strong at 6'3" 200 lbs, which gives him an advantage defensively. He often shocks the guards foolish enough to attempt post play by standing his ground and limiting them to poor fadeaways. Unlike Harden, Lin has displayed excellent basic fundamentals on the defensive side, always staying low to the ground on defense with his hands up. He's a cautious defender that works very hard at keeping his man in front of him, and has nights where he forces point guards into poor shooting by limiting their passage to the paint. Point guards that have success against Lin, are typically doing it over the top.
On top of his solid fundamentals, Jeremy Lin is an above average thief, ranking 8th in the NBA with 1.65 per game. He's very good at anticipating the passing lane, and often he reaches right as opponents make their moves. Jeremy plays with very active hands, but he's often good enough that he does not foul.
Lin has some physical advantages on defense, but he also has disadvantages. While Jeremy is very fast north to south, he's not great from side to side. His wingspan is only average for his size and not conducive to reach past players' bodies. As a result, Jeremy has often played to contain dribble penetration by playing a step further off the opposing point guard, and really has had to put his sole attention on his man when he's defending on ball.
He does not try to engage his mark until they get close to the 3 point line, which hurts him when he has to guard a lightning quick guard that can make up the ground in an instant or a point guard that shoots well. Screens and off ball movement often give Lin trouble as the distance he plays at forces him to either trail or go under screens, and the attention he has to put forth on the ball decreases his ability to anticipate screens.
Over the course of the last couple months, Jeremy Lin's defense has exhibited a curious lost of steals. After averaging nearly 2 a game in the first 4 months of the season, Lin only averaged 0.9 a game for the last 2 months of the season. The drop off is worrisome because there was no noticeable change in the way Jeremy plays defense. In general, Jeremy Lin likes to gamble for steals more than the usual guards, which is something most of our guards do with varying degree of success. The down side of gambling for steals is that team defense often suffers from trying to make up for the fail steal attempt.
Keys to Jeremy Lin's success: Consistency and Aggressiveness
Pretty much everything mentioned above comes with one caveat: how aggressive is Jeremy Lin? Lin struggles with what I like to call the "Lamar Odom Syndrome". Unlike the more prevalent "Ricky Davis Disorder" where a role player behaves like a superstar, those that suffer the "Lamar Odom syndrome" are all star talents who have role player mentalities. There are more successful and famous players that exhibit the same symptoms, such as Rasheed Wallace, but none is more representative than Lamar Odom.
Odom is a physically gifted, highly skilled power forward/small forward that can pretty much do it all as a basketball player, yet he has never been more than a 3rd option on a team and has had a wildly up and down career. His mentality has greatly impacted his consistency throughout his career
This is a different problem than knowing whether or not he can play. Lin knew all along that he can play, or else he would not fight like hell to get where he is. However, never in his wildest dreams did he imagine he could be a star in the NBA, which he was for a brief 25 game period. As quickly as that magic appeared, it disappeared when Jeremy went down with the knee injury. And even before he went down with his injury, his shine was quickly wearing off playing with Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith. Lin knew he belonged in the NBA, but he didn't realize what his identity was in the NBA. It turned out, he's more of a star and less of a role player.
He's still struggling with his identity. Much of his consistency issue comes with his mentality. Lin is a different player when he's aggressive, and the difference is so stark that you wish the non-aggressive player never existed. It's one thing to defer to James Harden, a star, but Lin at times has deferred to the likes of Chandler Parsons, Carlos Delfino, Patrick Patterson, even Daequan Cook one game, people Lin really has no business deferring to. When he sacrifices his game for, frankly, lesser players, it does nothing to help the team. Lin is at his best playing aggressive, attacking the rim and taking shots without hesitation.
His confidence elevates when he scores, and his attack opens up his passing to other players. Aggressive Jeremy Lin also puts pressure on the opposing players to match his production, which can force them into mistakes. He does have a tendency to go out of control at times compounding mistakes upon mistakes, but it should not deter him from playing aggressive. It is unfortunate that Lin doesn't want to take control of the ball sometimes, because when he does, everyone is better for it, including Harden. Desperation does not just fuel Lin, It has become almost a crutch. It is not coincidental that Jeremy Lin seems to come through in the hours of need, it is predictable. Those are the times Lin decides to rid himself of his own mental shackles and just play his game.
I once compare Jeremy Lin to the Incredible Hulk. Mild manner Bruce Banner who becomes one of the most powerful being on Earth, yet fears greatly of losing control as the Hulk. Hulk is not as bad as people think he is. He's saved the world multiple times, and he's an Avenger. Sure, he's not as brilliant as Bruce Banner, and yeah, there is some collateral damages along the way, but he's an overwhelming force of nature that does good most of the time.
Embrace your Inner Hulk, Jeremy Lin, and unleash destruction upon your enemies. SMASH!