Searching For Jeremy Lin

Bob Levey

Did you know Jeremy Lin leads the league in many offensive metrics while being near last in others? We try to lift the veil clouding the opinions of the Rockets' point guard as we go searching for Jeremy Lin.

There are two things that I really dislike, one is writing introductions for anything and the other is irrational reactions to NBA players. Obviously this isn't going to be a whole post about why I don't like writing introductions, I probably wouldn't even make it past the intro anyway, let alone Patrick. Rather, I'm going to dive into dangerous waters and paint the picture of who exactly Jeremy Lin is as a basketball player. I will highlight the areas in which Jeremy Lin excels and struggles and compare him to other starting point guards in the NBA in an attempt to figure out how effective of a basketball player he really is.

Now, I am aware that Lin has his fair share of haters and fanatics and that there's nothing that myself or anyone else can do to change their view of him. I'm not even going to waste my time. My goal in this post isn't to persuade you on whether or not Jeremy Lin is a good/bad player, but to create a clear picture of who Jeremy Lin is as a player and for you (the reader) to be able to create informed thoughts based on the information that's provided. With that said, join me as I go searching for Jeremy Lin (I apologize for my awful play on a great movie title, I'm also no Bo Burnham so cheesy segues are my only option for moving posts along).

Looking into Lin's performance there seems to be 2 clear trends in his play. The first being that the areas which are his strengths, he really excels in. He excels in these areas so much that he's among or better than the NBA's elite point guards. The other trend being the opposite, the areas in which Lin is weak, he really struggles. In fact, in some categories he's near the bottom of NBA point guard, but I'm a positive person, so let's start with his strengths.

Scoring

Jeremy Lin plays point guard on the attack, he doesn't let touches go to waste without looking to score on them. His biggest strengths in his scoring comes off: catching and shooting the ball, driving and finishing at the rim, executing the pick and roll, and being in attack-mode on almost every touch.

Before we dive into those specific categories, I want to look at his overall scoring per half court touch and compare them to the NBA's elite point guards. Jeremy Lin (at the time of writing this, and this goes for all stats in this post) is averaging .29 points per half court touch. That might seem low and it is for the overall NBA, but for point guards this is near the top.

For example, Nate Robinson leads all point guards with .32 points per half court touch and the only starting point guards above him are Curry (.31), Westbrook (.3), and Lillard (.3). In comparison, Jeremy Lin's mark is significantly higher than point guards such as Parker (.26), Lawson (.25), Paul (.23), Wall (.23), Holiday (.23), and Deron Williams (.19).

It's no secret Lin likes to attack when the ball is in his hands and these stats prove that he's very good at it. Let's find out how he gets the majority of these points.

Catch and Shoot Situations

If I were to ask somebody "how good of a shooter is Jeremy Lin?", they would most likely respond with that he's average or below average. While saying that he's average overall is pretty accurate, if I were to change that question to "How good of a catch and shoot shooter is Jeremy Lin?" they would most likely respond with the same answer. To be blunt about it, they would be very wrong.

Jeremy Lin has an eFG% of 67.7% (2nd among starting point guards, 9th among all point guards, and 24th in the NBA) on catch and shoot shots. If you're wondering who the starting point guard above Lin is, it's Jose Calderon (no surprise there). To further Jeremy Lin's strengths as a spot up shooter, he shoots 46.4% on catch and shoot 3s (37th in NBA, 4th among starting point guards, and 12th among all point guards). This isn't due to lack of volume either, Lin shoots 2.4 3s a game off catch and shoot opportunities, more than players like Lawson and Kemba Walker and similar to players like Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving.

I hope this was able to get rid of all the memories of Lin airballs which have a better chance of hitting a fan than the rim and replace them with acceptance that a Lin catch and shoot shot is one of the best shots the Rockets can create in their offense. Hopefully he can keep this mark high during the season because it adds a new dimension to his game which lets him be effective off the ball when Harden, Beverley, and Brooks are acting as the primary ball handler.

Driving

This is Lin's bread and butter. When Lin is attacking the basket he is at his best. Whether it comes via the pick and roll or isolations, when Jeremy gets to the rim there's no stopping him. His ability to finish through contact and make acrobatic layups and reverses separates him from the pack in finishing at the rim. Overall, Jeremy Lin shoots 73%(!) inside the restricted area which is ridiculously high.

That's a better mark than most big men (including Dwight Howard)! On overall drives, Lin shoots 57.1% (55th in the league, 2nd among all point guards). Read this paragraph again. Done? Read it one more time. Finishing at the rim and driving ability is an elite commodity in the NBA and Jeremy Lin embraces and thrives at it.

To expand this a little bit more, Lin is 16th overall in personal points on drives a game, 9th overall in team points on drives a game, and 12th in points per 48 via drives. Because point totals aren't the most reliable metrics, I've calculated the points per drive for Lin, which came out to be about .6. To put this in perspective, Chris Paul, Jeff Teague, John Wall, Ty Lawson, Stephen Curry, and Russell Westbrook are some of the point guards who are below Lin in player points per drive.

Also, the points per drive accounts for turnovers, so if Lin were able to cut down his turnovers that number would increase. Given that, these numbers are as good as they come for a player who isn't even in the top 3 on his team. Look for Lin to attack the basket even more over this season when Beverley comes back and he's leading the bench unit instead of playing with the starters.

Pick and Roll play

Lin is most at home on the basketball court when he is able to execute the pick and roll. We've seen him dominate when paired up with Tyson Chandler in New York, he did well with Omer Asik last year, and this year he has been very good with Terrence Jones and Dwight Howard as his roll partners.

Synergy Sports tracks all pick and roll possessions and Jeremy Lin ranks 33rd in the league in Points Per Play with .86. Lin also shoots 50% on pick and rolls and is able to score on 45.8% of pick and rolls he's involved in. He's a north and south guy, when he uses the pick, he goes straight towards the basket attacking it. This leads to many points, but also a large amount of turnovers.

Lin turns the ball over on an alarming 26.5% of pick and rolls and when he doesn't attack and settles for a three, he has yet to make one.

Given those issues with his pick and roll play, it is still very impressive that he ranks 33rd in the league. Expect his pick and roll play to improve even more over the season and for him to go back to being an elite pick and roll player like he was the past 2 seasons.

Defending the rim

Defense as a strength for Jeremy Lin? Allen must have gone crazy. Now, I'm aware of Lin's defensive woes, he gets lost on defense, fouls a little bit too much, doesn't get enough steals, and seems out of it at times. However there is one very important area which he is great at. Keeping his matchup from finishing at the rim.

It's not a secret that shots inside the restricted area are some of the most efficient shots in the NBA and Lin does a great job of keeping his matchups from finishing them. He holds his opponents to 43.8% shooting which leads all the NBA's starting point guards. "But Allen, that's because Dwight is always down low" While that is correct, let's look at George Hill who has probably the best paint defender manning the paint behind him in Roy Hibbert. He's allowing his matchups to shoot 56.3% at the rim against him this season. For another example, Brandon Jennings who has 3 capable defenders in the front court starting beside him allows his opponents to shoot 58.6%.

It also needs to be noted that since returning from injury, Jeremy has been on a tear defensively. This could mean either that his numbers will improve because he's improving his defense or he's just on a streak and will regress towards the mean as the season goes on. If I were to make a bet, I would put money on him regressing to the mean.

What we've learned

Together we have dived into Jeremy's overall scoring, his spot up shooting, driving, pick and roll play, and defense. We've learned that he's among the point guard leaders in points per touch and defense while being among the league's leaders in driving and catch and shooting. That's a large amount of playing basketball and for Jeremy to not only excel, but league the league in some of those categories is a huge asset to a team.

I would've never thought the guy who people are so quick to label "overpaid" would be among the NBA's elite in many of the most important aspects of basketball. My perception of Jeremy's play has definitely changed. I thought he was nothing more than a slightly above average point guard, but now I view him as one of the most effective and efficient point guards in the league for what he does. However, Jeremy isn't perfect (no matter what his fans tell you) and still has some major aspects of his game to work on. Let's flip the table and look at the other side of Jeremy Lin.

Pull-up Shooting

We’ve established that Lin has been one of the best catch and shoot players in the league this season, but what about shooting off the dribble? Lin attempts 2.5 pull up shots a game and only manages to convert hit 26.2% of them. That’s slightly above making 1/4th of his shots which is atrocious for any guard. Looking at his shot selection, exactly 1 of those shots comes from deep a game where Lin only manages to make 16.7%(!). Only 2 players in the whole NBA who shoot at least 1 pull-up three a game post lower percentages than Jeremy. Those players are Kobe Bryant and J.R. Smith. Yikes.

The problem lies in his shot selection, watching Lin’s tape over the season a majority of his pull up shots come late in the shotclock or are pullup fadeaways from midrange which are the shots the Rockets’ offense specifically want to get rid of. When you’re only managing to have an eFG% of 29.5% (only 2 starting point guards who are lower are Mario Chalmers and Patrick Beverley) your shot selection needs to come into question. In Lin’s case, he could do away with at least 1 pull-up midrange shot a game. It might not seem like much, but every point matters in the NBA and if you are able to trade a 25% shot for a 50% shot, you take it every time. That’s what Lin needs to do, instead of pulling up so much, he should focus on driving and catch and shooting.

Passing

The Rockets use a pick and roll oriented offense which keeps the court wide open by playing 3-4 capable shooters at all times. It's a point guard's dream. With the pace and style that the Rockets play, Lin should be racking assists like it's no problem. He doesn't. Lin is only 51st in the league in assists per game with 4.2.

If Lin wants to make the leap we’ve all been waiting for him to make, he needs to focus on his distributing because right now he’s not getting it done.

There are 36 point guards ahead of him. 36! He's 58th in the league in assist opportunities a game, 48th in team points from his assists, and 76th in team points from assists per 48 min. For point guards who get at least 29 minutes a game, he ranks near last in every one of those metrics.

An interesting metric which has been created is "Passing Rating" from 82games.com. It takes into account turnovers, bad passes, and the type of assists. Lin posts a rating of 6.2, which is lower than every starting point guard except for George Hill, Brandon Knight, Patrick Beverley, and Kirk Hinrich. If Lin wants to make the leap we’ve all been waiting for him to make, he needs to focus on his distributing because right now he’s not getting it done. Going back to playing with the second unit could improve his passing since it’s made up of mostly shooters and Lin will have the ball in his hands for a large part of the time.

Turnovers

You were wondering when I was going to bring this up huh? I saved it for last because it's where Lin struggles the most. He turns the ball over 2.8 times a game according to ESPN which puts him at 25th in the league. Interestingly every player above Jeremy is either the first or second option on their offense and carries a large load while it's debatable that Lin is even the 3rd option on the Rockets.

Lin’s Ast/TO numbers are also very bad. His ratio is sitting currently at 1.47, making Derrick Rose the only point guard to post a lower ratio who turns the ball over at least 2 times a game. Turnovers play a large role in teams losing games because they take a shot attempt away from your team and give one to your opponents. Too many of them and games can be impossible to win, and let’s be honest, there have been games where Lin’s massive amount of turnovers led to Rockets’ losses. I think that if the Rockets and Lin want to make the leap to the next level, they need to cut down on turnovers and it starts with Lin.

What we’ve learned

Despite Jeremy’s strengths, Jeremy also struggles greatly in pull-up shooting, passing, and in taking care of the ball. Jeremy was a star in New York, but has regressed to a slightly above average point guard in his time with Houston. This is mostly due to his turnovers and lack of being able to distribute the ball, where he ranks near last in the important metrics for point guards. For Jeremy to go back to playing dynamic basketball like he has before, he’ll have to cut down his turnovers, work on creating more points off his passing, and work on his shot selection by cutting down the amount of pull-up shots he takes a game. If not, he’s just a really expensive role player/trade chip which I’m not okay with. He can be better.

Conclusion

I hope your view of Lin has changed some after reading this post, whether it be you think he’s worse or better than you did before. What I got out of this is that Jeremy Lin is a player who excels and is one of the most efficient point guards in multiple important aspects of basketball, but his glaring weaknesses almost make his strengths go to waste. Over this season I’m going to be paying a lot of attention to Lin to see whether he makes the jump to the next level of point guard or falls of the cliff he’s standing on. It all depends on what gives first, his strengths or his weaknesses.

Now, I have to ask, has this post changed your view of who Jeremy Lin is and how did it change it? How do you think the rest of Lin’s season is going to go? And lastly, what’s your final evaluation of Lin after reading this?

Thank you for taking the time to read all of this, you can tweet me @Allen_OJ (formerly known as OJ_ATM), and have a great new year!

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