Monday, February 13, 2012

Jeremy Lin named Eastern Conference player of the week

It's official - Jeremy Lin is Eastern Conference player of the week for games played Monday, Feb 6 (so his breakthrough game off the bench against the Nets on Feb 4 isn't included), through Sunday, Feb 12.

The week couldn't have played out more perfectly for Lin. On Feb 4, the Knicks were dead in the water, rapidly losing sight of the play-offs, and being blown out by a bad team, the Nets. The rumor was Mike D'Antoni, who had no viable PG for his PG-centered system, was on the verge of being fired. Desperate, he sent Lin into the game off the end of the bench, and Lin single-handedly won the game while dazzling against all-star PG Deron Williams. D'Antoni then tried Lin as the starting PG against the Jazz, a good team unlike the Nets, and Lin did it again even though Stoudemire missed the game due to his brother's death and Anthony strained his groin early in the game. In his 2nd game as a starter, Lin matched up against John Wall, the PG drafted 1st over-all in the 2010 draft where Lin was undrafted. Besides running D'Antoni's offense impeccably against a very poor Wizards defense, Lin served notice to the NBA with a beautiful fake and cross-over that made John Wall jump to the side, concluded by an emphatic 'What's my name?' dunk.

Without the need to defer to his 2 superstar teammates last week, Lin was able to take ownership of the Knicks PG position, carry his team to 5 straight wins, make his teammates better, and become a team leader. After Kobe Bryant had dismissed him the night before, with skeptics predicting the end of Lin's run, Lin outdueled Bryant to lead the Knicks to victory over the Lakers on national TV. Finally, against Ricky Rubio and the Timberwolves, Lin showed off his steel by driving to the basket at the end of the game and absorbing a hard foul to score the game winning point, despite a poor 2nd half of the game. With the 5 wins, the Knicks are in 8th place and back in the play-off picture in the East. After the defensive grittiness and offensive style Lin established for the team last week, Stoudemire and Anthony will now be expected to adjust to Lin's Knicks when they return. That wouldn't have happened if they had been in the line-up last week. Stoudemire replacing Jared Jefferies and Anthony replacing Bill Walker in the starting line-up should be upgrades, and I believe Anthony and Stoudemire will adjust to playing with Lin.

The media is still buzzing about Lin's Roy-Hobbesian week, but it looks like the "Linsanity" hype is peaking - the memes are repeating ad nauseum at this point. Hopefully, the media attention will settle down soon so Lin can focus on his job, make adjustments, improve his game, and build himself a career. Lin has weaknesses to work on. There's a fine line between reckless and fearless. He dribbles into defenders at times and gets the ball stripped or tied up. At other times, he seems to lose sight of defenders behind him who either knock the ball away or jump his pass. Lin is a score-first point guard, and besides his shaky jump-shot, he gets into trouble at times with tunnel vision on his aggressive drives to the basket. At times, Lin has forced passes or shots in the crowded paint when a teammate on the perimeter must be open. His remarks about the Timberwolves defending the gray areas indicates his court vision has blind spots, and opponents may be diagnosing patterns in how he passes. Lin's legitimate excuse for shooting so much has been the absence of Anthony and Stoudemire. Now with their return, despite the worry over Anthony and Stoudemire adjusting to Lin's point guard play, a concern is that Lin will continue to call his own number first and become criticized for missing Anthony and Stoudemire when they're open in the half court. Hopefully, the need to feed the Knicks' 2 superstars will help Lin focus on orchestrating his teammates first and then scoring as needed, a balance that made Steve Nash a superstar.

Last week, Lin outplayed Deron Williams, Devin Harris and Earl Watson, John Wall, Derek Fisher and Steve Blake, and Ricky Rubio. Who will Lin face in his 2nd week as the starting PG of the Knicks?

On Tuesday, Feb 14, against the Raptors, Amare Stoudemire will be back on the floor after a week grieving his brother's death. Lin will match up against crafty Spanish PG Jose Calderon and lightning fast Leandro Barbosa.

On Wednesday, Feb 15, against the Kings, Lin will have 2 challenges: maintaining his lift and energy on the 2nd game of a back-to-back and a rematch with 2011 60th pick Isaiah Thomas, who embarrassed Lin during garbage-time in their 1st meeting.

On Friday, February 17, against the Hornets, Lin faces 6'6 Greivis Vasquez.

On Sunday, February 19, against the champion Mavericks, Lin takes on the venerable Jason Kidd.

Eric

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