Friday, February 24, 2012

Thoughts on Jeremy Lin at the all star break

Jeremy is playing in the all star weekend rising stars (formerly rookie sophomore) game tonight after the Heat taught him a hard lesson last night. For the first time in his young NBA career, Jeremy did not rise to the challenge and was overwhelmed by the moment against the Heat. Nonetheless, during his inspirational ascent, Jeremy proved he belongs in the NBA. Jeremy has now competed against the NBA's best, knows his level, and can begin building his career in earnest.

How productively Jeremy and his teammates and coaches use the the next week and a half will make a big difference in the direction they take for the second half of the season. Due to a quirk in the Knicks schedule, starting with all star weekend, the Knicks will be off until the Cavs at home on Wednesday Feb 29 and then will be off again until a tough sequence of games beginning with the Celtics in Boston on Sunday March 4. After their all star weekend rest, the team should have five days around the Cavs game to digest everything they'e learned since Jeremy's rise and practice together - basically, put everything in order for the stretch run.

I wonder if now is the first time Jeremy has had to deal with the best basketball coaches and players targeting, planning for, and attacking him. He didn't seem ready for the Nets and Heat's game-planning and aggression that specifically targeted him. The narrative of Jeremy's high school, college, and NBDL careers is that he played in leagues below his talent level and was the best player on his team. Jeremy seems to get bored and careless when the competition is weak - I saw Jeremy get bored playing at Columbia when he did just enough for his Harvard team to win. He played bored against the Kings and Hawks, too. Before the NBA, Jeremy always dominated within his own league and was able to surprise the top players (eg, 2010 summer league and John Wall, UConn and Kemba Walker). In other words, he could coast in most games, punctuated by getting up for big opponents. Jeremy didn't regularly compete on even terms with his true basketball peers and when he faced them, he was always the aggressor. Now that he can't catch them by surprise anymore, the top players are expecting his talent and attacking him for the first time in his basketball life. How will Jeremy adjust? Not learning how to regularly compete with his peers on even terms is a consequence of coming out of the weaker Ivy League rather than a PAC-10 school like Stanford, Berkeley or UCLA. Jeremy now has to learn to compete nightly with his basketball peers at the highest level.

Jeremy dominated the ball and controlled his teams in high school, college, and the NBDL. During the winning streak when Anthony and Stoudamire were out, Jeremy dominated the ball, was aggressive as a scorer, and controlled the Knicks. Now Jeremy has to defer with all the Knicks stars back in the rotation. Can Jeremy, for the first time in his career, adjust his game to be equally or more productive while being less dominant with the ball and with less control?

I believe Jeremy is really a SG/PG combo guard. He reminds me a lot of SG/PG Jeff Hornacek, a well-regarded, smart, versatile "third" guard on the Suns who didn't succeed as the starting PG for the Sixers. Hornacek eventually flourished as the starting SG and part-time PG with the excellent Stockton-to-Malone 90s Jazz teams. In a 2010 interview, Lin compared his game to Goran Dragic, another SG/PG combo guard.

I'd like to see Lin play some minutes at SG with Baron Davis handling the point. I think playing off the ball would unleash Lin's true NBA position. I believe the best role for Jeremy Lin is playing off the ball and making plays from the wing, with limited minutes running the offense at PG. Though he's impressed with his court vision and floor game, Lin seems most comfortable and effective attacking and scoring. Jeremy played more as a lead guard than point guard in college, and what has become more and more apparent (or reinforced) during the last 11 games is that Jeremy Lin isn't a pure point guard. He's a smart, versatile combo guard with enough PG skills to run the point against bad defenses or back up the PG in limited minutes against good defenses. However, Jeremy's passing and ball-handling abilities simply aren't up to running the point full-time.

My advice to D'Antoni: give Jeremy time at SG with Baron at the point, get Lin moving off the ball and attacking, and let's see what happens. I'd also like to see more Anthony at the 4 in Shawn Marion's Suns role and less of Stoudamire and Chandler clogging up the same space in the paint, which means either more minutes for Stoudamire at the 5 or less playing time for Stoudamire in order to free up Chandler at the 5.

With the drubbing at the hands of the Heat, Chapter 1 in the rise of Jeremy Lin is complete. He's proven he belongs in the NBA and evaluated himself against the best. The rest of the NBA knows him, his strengths and weaknesses. After the all-star break, Jeremy can begin his NBA education and discover who he is as a career basketball professional.

On the media coverage, the expected pushback to the extended "Linsanity" hype is underway. After the build up, then the tear down, resentments, mocking, and controversies. It's how the media generates business. A lot of good articles about the Asian American aspect have been written. Good watchdogging on the racist responses. It's noticeable, however, that some media are more comfortable talking about Jeremy as an international (foreign) Asian phenomenon rather than an Asian American phenomenon.

Add: Ed Weiland of hoopsanalyst.com explains his precisely argued pre-draft prediction of NBA success for Jeremy Lin in 2010.

Eric

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