Jeremy Lin on a hero's journey
Another tribute to Lin by the same guy.
The arc of a hero's journey can be simplified to a rise from humble beginnings to the zenith of stardom, followed by a drop to the nadir of defeat or metaphorical death, then resurrection and the climb to the actualization of the hero.
Linsanity was born in 2 weeks and took about that long to die. 2 weeks ago, I said the next 2 weeks would likely determine Jeremy's role for the play-offs. A lot has happened since then. From the zenith of 7 straight wins and rising to a .500 record and 8th place under Linsanity, then alternating wins and losses, the Knicks fell to the nadir of 6 straight losses and dropping out of the play-offs. The good teams and top PGs adjusted to Lin. He looked out of his depth against the Heat and Celtics. Before that, Deron Williams had torched him in their rematch. The Celtics, Mavs, Spurs, 76ers, and Bulls made him look bad during the losing streak, though Lin had a quality outing in a loss against Brandon Jennings and the Bucks. Jason Kidd bullied him. Rondo and Rose severely outplayed him. Poor team defense made Lin look worse when he got no help. The team offense broke down as Anthony and D'Antoni clashed. The team struggled badly, Lin struggled and looked unconfident, and Coach D'Antoni resigned.
When assistant coach Mike Woodson took over as interim head coach before the Blazers game, we didn't know whether Lin would be a casualty along with D'Antoni. Whether he'd stay as the 1st string PG over Baron Davis, become Davis's back-up, or be dropped behind Mike Bibby in the rotation as 3rd string PG.
In Woodson's first game as Knicks head coach, the Knicks blew out a dysfunctional Blazers team by 42 points. Before the Pacers game at MSG, Woodson assured Lin would remain the starter. Davis outplayed Lin in the blowout win over the Pacers but strained his hamstring, thus settling the question of Lin's role given Davis's age and injury history. Even if Davis outplays Lin for the rest of the season, Davis's role and minutes need to be limited for his own protection.
The 2nd game on the back-to-back in Indianapolis promised to be a big test for the team and Lin in the new Woodson era. The Pacers are a proud, rising, young-veteran, mid-level play-off team with good chemistry, a quick PG, and good defense. The Pacers were determined to protect their home court after the blow-out loss at MSG. The Pacers came out focused. The Knicks and Lin passed the test.
Lin played tough against a physical team and his defense on Darren Collison was solid with improved help behind him. He was confident and made big plays to lead his team to the win. Lin filled the stat sheet with 19 points on 10 FGAs, 7 rebounds, 6 assists (should have had 10), a block, and a steal. The Pacers tried double-team traps, full court pressure, and switching the bigger Hill and George onto him in response to Lin's improved ball-handling. He showed a stronger left on his dribble, he attacked the double-team traps, and maintained his dribble in the half court. On several drives, he carried Collison on his hip. Lin's passing was still shaky in the half court, but hopefully his passing nuances will improve with experience.
Despite the speculation Lin's game would disappear with D'Antoni, Lin has looked more comfortable in Woodson's more-structured system. It looks like his strengths have been preserved by Woodson while his weaknesses have been mitigated. Lin's strong all-around performance in Indianapolis is the way, during Linsanity, Knicks fans had hoped Lin would adjust his game when Anthony returned. Lin played confidently and, though the ball returned to Anthony at the end of the game, Lin had his coach's green light to make plays down the stretch. Lin's defense looked better in large part because the help was back. Woodson's use of more set plays eased the pressure on Lin. Lin won't have as many touches under Woodson, but he can be more productive with his touches.
Pundits writing off Lin as an inflated product of D'Antoni's system overlook that Lin is a converted PG who was a do-everything play-making scoring guard before the NBA. At this point of his development, Lin is still more SG/PG combo guard, with a combo guard's ball handling and (half-court) passing limitations, than NBA point guard. With the good teams having made defensive adjustments to Lin, the pared down PG role comes just in time for Lin. Lin no longer has to handle the ball as much, create everything, break down every defense, nor make every decision. Reducing his PG responsibilities in Woodson's more-structured system means less freedom for Lin, but it should also be a better fit for him at this early learning stage of his career. Lin's weaknesses as a PG will be less exposed and he can fall back on his strengths with more off-the-ball and match-up work when defenses shift their focus to Anthony.
During Linsanity, Lin played like the Suns MVP Steve Nash. He burned star-bright but we knew such an incredible run couldn't last forever. Lin rose and he fell. Lin now looks like he's settling into the long-term task of building up a stable foundation for his career, more like the Mavericks stage of Steve Nash's career. The 2nd Pacers game felt like the start of a sustainable developmental curve and the beginning of the actualization stage of Lin's career. Linsanity can come back someday on a stable long-term basis, if and when Lin convinces a team he's ready to be their centerpiece and leader on a Steve Nash or Chris Paul level. It's a realistic possibility - Lin has served notice to the NBA world of his potential to be that rare player. Steve Nash didn't become Suns MVP Steve Nash right away, either; Nash first became a full-time starter for the Mavs in his 3rd season. Lin is already an undisputed starter in his 2nd season.
As for the question of Lin's play-off role this season, the Knicks are now competing with the Ellis-Jennings run-and-gun Bucks for the 8th seed and Lin is secure as the Knicks starting PG. I hope the Knicks make the play-offs, even if it leads to a 1st round exit, so Lin can gain invaluable play-off experience. I'll end this post with a question reflecting my confidence in Jeremy: When will Jeremy Lin achieve his 1st triple double? This season or next season?
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