Sunday, March 04, 2012

The next 2 weeks for Jeremy Lin may define his play-off role

Jeremy Lin went from almost cut to NBA star in 2 magical weeks in February. Starting with the win over the Nets on Feb 4 and culminating with the win over the Mavs on Feb 19, Lin led Knicks on a 8-1 run, including 7 in a row, to pull the Knicks' season record up to .500 and 8th place in the East.

The Knicks are a play-off team because of him. Lin has proven he can beat the non-contending teams and he excelled against contenders with older PGs, the Mavs (rematch tomorrow) and Lakers. But by making the Knicks a play-off team, Lin has raised the standard by which he's judged. Lin has to be compared to play-off PGs and judged against play-off teams. Lin played poorly against the Heat before the all-star break and played poorly again in today's loss to the Celtics. The next 2 weeks in March may well determine whether Lin is the Knicks' 1st team PG in the play-offs.

Sun, Mar 4 @Boston
Tue, Mar 6 @Dallas
Wed, Mar 7 @San Antonio
Fri, Mar 9 @Milwaukee
Sun, Mar 11 vs Philadelphia
Mon, Mar 12 @Chicago
Wed, Mar 14 vs Portland
Fri, Mar 16 vs Indiana
Sat, Mar 17 @Indiana

Lin hasn't adjusted yet to the top teams learning to attack him on offense and stop him on defense. His attacking style has also been dampened with Anthony and Stoudamire's return. Movement and spacing have been hurt by their return and the paint has become crowded (indicator: the disappearance of Landry Fields's movement and spacing dependent game). Chandler and Stoudamire, with their defenders, look like they're running into each other in the paint. The formerly attacking, swaggering, high-energy, clutch-shooting Lin has become deferential and passive, floating on the perimeter like Mike Bibby. The Knicks seem undecided whether Lin should be pass-first or creating off his own scoring. Lin looks more comfortable creating off his own scoring.

The most troubling aspects of Lin's play are his defense and dribble. Lin looked like a solid defender with quick hands and feet at the beginning of his February run, but his inability to stay in front of point guards or get over screens has forced the Knicks to overhelp, thus breaking down the defense. The subpar defense of Anthony and Stoudamire are culprits as well. Lin was also praised in February for maintaining his dribble and penetration, but as teams have refined their scouting report on Lin, he has reacted by backing out and picking up his dribble early. Lin is no longer controlling the tempo or creating. Worse than losing the games, Lin looked out of his depth at PG against the Heat and Celtics. Lin just doesn't look confident anymore, unlike the aggressive PG who took it to the Lakers and Mavs last month.

Against the Heat, Lin was -19 and Baron Davis was +5. Against the Celtics, Lin was -9 and Davis was +10. If Lin can't make the adjustment and struggles through the next 2 weeks, the Knicks will have to decide whether Davis should take over 1st team PG duties for the play-offs. Lin can answer the question by playing well the next 2 weeks.

To improve spacing and movement, add shooting and quickness to the 1st team, and open the floor to help Lin as a playmaker, I'd like to see Anthony moved to the Shawn Marion role at 4, Stoudamire come off the bench, and Smith start at the 3. The defense should actually improve because Anthony would not be worse defending PFs than Stoudamire and Smith is a better defender than Anthony at the 3.

Add: Good perspective article by Howard Beck in the NY Times that says what I've been saying: Lin has proven he's an NBA player, and with his hot streak over, and "Linsanity" deflated by some poor performances, Lin can now settle down and begin his NBA learning curve in earnest.

Eric

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