Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Down 3-1 to the Pacers, the Knicks miss Jeremy Lin

The Knicks are down 3-1 and on the brink of elimination against the 6th-seeded Pacers in the 2nd round of the play-offs. I left this comment on's post-game report after Jeremy Lin's successful return to MSG on Dec 17:
For old times sake and because this is the last time I’ll be able to do this (unless the Knicks meet the Rockets in the Finals this year), here’s my take on why the Knicks should have kept Lin:

Lin or Felton is a wash in the regular season. Felton is a tough solid pro at PG. Lin is more talented, but less experienced with more to learn. However, Felton lacks Lin’s extra gear and intuitive feel for the game. That difference won’t matter much in the regular season, but it will matter as the Knicks advance in the play-offs and eventually face a top contender, likely for the 1st time in the 2nd round. At that point, the Knicks will finally miss Lin’s mix of versatility, energy, playmaking, high basketball IQ, big-moment clutchness, and creative isolation scoring. While Lin is still developing his point-specific skills, which are sufficiently effective as is, Lin’s game as a do-everything playmaking SG/PG combo guard is mature. His penchant for the spectacular can’t be taught. Winning in the play-offs requires multiple creative isolation scorers, ball movement, and a knack for clutch plays – Lin would have provided the Knicks all three attributes.

The Knicks will likely bow out in a valiantly contested close series against a top contender, 2nd round, maybe conference finals. It will be a successful season. But there will also be a nagging feeling that if the Knicks had just had an extra special something, whether it showed up in key spots as a rebound, steal, extra hustle possession, transition play, or score off a broken play, just something, maybe the series would have gone differently. But all the players gave it their all and played respectably. That extra special something just wasn’t there. Felton will have given his all; no complaints. The notion that Lin would have provided the extra special something to put the Knicks over the top and possibly into the Finals will be too attenuated by then to consider seriously. But he would have.
I argued more in depth that the Knicks would miss Lin in the play-offs at here and here last summer.

The Knicks' starting PG role - where Lin would have been the primary ball-handler and facilitator, played with complementary teammates (Lin/Anthony G/F combo, Lin/Kidd backcourt, Lin/Chandler pick and roll, Lin/Shumpert, Lin/Novak, Lin/Smith, etc.), and for a fan base that adored him, and a supportive coach and organization that knew him - was tailor-made for Lin. At the same time, the Knicks needed Lin's playmaking ability and versatility to balance their clumsy fitting parts, not as much for the regular season as against the top contenders deep in the play-offs. Both Lin and the Knicks lost a special relationship when the Rockets outbid the Knicks for Lin.

My prediction has come to pass that the Knicks need more from their PGs against a tough play-off opponent in the 2nd round or conference finals, and indeed, the Knicks could have used Lin's qualities. Felton simply lacks the extra gear that Lin has and the Knicks need. Due to his poor showing against the Thunder in the 1st round, however, I can't go on Knicks fansites and gloat an 'I told you so' that Lin would have made the difference. Plus, although the Knicks need the backcourt boost Lin would have provided, they also need frontcourt and bench help against the bigger, younger, tougher, more balanced Pacers. The deficit is large enough where it's not obvious that even Linsanity would push the Knicks over the Pacers. The series would be a lot closer, though.

Oh well. I'll just leave my prognostication as it lies on my blog.

May 18, 2013: Knicks lost Game 6 to the Pacers with 8 points combined from PGs Felton, Kidd, and Prigioni. The Knicks needed a quick guard to score, break down the defense, and make plays. In other words, they needed Lin.

May 21, 2013: Sportige article New York Knicks – Jeremy Lin Style of Basketball is Better Than Building Around Carmelo Anthony is pretty good, but errs by hewing to the Lin *or* Anthony premise. The author also weakens his position by applying Lin's regular season highlights to the 2nd round of the play-offs. The regular season and play-offs are different animals. If Lin had performed better in the 1st round, then an apples-to-apples comparison could be made.

The author should have focused instead on player type and play-off winning formulas. The Knicks need Anthony to contend this season, but they also needed Lin to partner with Anthony.

Carmelo Anthony is interchangeable with fellow elite-scoring NBA forwards NBA-finalist Kevin Durant and NBA-champion Dirk Nowitzki. KD and Dirk are every bit the iso volume scorers that Anthony is. In other words, the Knicks can win with Anthony as the centerpiece, but Anthony needs a partner to contend. The Sportige article comes close to the right answer by referring to Durant's struggles after Russell Westbrook's injury.

The right answer is not Anthony or Lin. Rather, the right answer is the Knicks needed both Carmelo Anthony *and* Jeremy Lin partnering in a Westbrook/Durant type of G/F dynamic duo.

The Lin/Anthony combination makes sense on its face because their games complement at G and F. With the Rockets, the combination of Lin/Harden is not as simple to balance because they are similar-type combo guards. I believe the Rockets are at their best with Lin controlling the ball as the PG while Harden plays as a SG who handles the ball well, but the Rockets organization seems to prefer Harden dominating the ball as the lead guard.




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