New York Knicks: Deciphering the Jeremy Lin Hype

Steven Goldstein@@GoldsteinNUContributor IFebruary 7, 2012

Even though they lead a ticker-tape parade through Manhattan, the Super Bowl champion New York Giants are not the only team garnering buzz around the Big Apple today.

Yes, riding a modest two-game winning streak, the Knicks are emerging as the talk of the town following a disappointing first third of the NBA season that had the Garden faithful collectively cringing.

But primetime stars Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler are not the topic of discussion. In last night's victory over the Utah Jazz, "Stat and 'Melo" spent a combined six minutes on the floor.

No, New York's rallying cry has been the surprising dominance of 6'3" point guard Jeremy Lin. The league's first Taiwanese player, Lin went from being an undrafted Harvard graduate to center stage in the world's most famous arena.

How did this unbridled hype begin, and what does Lin's presence mean for the Knicks?

The latter spells good things for coach Mike D'Antoni, who's found himself on a perpetual hot seat for much of 2011-12.

Lin provides what contemporaries Toney Douglas and Iman Shumpert have lacked this year: a pass-first mentality and a general offensive confidence.

True, Lin's 28 points last night furthers his case as a prolific scorer, but what was perhaps more impressive was his eight assists. Lin found a way to get swingmen Jared Jeffries and Steve Novak involved in the action following the early exit of Anthony, the team's leading scorer this season.

Lin is certainly serviceable as a shooter, but far more importantly, he is a serviceable passer. New York clearly does not need another offensive-minded aficionado, but rather, a player who can actually set up these scorers.

With a true point guard, Carmelo Anthony can ameliorate self-inflicted responsibilities, and Tyson Chandler can continue to develop an impressive low-post game.

To make matters better, Lin's success furthers the Knicks' depth at the guard position. With Shumpert, Douglas, Mike Bibby and slowly-recovering veteran Baron Davis on the bench, the Knicks will possess crucial athleticism, depth, and lineup flexibility down the stretch.

How much longer can Lin continue his thrilling run? That remains to be seen.

Regardless, Lin has illustrated the importance of a capable one-guard for New York. Douglas and Shumpert were occasionally effective in tallying big point totals, but their offensive prowess rarely correlated to team victories.

And just how did Lin become an overnight sensation? In just two 20+ point efforts, Jeremy Lin has become a figure of Big Apple folklore.

True, social media has made stardom increasingly possible, but quite simply, Knicks fans love a gritty, unsung team player. It's the reason why exalted guard Walt Frazier was the favorite over Willis Reed in the 1970s; it's the reason why John Starks fever was infectious in the 1990s, while pure scorer Bernard King's name barely holds any meaning today.

And, most of all, New York loves a success story. Lin is basketball's Sam Fuld, an undersized, improbable, fiery hero that a city jumps behind in a hurry. Yet Fuld's magic ran out quickly, and with just two big games under his belt, Lin will have to continue his success to dispel the notions of his ephemerality.

Regardless, Lin's done something that Anthony, Stoudemire, Chandler and the rest of the Knicks have been unable to do this year—he's brought the spotlight back to New York basketball. When the Knicks take on the lowly Washington Wizards on Wednesday night, all eyes will be on a player who was not even on the opening-day roster. A player who represents a chance at late-season redemption for a team that was supposed to contend for a title. A player who's doing everything he can to bring the Garden back to life.