In the span of just two games, Jeremy Lin has gone from a bench-warming, D-League afterthought to a potential savior at point guard for the New York Knicks.
And while the excitement surrounding "Linsanity" is far too hyperbolic (though not entirely surprising, given the city and the fanbase in question) compared to the small sample size on hand, his breakout performances against the New Jersey Nets and the Utah Jazz lend plenty of credence to the notion that he may yet be the answer to Mike D'Antoni's prayers at the point.
The stats and the game tape bear it out.
First off, among players who've seen at least 135 minutes of action this season, Lin sports the sixth-best assists percentage in the NBA (42.1), behind only Steve Nash (57.0), Rajon Rondo (47.7), Deron Williams (45.8), Jose Calderon (44.0) and Chris Paul (43.2).
Not bad company, to say the least.
Of greatest interest to the Knicks, though, is Lin's ability to run the pick-and-roll. New York's roster is tailor-made to be a pick-and-roll bonanza, with superb front-court finishers like Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler and a head coach in D'Antoni who used it to no end (and great effect) during his tenure with the Phoenix Suns.
Yet, the Knicks rank just 16th in the league in points per possession on pick-and-rolls heading into Wednesday's game against the lowly Washington Wizards. That should come as little surprise in light of the dearth of quality play the Knicks have squeezed out of the likes of Toney Douglas, Iman Shumpert and (the zombified corpse of) Mike Bibby at the point.
Not to mention the black hole that forms on the court every time 'Melo touches the ball.
Lin, on the other hand, has thus far looked as though he were born to play pick-and-roll basketball. For a 23-year-old kid, Lin has a deft understanding of how manipulate more than one defender at a time, making him a tough cover in the two-man game.
Let's start with Lin's performance against the Nets, in which he racked up 25 points and seven assists with only one turnover.
Skip to the 1:00 mark, and you'll see Lin run the pick-and-roll to perfection, with Jared Jeffries on the receiving end of a pinpoint bounce pass.
Both defenders leave Jeffries, a player known more for being tall and lanky than for possessing any particular skill, to make sure Lin doesn't beat them with his deadly jump shot (more on that later).
As a result, Lin is quick to read the double team and find Jeffries rolling to the basket for an easy jam.
At the 1:30 mark of the video, Lin runs the pick-and-roll with Chandler, though this time, with the lane as clogged as it is, he decides to go over the top rather than underneath with the bounce.
An excellent choice given Chandler's leaping ability and penchant for finishing strong at the rim. Chandler leads the NBA in field goal percentage at 71 percent, thanks in large part to that athleticism...and the fact that 91.5 percent of his shots have come in the restricted area.
Which makes him an excellent pick-and-roll partner for any point guard, Lin included. Check the tape at the 1:55 mark for further proof.
But Lin's lethality in the pick-and-roll game isn't solely the product of his ability to use a screen and then find the screener afterward. The Harvard grad also happens to be adept at reading when to use the screen to his own benefit, thereby forcing defenders to play him honestly and opening up even more pick-and-roll opportunities as a result.
Starting at 2:15, notice how Lin sets up for another pick-and-roll with Chandler, but rather than passing the ball to the big man, he takes it to the basket himself, gets the layup with a quick first step and picks up a cheap foul on Deron Williams.
The Nets are already wary of the Lin-to-Chandler connection, so Chandler's defender, instead of providing defensive help on the back side, remains stuck to Chandler's hip while Williams is cut off by the pick.
That leaves Lin with a clear path to the cut for the hoop and the harm.
Lin's ability to finish through contact (see 2:40) makes him that much more dangerous, as it forces opposing defenders in the post to "pick their poison", be it an easy layup for Lin or a dunk by Chandler, Jeffries or whoever else is in position to benefit from Lin's hardwood wizardry.
Mind you, Lin has done all of this without Amar'e Stoudemire, who's far and away the best pick-and-roll finisher in New York, if not the entire league.
Which brings us to the 3:05 mark, where Lin uses Stoudemire's sterling reputation as a dangerous roll man to his advantage.
Here, Lin and Amar'e set up for the pick-and-roll, but Lin doesn't bite on it right away.
Instead, he waits and baits the defense to see whether they'll come out on him or if they'll stay with Stoudemire to take away the roll.
Seeing the latter, Lin pops up for jumper at the top of the circle and buries it. If Lin continues to knock down mid-range jumpers, then defenses will have no choice but to play him straight-up, leaving the roll ripe for the picking, if you will.
Lin tormented the Utah Jazz two nights later with his skills on the pick-and-roll—his ability to read the defense (0:45), his deft touch and creativity as a passer (3:20), his sweet shooting strike (4:10), his fearlessness as a finisher (6:00), his quick first step (2:25), his understanding of how to change speeds (5:35) and his penchant for splitting double teams (3:30, 4:25).
The numbers bear out Lin's success on the pick-and-roll. More than 61 percent of his offense comes on this one tried-and-true tactic, the sixth-highest such rate in the NBA. Only five players who've run the pick-and-roll at least 80 times this season have come up with more points per possession, putting Lin just ahead of some guy named LeBron James.
And that's all without mentioning Lin's ability to run another crucial part of D'Antoni's offense—the fast break (5:00).
With all of this being said, let's not go anointing Jeremy Lin the new King of New York just yet. Two games do not a career make, as good of a start as they may represent for Lin. He'll have to prove that he can play at or near his current pace over the course of a long, grueling season.
Only time will tell if he can, but for now, Knicks fans would be wise to sit back and enjoy whatever D'Antoni can get out of the kid. Don't be surprised if he puts on yet another clinic against the easily-fooled John Wall when the Knicks take on the Wizards in Washington on Wednesday night.
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