On January 23, the New York Knicks recalled Jeremy Lin (along with Jerome Jordan) from the Erie Bayhawks of the NBA D-League. I didn’t think much of it at the time. Up to that point, Lin had only played a grand total of 16 minutes for the Knicks and hadn’t established himself as a part of coach Mike D’Antoni’s rotation.
The day after his recall, Lin entered the Knicks’ game against the Charlotte Bobcats with 5:54 remaining. The game was well in hand by that point and Lin’s job was basically not to completely face-plant. Lin recorded eight points, four assists, two rebounds and a blocked shot while going 2-2 from the field and 4-4 from the line. More than that, though, he looked like he knew what he was doing. He seemed to run the offense very efficiently and very smoothly. I turned to my brother and half-heartedly joked that Lin was my new favorite Knick.
After the Charlotte game, the next two games came and went, and Lin was nowhere to be found. The Knicks lost both of those games by double digits while shooting under 40 percent from the field with more turnovers than assists. The next night in Houston, Lin was inserted with 8:10 remaining in the third quarter and played the remainder of the game. In that game he had nine points, six assists, three rebounds and a steal. He was only 3-9 from the floor, but considering the combination of Iman Shumpert, Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby combined to go 8-29, Lin wasn't so bad in comparison.
Lin played the final 6:07 of playing time in a blowout win against the Detroit Pistons on January 31, managing four points, four assists, a rebound and a steal. During that game I told my brother I was serious -- Lin was my new favorite Knick. He said I was nuts. I didn’t argue that point, but I did note that I wished D’Antoni would give him a legitimate shot to see what he can do, especially given the absence of a true point guard on the roster.
Throughout the young season, D’Antoni has had several players attempt to run his offense. Shumpert, Douglas and Bibby have all started games for the Knicks with nominal success, while Carmelo Anthony leads the team in assists with just 4.2 per game, as the offense has often had to run through him without a true point guard to effectively penetrate and find open teammates. Baron Davis was signed in the hopes that he would be able to provide a spark, but his health is once again a huge question mark, and he has been known to exhibit shoot-first tendencies as well. Even if and when he is able to play, the question remains as to whether he will fare any better than the aforementioned trio.
I will point out that this is not something I’m pinning entirely on D’Antoni or his staff. Lin had only been claimed off waivers in December, and with the condensed schedule that teams have to navigate through as a result of the lockout, there hasn’t been much in the way of practice time to see what many young players like Lin can do. Coaches simply do not have the luxury of tinkering too much with their rotations due to the lack of days off.
However, Lin had totaled 21 points and 14 assists in just 32:11 of playing time since his recall. Mind you, a certain amount of Lin’s success in those games was due to the games being out of hand, thus giving Lin the advantage of playing against lesser players and in a somewhat less structured format. And I didn’t expect 21-14 given a full complement of minutes, but I couldn’t understand why Lin wouldn’t get some more run given both his effective play and the shortcomings of the other options on the roster.
This past Thursday saw yet another Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision, and I figured my pipe dream of seeing Lin get important playing time was simply that. But much to my delight, Lin was the first guard off the bench for D’Antoni in Friday’s game against Boston, entering the game with 2:38 remaining in the first quarter. But after scoring just two points to go along with one assist in 6:36 of action, Lin was relegated once again to bench duty for the rest of a close game.
On Saturday the Knicks hosted the New Jersey Nets. It was the third night of a back-to-back-to-back set for the Knicks and they were desperate for a victory, having lost the previous two nights as part of an abysmal 2-11 stretch. Once again Lin was the first guard entering the game after Shumpert had picked up two quick fouls. Only this time, D’Antoni finally extended the leash on Lin. What resulted was a career night: 25 points, seven assists, five rebounds, a steal and a game-high +13, as the Knicks rallied from an early ten point deficit and won the game, 99-92.
Riding the wave of momentum, D’Antoni decided to have Lin start the next game on Monday against the Utah Jazz. Lin did not disappoint, as he finished the game setting career highs in points and assists, with 28 and eight, respectively. Furthermore, he seemed to breathe life back into the crowd at Madison Square Garden. And with Davis surprising absolutely nobody by experiencing a recent setback in his recovery, Lin has a chance to be the Knicks’ starting point guard for the foreseeable future.
I believe Lin is an outstanding fit for D’Antoni’s offense, as he is quite adept at running the pick and roll. With the Knicks already having Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudamire in the fold, they need a pass-first point guard, and Lin seems to fit the bill nicely. Once Anthony recovers from his groin strain and Stoudamire rejoins the team following the tragic death of his brother, the Knicks’ offense might finally reach the level of production we thought we'd see before the season began, thanks to the unlikeliest of catalysts -- Jeremy Lin.