Jeremy Lin: Why Lin's Magic Won't Work in the Playoffs
Almost a year ago today, the Knicks sapped all their newfound chemistry when they traded piecemeal building blocks Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari and Timofey Mozgov to Denver for Carmelo Anthony.
Before Anthony's recent lingering groin injury, embattled New York coach Mike D'Antoni still hadn't figured out a way to mold his sparse wasteland of complementary talent around his duo of identity-clashing superstars in 'Melo and Amare Stoudemire. New York is a wildly disappointing 25-29 since acquiring Anthony last February.
Obviously, you've been living under a rock if you don't know what's happened in Times Square since Anthony was momentarily put on the shelf. The category 10 hurricane named Jeremy Lin has revitalized the franchise from the depths of another Stalin-like house-cleansing by reckless owner James Dolan.
But while the Lin story is a fascinatingly more warranted success story than his football-media-darling doppelganger (Tim Tebow), it's still (like Tebow playing quarterback) a cautionary fad.
Before you fashion me a human interest hater, understand that this criticism has nothing to with Jeremy Lin as an individual. Instead, it's about the chemically unbalanced situation he will now be counted on to save once 'Melo reenters the lineup.
Rome wasn't built in a day. Championship level cohesiveness on the basketball court isn't magically concocted within a two-month span either. The Miami Heat are still learning how to play together and they have three of the top 15 players in the NBA by most accounts. They also fell to a less talented Dallas team in last year's NBA Finals, trumping Miami's star power with years of regular season and playoff experience as a unit.
Think about it in terms of D'Antoni's run-and-gun Phoenix teams. From 2004-05 to 2007-08, the Suns won three Pacific Division titles and never won fewer than 54 games. In 2004-05 and 2006-07, they even won 60-plus games.
In those four seasons, Phoenix led the league in points per game three times and never finished lower than third in that department.
In D'Antoni's pick-and-roll-heavy offense, the hybrid, inside-outside low post scorer is the primary option. The only year Stoudemire didn't lead Phoenix in scoring during that four-year run was 2005-06, when he missed all but three games with a knee injury.
Stoudemire plays the same role in New York's offense, with Lin now successfully playing the Steve Nash lead orchestrator role.
The third option for those Suns teams was always swingman Shawn Marion. In three of those four seasons, Marion finished behind second-leading scorer Nash in that category. By this dynamic, in order for New York's offense to achieve the same sort of free-flowing success that defined D'Antoni's shining example, Anthony has to play the Shawn Marion role.
Obviously, since Anthony takes over 26 shots per game, this simply isn't going to happen.
'Melo has never played in an offense where he wasn't the primary focal point. He's not Shawn Marion. While he could easily still be New York's leading scorer in a successful D'Antoni offense, he has to be willing to almost split the load evenly with Lin and Stoudemire.
But if New York is going to become a title contender, Lin should still take about 10-15 (he's up closer to 20 right now) shots per game, just as Nash did with Phoenix.
This is because, when a pick-and-roll offense is run correctly, the defenders typically collapse down low and leave the point guard open more than any other player. This is why Nash, a career 49 percent shooter to begin with, averaged three of the five highest-scoring totals of his career under D'Antoni.
I'm not here to call Jeremy Lin a fluke because I don't think he is. But the idea of "Lin magic" will be obsolete when 'Melo starts waving his isolation wand.
Even if Anthony accepts a more democratic role in the offense, it will take time for him to grow comfortable in a setting where he's not touching the ball on every single possession. Miami was able to jell together relatively quickly because LeBron contributes just as much across the board as he does in the scoring column.
The same can be said for Shawn Marion in Phoenix, albeit on a much more watered-down level than James. But Carmelo isn't wired that way. He has never averaged more than seven rebounds or three assists per game and has never fully applied himself on the defensive end of the floor.
Not to fret, though, Knicks fans. It's not all downhill from here.
Instead, with a potentially elite point guard (a necessity on a Mike D'Antoni team), the Knicks are in a far better position to improve over time than they were with the haphazard roster they compiled a year ago in the wake of the Anthony trade. It will take time, not magic, for Lin, Anthony and Stoudemire to jell as a unit. The chemistry between the trio will replace divine intervention as the story to watch as New York's season kicks into the stretch drive.
So naturally, it all comes back to the chemistry-sapping source of the problem in the first place. But if the Knicks had never traded for Anthony, they probably would have never found out about Jeremy Lin.
Does everything happen for a reason? Knicks fans are about find out.
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