It’s been a crazy 10 or so days for the NBA, the city of New York, basketball fans, Asian Americans, non-sports fans, the country of Taiwan (and now Canada) and planet Earth. With the rise of the New York Knicks’ backup point guard, Jeremy Lin, the Linsanity plague has gone viral—both online and airborne—and the contagion has the potential to completely wipe out the entire globe.
The fever has spread and continues to ail everybody within sight. Temperatures rise as high as Lin’s popularity and are as hot as his on-court performance. The sickness was initially diagnosed as likely a 24- to 72-hour bug. However, somehow, the virus managed to stay with us for a lot longer than expected. The infection has lasted for well over a week, and it’s impossible to know when the ailment will exit our host bodies, minds, souls and inner happy places.
The Linsanely infected show unique symptoms—using phrases like “All I Do Is Lin” and “Lin It to Win It.” Usually they are glued to their smartphones, atwitter with excitement, checking NBA box scores from the hours of 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET and exchanging with others their shared hash-tagged diagnoses.
The malady is especially prevalent in, obviously, New York City—the epicenter of the epidemic. But a strong strand of the virus is found in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Lin was born and where, according to 2010 Census results, over 1.6 million Asian Americans reside. (Most of these 1.6 million can never and will never be cured.)
Furthermore, the Bay Area is where Lin started his professional career, as an undrafted free-agent rookie signed by his hometown team, the Golden State Warriors. As a first-year bench player, he wore his early morning gloves and jumpsuit and put in a bunch of garbage time.
He finished his rookie campaign with averages of 2.6 points and 1.4 assists in 29 games—only nine of which were Warriors victories. Though obviously not sexy numbers by any stretch, they were not unexpected considering Golden State had one of the league’s most electrifying backcourts, in Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry, along with a couple of other veteran backup guards, on its roster. Could anyone realistically expect more out of or for Lin in his first season?
Heading into last offseason, there wasn’t much more to forecast for Lin in Golden State. He’d potentially compete as Curry’s primary backup at the point. But who really knew? After all, the Warriors were in transition: new ownership, new special consultant Jerry West, new head coach Mark Jackson. Coupled with the NBA lockout, nobody’s future was entirely set in stone.
So, certainly, Lin’s own future was colored in pencil, not permanent marker. Thus, given that the Dubs’ new front office craved a winning franchise sooner rather than later, they decided to pursue one of the hot free agents on the market, linked in varying magnitude to the likes of Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan.
As such, Lin and his salary were cut by the Warriors in order to make room for a potential bid on Jordan, of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Those events seemed innocuous at the time. But now, those events have the Linfluenza-stricken Warriors fans a bit more sick and nauseated in hindsight. We should be reaping the success of Lin. Especially since he’s from Bay Area. The Warriors screwed up! We want Linsanity!
It’s understandable to play the "What if?" game. After all, why wouldn’t Dubs fans wonder how Golden State could have exterminated the Lin bug? On the surface, it makes sense.
But a clear and clean examination reveals that Linsanity would not exist had he remained with the Warriors. No way, no how.
First, it’d have been impossible for Lin to flourish hiding behind the offensively dynamic Curry and Ellis. Curry is the legit young point guard who can score with efficiency and pass with precision. He is averaging nearly 17 points and 6.6 assists per game for the season. Even though Curry went down with an ankle injury, missing nine games as a result, Lin would still have languished on the bench behind Ish Smith.
And even if Lin was given adequate playing time by Jackson, it’s unlikely that he’d exactly blow up. No way he’d hang 27 points and eight assists a night in Curry’s absence.
Much of the reason for that is because Ellis is a bona fide scorer at the 2-spot who puts up 22.5 points per game, taking on average 19.4 shots in the process. So, when Curry was sidelined for a stretch, Ellis carried the load all by his lonesome: 22.7 points on 20.4 shots per game to go with increased playmaking duties—6.6 assists.
There isn’t a tremendously significant difference in Ellis’ numbers with versus without Curry in the lineup but, to be sure, Ellis shifted over to become the primary ball-handler when Curry sat. So anybody who took Curry’s spot in the lineup—Smith, Lin, Nate Robinson, Mookie Blaylock—would have simply jogged alongside Ellis, dumping the ball down low when called upon.
Lin would not have been able to average the 19.5 shots he’s taking with the Knicks had he filled in with the Warriors. Maybe he’d run a pick-and-roll play or two with David Lee or Andris Biedrins. Maybe. But certainly Lin’s stats would not be at the peaked level that he’s achieved with New York over the past week-plus.
Definitely not with Ellis running the show, and certainly not in Jackson’s defensive-minded system.
Jackson came to Golden State hoping to turn the high-octane scoring machine into a defense-oriented team. The Dubs have receded from their traditional up-and-down offense, which would have hindered Lin’s ability to score in bunches the way he has in New York. Some will argue that Lin’s mastery of the pick-and-roll would have generated ample opportunities for him to drive or dish off to Warriors big men, but all things considered, neither Lee nor Biedrins plays so above the rim as Chandler has shown while pairing with Lin in New York.
As a result, Lin’s assist numbers would be adequate, but he likely would not have reached double digits on numerous occasions with the Dubs.
Amid all the rear-view-mirror speculation, Jackson himself has reaffirmed that he “had nothing to do with” the Warriors’ release of Lin. That is true. Jackson cannot be blamed by the Bay Area chapter of Linsanity for Lin not becoming the golden boy of Golden State. And neither can the team’s previous head coach, Keith Smart, who did not give Lin tremendous playing time last season.
Those are the breaks, and that’s how things ended up.
Everyone can acknowledge that Linsanity is indeed a product of circumstance. Had Ellis and Curry both gone down sometime last season, maybe we’d be onto something in terms of “what could have Lin” or “Lin there, done that” in Golden State. Furthermore, even if Lin had racked up several 20-point games as a Warrior, it’s hard to say that the hoopster hoopla would have reached the magnitude that it has with the Knicks—a sports franchise in the biggest media market in the world.
Think there’d be the same spotlight in Oakland? Nope.
Yes, we can all wish that Lin were still a Warrior and that he’d have brought the same excitement to an organization that bore and reared him as a rookie last year—his hometown team. Instead, it’s a blessing in disguise that Lin has reached the pinnacle of popularity in the most embracing city on the planet, the biggest sports stage of them all.
Had he remained a Warrior, he’d still be riding the bench, and he’d only be a star to us, his local fans.
But now we get to share him with the rest of the world. It’s absolutely better that way.
And, in case you are worried about the spread of this disease: You don’t have to cover your mouth anymore. The contagiousness of Linsanity is a good thing. Hopefully there’s no cure anytime soon.
Follow me on Twitter: @nathanieljue