It’s always fun when an athlete seemingly comes out of nowhere and has success in the pros. Jeremy Lin, of the New York Knicks, is the latest example.
In two weeks the second year point guard has gone from an undrafted journeyman, out of Harvard, to the toast of the "Big Apple".
Lin’s effect on the Knicks—not to mention his evangelical faith—has naturally led to comparisons with Tim Tebow, the quarterback who led the Broncos to last-second win after last-second win this past NFL season.
But aside from those two things, Lin and Tebow don't really warrant comparison, as they have little in common.
1. Tim Tebow was one of the most-celebrated amateur athletes of all-time.
There’s a strong case to be made that Tim Tebow is one of the greatest college football players in the history of the game. A top-rated recruit coming out of high school, Tebow was an instant sensation from the moment he set foot on the University of Florida campus.
As a freshmen, Tebow played a key role as the backup quarterback and short-yardage specialist for a Gators squad that went on to win the 2006 BCS Championship. The following year, he took over as the starter and racked up an incredible 55 touchdowns, becoming the first sophomore to ever win the Heisman Trophy.
In 2008 Tebow led the Gators to another BCS Championship while finishing third in the Heisman race and putting up numbers that were every bit as good as the previous season. At that point, Tebow had set the bar so high that a No. 3 finish in the national polls and fifth place finish in the Heisman race, his senior year, was actually regarded as a disappointment.
By the time he was done,Tebow had set five NCAA and fourteen SEC statistical records, and even the most casual football fan was aware of Tebow’s exploits before he became a pro.
Lin, on the other hand, had zero scholarship offers coming out of high school and played college ball at a prestigious academic institution that has never played in the NCAA Tournament and had not produced an NBA player in the shot clock era. Suffice to say, only the most hardcore college basketball junkies were aware of Lin in college.
2. Tebow’s success was expected.
Of course, having a celebrated college career is hardly a guarantee of success in the pros, and there are plenty of former Heisman Trophy winners (Charlie Ward, Jason White, etc.) who were never even given a chance to play pro football—much less become a star in the league.
But here’s the thing about Tebow: people expected him to make it in the pros. He was, after all, was selected in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. The Broncos thought so highly of his potential that they gave up picks in the second, third, and fourth rounds to move up and select him with the 25th pick.
Keep in mind that they did this after they had already traded for another young quarterback (Brady Quinn) earlier in the offseason.
Is it really that strange for a first round quarterback to lead his team to an 8-8 regular season record and a victory in the playoffs?
Does this really compare to Lin? Who went undrafted out of college and was part of two different organizations before getting an opportunity with the Knicks. Sorry, but the expectations for Lin (which rated slightly above zero) do not even compare to those of Tebow.
3. There is nothing particularly unusual about Lin’s game.
The main reason Tebow had (and still has) so many skeptics is that his unorthodox style of play is unlike anything most of us have ever seen in the pros. Tebow doesn’t fit the mold of a classic drop-back quarterback; his lefty throwing motion isn’t very efficient and both his arm strength and accuracy have been called into question.
Tebow is also quick to resort to scrambling, and even his straight ahead power running style is seen more often from a fullback than a quarterback.
By comparison, Lin’s game is rather ordinary and fundamentally sound. Lin’s greatest strength is his fearlessness in traffic, allowing him to get close to the hoop for lay-ins or high-percentage jumpers.
He is also an excellent passer, and his ability to run the pick-and-roll has turned him into one of the NBA’s deadliest weapons. He isn’t a great outside shooter (the game-winning trey against Toronto notwithstanding), and can be somewhat sloppy with the ball. But all of that is part of being a young player.
There is nothing about his style of play that would call for people to question whether or not he can succeed in the league.
Tebow isn’t the right comparison for Lin, as Tebow is very far from an out-of-nowhere prospect and had much higher expectations entering the pros.
A much better match would be Kurt Warner, whose out-of-nowhere story closely mirrors that of Lin. Warner was undrafted out of Northern Iowa and spent the better part of four seasons bouncing around the Arena and World Football Leagues before catching on with St. Louis and taking the NFL by storm.
Regardless of who you choose to compare him to, I recommend doing the same thing: sit back and enjoy the "Linsanity".