Head Coach Mike D'Antoni and point guard Jeremy Lin are having growing pains.
If you read the above headline and think this is going to be a column comparing Jeremy Lin to Derrick Rose, think again.
Derrick Rose is either the league's best player or one of the top five; take your pick and debate amongst yourselves.
But there is one arena where the two players intersect—that would be leadership.
The Bulls don't win just because of Rose's outstanding play; the Bulls win because Rose consistently steps up when he's most needed. He doesn't always succeed but he takes on the challenge of leading.
No one always succeeds, as a rule. Even Michael Jordan had his failures before his six titles. No one wins without experiencing losing at some point.
Jeremy Lin went from end of the bench to top of the world in the blink of an eye. The Knicks got red-hot with Lin leading the way before the All Star break and that created sky-high expectations when the schedule resumed after the break.
Now the Knicks are struggling. No one expected the team to win seven of every nine games for the remainder of the season as they did before the All Star break. But the expectations were that the Knicks would be healthy and thus deeper, and that combination would result in better basketball.
It hasn't happened. The first game after the All Star break was a come-from-behind win against the Cleveland Cavaliers. That was good. Since then it's been bad—very bad.
The team is currently mired in a five-game losing streak and while Lin's numbers have not been bad, his on-court demeanor and the role he's playing have changed. Of course, this is not all his fault. Carmelo Anthony returned to the starting lineup and his presence would have an inevitable impact on the on-court pecking order.
For Lin to not defer to Anthony in some form would be foolish. Lin and the Knicks need Anthony. He's the best pure scorer on the roster and one of the best in the league. Carmelo Anthony needs Jeremy Lin as well; it works both ways.
Carmelo needs to avoid forcing shots and allow Lin to control the tempo. He should be willing to give the ball back to his point guard for Lin to reset the offense and get either Anthony or another teammate a good shot.
Lin may need to be more demanding in that role though.
Those who watch the Chicago Bulls play will notice something: The offense flows through Derrick Rose. Whether he's shooting the ball, driving the lane to score or passing the ball to any one of his teammates, the offense always seems to come back to Rose.
That doesn't always work, but to Rose's credit, he is not afraid to fail. He assumed plenty of the blame for last season's playoff defeat to the Miami Heat. Rose spoke to the Chicago Tribune in December 2011:
"It wasn’t my teammates’ fault we lost last year," Rose said. "It was me not making the plays and not playing smart enough throughout the whole game."
That's the type of leadership that Lin can learn from. It's not that Lin should be benched, discarded or dismissed; it's that he's still by any rational account a very new everyday NBA player.
The position of point guard requires real leadership and sometimes being a leader means rocking the boat a bit. It's hard to know what is or isn't said behind the scenes of the New York Knicks. One thing that has been noticeable on the current five-game losing streak has been the somewhat unassuming manner in which Lin interacts with his teammates.
If Lin is the point guard then he's also the on-court leader—especially in a system such as Mike D'Antoni's in which the offense really flows through the point guard. When Steve Nash played under D'Antoni he won two MVP awards.
Last season, Raymond Felton started the season at point guard, after playing at North Carolina and leading his team to a national title. He might not be one of the most physically gifted point guards in the league, but his experience coupled with D'Antoni's system produced career numbers of 17 points and nine assists per game for Felton.
That's why Lin must have faith in the system and assume as much leadership as possible given his current role. Deferring back to Carmelo has not worked and never will. The Knicks and Lin can't wait around for Carmelo to have a string of games in which he's hot from the floor to produce victories. Lin has to assume control of the offense regardless of the names on the backs of the jerseys.
Is he good enough? We don't know, and we won't unless Lin tries. Taking control of a team that has veteran All-Stars such as Carmelo and Amar'e Stoudemire is probably a very intimidating and difficult thing to do. That task is made more difficult when you've only been a starting NBA player for a little more than a month.
That's the task that faces Jeremy Lin though. If he wants to learn by watching one of his peers then he'll get an up-close and personal tutorial tonight when the Knicks square off against the Bulls in Chicago. Lin will need to watch and learn without getting schooled in the process.