7 Under-the-Radar NBA Players Who Could Be the Next Jeremy Lin
He was the first Asian-American to truly succeed at the highest level of pro basketball, a Harvard grad making a name for himself in a field other than politics or high finance, a 23-year-old kid making the most of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and then some.
And he did it all for the New York Knicks, at Madison Square Garden, in front of a fan base and a sports media machine that was hungry for heroes.
But what made Linsanity most intriguing—at least in the basketball world—was the fact that he managed to slip through the cracks as often as he did. In a sport where surprises are rendered rare on account of thorough scouting and player evaluation beginning at earlier and earlier ages, Lin was a genuine shock to the system.
How could everyone have passed on this kid? How could the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets have cut him in training camp during the same year, and how could the Knicks have come so close to severing ties with him before his breakout?
It's unlikely that we'll ever see so many captivating elements rolled into one NBA player, though these seven potential stars figure to have Eminem piping through their headphones on repeat this season.
While Linsanity was capturing headlines in New York last season, Gerald Green was busy reviving his own career across the Hudson River.
The 18th overall pick of the Boston Celtics in the 2005 NBA Draft has been around the world and back in his quest for hardwood redemption. He bounced between the C's, the Timberwolves, the Rockets, and the Mavericks before taking his talents overseas (to China and Russia) and returning to America's shores by way of the D-League.
He finally made it back to the Association by way of a 31-game stint with the Nets, during which he averaged 12.9 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.1 assists while shooting 48.1 percent from the field (39.1 percent from three) and throwing down enough ridiculous dunks to fill a highlight reel.
Those efforts landed Green a three-year, $10.5 million deal with the Indiana Pacers, who may well move Danny Granger during the season and open up plenty more playing time at small forward thereafter.
Whether that happens or not, Green will have every opportunity this season to prove that his comeback New Jersey was more than just a flash in the pan.
Still, Gerald Green is no noob when it comes to playing in the NBA.
The same can't be said for Dionte Christmas. The former Temple standout has been on an NBA roster, though his experience consisted of spending a month at the end of the Philadelphia 76ers' bench in 2009 before getting cut.
To his credit, Christmas has also spent time on the Houston Rockets' roster and has played with the Sixers, the Clippers and the Kings...in the Summer League.
The Philly native finally found his way back into the league after shining in Greece (18.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists last season) and making the most of his time with the C's (13.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists) in July.
As a result, the 25-year-old Christmas was himself gifted a partially-guaranteed two-year deal to play in Boston. A tough, physical player who excels on the defensive end, Christmas could find his way onto the floor at shooting guard should Courtney Lee falter, Jason Terry fall injured or Avery Bradley take longer to recover from shoulder surgery than expected.
In other words, the dominos will have to fall almost perfectly for Christmas to have an opportunity strut his stuff in Beantown.
Which would seem daunting until you consider the even more tremendous odds overcome by Lin in the Big Apple last season.
Darren Collison is hardly the long shot that Green and Christmas are coming into the season.
The former UCLA star was a first-round pick in 2009 and has started no fewer than 37 games in each of his three NBA seasons. What's more, he's already been penciled in as the starting point guard with the Dallas Mavericks for the upcoming campaign.
What makes Collison—who's averaged 12.1 points, 2.8 rebounds and 5.2 assists for his career—Lin-like is the fact that he's a talented kid who's essentially been jerked around by teams, in part because he doesn't fit the physical profile of a prototypical NBA player. At six feet and 160 pounds, Collison is about as slight a player as can be found at any position in the NBA.
Yet injuries have never been huge issue for him (he's missed 15 games total in three seasons). Neither has finishing at the rim, where he's shot well over 50 percent as a pro.
Those who discount Collison for his stature forget how quick and elusive he is, especially with the dribble, while those who set him aside because of his quirky shot ignore the fact that it goes in at a rather efficient rate.
The New Orleans Hornets found out as much when he stepped in for an injured Chris Paul during his rookie season, only to ship him off to Indiana in a four-team deal that landed them Trevor Ariza. The Pacers saw some promise in Collison as well, before swapping a first-round pick (Kawhi Leonard) to the Spurs for George Hill, who's since supplanted Darren in Indy's starting five.
Collison's stay in Big D might only last a year, on account of his impending restricted free agency, but if he fares as well in a secure starting role as his past performance suggests he will (13.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 37.1 percent from three as a stater), he'll be well worth whatever money is thrown his way.
While Darren Collison has had the privilege of playing wherever he's gone, Anthony Randolph has done little more than bounce from team to team while coaches have left his talent to rot on the end of the bench.
The former lottery pick out of LSU has had his moments, averaging double-figures in scoring during the two stints (with the Warriors in 2009-10 and with the Timberwolves in 2010-11) wherein he's played more than 20 minutes per game.
Like Collison, Randolph appears to be a victim of perception. His 6'11 frame cuts a much less imposing figure than it typically should on account of the fact that he's only 225 pounds.
However, Randolph's relative slimness plays into his game. He's a jack-of-all-trades-type forward who can dribble, shoot and pass the ball, not unlike a similarly slender big man by the name of Lamar Odom, who's done fairly well for himself and his teams in his own time.
With the Denver Nuggets, Randolph will finally play for a coach, George Karl, who knows how to put his gifts to good use—by running the floor ad nauseum.
And with sophomore-to-be Kenneth Faried slotted in as the only other player of note at power forward on the Nuggets' roster, Randolph might actually garner the minutes that he so desperately needs to show the basketball world what he can be.
Jerryd Bayless was taken three spots ahead of Anthony Randolph in the vaunted 2008 draft and similarly has had difficulty gaining a foothold in the NBA, though for different reasons. Where Randolph has been ignored, Bayless has struggled with injuries, missing an average of just under 21 games per season on account of a variety of disabling maladies.
There's no doubting the kid's talent, though, even if he's about to suit up for his fourth team in five seasons as a pro. He's a terrific athlete who can man either backcourt spot but probably projects best as a scoring combo guard, particularly off the bench. He fared quite well in that role over the last season-and-a-half with the Raptors, during which he averaged double-figures in scoring as Toronto's sixth man.
He should be a perfect fit, then, with the Memphis Grizzlies. Bayless figures to slide in as OJ Mayo's de facto replacement quite nicely, assuming he doesn't get hurt again and/or second-year enigma Josh Selby doesn't beat him to it.
In any case, a season of fitness would do wonders for Bayless' career (not to mention the Grizzlies' bench) and re-open many of those same eyes that had him pegged for NBA stardom when he ditched Arizona for the draft.
Back in T-Dot, Linas Kleiza should relish a full return to health amidst a Raptors roster that's rather thin at small forward. The 27-year-old Lithuanian bruiser is no stranger to the NBA—he spent four season with the Denver Nuggets before taking his talents to Greece and subsequently signing north of the border.
His career was derailed somewhat, though, when he tore his meniscus in January 2011. The injury kept him off the court until this past January, when he returned to the Raptors' bench as a steady contributor on the wing.
Kleiza should be brimming with confidence now that his knee is back to normal, especially considering the success he enjoyed at the 2012 London Olympics. He averaged 18.8 points and 6.3 rebounds during his first four appearances at the Summer Games, including a 25-point outburst to spark a near-upset of eventual-gold-medalists Team USA in group play.
Of course, Kleiza won't likely be a 20-point-per-game scorer for the Raptors, considering he won't have the ball in his hands in Toronto as often as he typically did with Lithuania.
But by the same token, he'll have the comfort of playing alongside fellow countryman Jonas Valanciunas on a team that has the talent to improve to some extent in Year 3 of the post-Chris Bosh era.
And if Kleiza plays his tail off this season, he'll have every incentive to opt out of the final year of his contract and seek a more lucrative contract elsewhere.
Who better to foster the next Jeremy Lin than the New York Knicks?
The most likely candidate? Pablo Prigioni.
To be sure, Prigioni and Lin don't have all that much in common. Prigioni is more than a decade Lin's senior and brings with him a highly-decorated resume from a long and productive career in Argentina and Spain. Along the way, Prigioni has garnered praise for his passing and his defense, having led the Euroleague in assists and the Spanish ACB League in steals over the course of his tenure as a pro.
The 35-year-old Argentine is finally slated to make his NBA debut this season as the Knicks' third-string point guard, much like the situation in which Lin found himself prior to his rise to prominence.
And frankly, Prigioni's chances of finding his way onto the floor are just as good, if not better, than Lin's were. After all, his biggest competitors are the portly Raymond Felton, who's coming off a terrible season in Portland, and the 39-year-old Jason Kidd, who's little more than a shell of his former self at this point.
Neither of those guys figure to have the Knicks offense humming, what with Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler all clogging the same areas of the court.
Which, if he's lucky, might land Prigioni in the starting lineup before long.