Jeremy Lin: Where Polarizing Houston Rockets PG Ranks Among NBA's Best
Jeremy Lin has replaced LeBron James as the NBA player whose name creates the most spirited debate. The Lin debates can get nasty, and in some instances they begin to display the ugly side of NBA fans—even more so than the James debates used to.
James put all the legitimate arguments to rest with his virtuoso performance through the 2011-12 regular season and playoffs. He led his team to an NBA championship, and he has ultimately validated his hype.
At this point, Lin is still very much unproven. One magical regular-season run doesn't make anyone a NBA superstar—at least not on the court. I like Lin, but I'm careful not to allow the bright lights of New York City and the hype created by a special presence to skew my analysis.
I watched every game during the Linsanity period and one of the recent preseason games. Obviously, this is bigger than stats, but just as a point of reference, here are Lin's statistics from the Linsanity period.
I broke it into two monthly segments. I have his February stats—because he began to play major minutes on February 4—and his March stats leading up to March 24, when a knee injury ended his season.
February: 20.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 8.4 assists, 2.1 steals, 47 percent field-goal shooting, 32 percent three-point shooting, 76 percent free-throw shooting and five turnovers per game.
March: 14.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 41 percent field-goal shooting, 32 percent three-point shooting, 85 percent free-throw shooting and 3.8 turnovers per game.
Why Jeremy Lin Can't Touch The Elite Group
Out-Quicked and Out-Leaped
Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook are far and away better athletes than Lin. Lin is very physically strong, but I doubt he has the edge over Rose or Westbrook in that area.
Rose and Westbrook are two of the quickest players in the league, and their hops are All-Star Weekend-worthy. Because of this athleticism, they are able to get to the basket more frequently—and most importantly—at crunch time.
Lin will not be able to go isolation at a crucial point in a playoff game and get the same type of shot that these two can.
The same could be said for players like Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul, but on a slightly smaller scale. Lin isn't terribly slow, but he isn't as quick as any of the fastest point guards in the game.
Speed isn't everything at the position, but it is definitely an important asset to have. Lin is quick enough to be effective, but he isn't elite in this category. Quickness isn't a trait that can be drastically improved upon, especially when the athlete is already in good physical shape like Lin is.
In a head-to-head matchup with Rose, Lin was routinely beaten off the dribble. He did have a nice block from behind, but that isn't exactly the way you want your point guard playing defense. Here are the highlights:
This is where the Lin ceiling truly begins.
Below Average From Distance
Lin ranked 19th in the NBA amongst starting point guards in three-point shooting. His 32 percent shooting from distance is definitely below average for the position. That said, Rose, Westbrook and Rondo shot a lower percentage from distance.
The difference is that their quickness compensates for their inability to knock shots down at a high percentage.
There is hope though, because shooting can be improved, unlike quickness and leaping ability. Jason Kidd was a dreadful shooter when he came into the NBA. He shot 27 percent from three-point range as rookie, but he's shot as high as 42 percent from distance during his career.
Overall, he's a 35 percent three-point shooter in his 18 NBA seasons, so it can be done. This is the area Lin needs to focus on most. It is the aspect of his game where growth is most practical and attainable.
Getting a Handle on Those Handles
He turns the ball over too often—period. He did trim the five giveaways per game down to 3.8 in March of last season, but he's still a bit turnover-prone. Lin's 3.6 turnovers per game in the 2011-12 season was the sixth-highest average in the NBA amongst guards.
It's true that the players above him are all big-time point guards (Deron Williams 4, John Wall 3.9, Steve Nash 3.7, Rondo and Westbrook 3.6), but the difference is in the minutes played.
Lin played almost 10 fewer minutes per game than all of them except Nash, who played five minutes more than Lin did per game. Even with a decreased amount of minutes, Lin turned the ball over nearly as much.
When Lin played extensive minutes in February, he gave the ball away five times per night. Again, he did drop the number in March, but most of his production dropped as well—almost across the board. The key numbers (points and assists) were all inferior to those posted by the elite point guards in the league.
This is an area that can be improved, but if Lin has the ball as much as it appears he will with the Houston Rockets, we can expect his turnover numbers to be consistently higher. Teams will continue to pressure him as they did in March to knock him off his rhythm.
Nearly a Defensive Liability
Lin simply isn't a very good defender. He lacks the lateral quickness to stay in front of most fast point guards. To his credit, he is a competitor, and he gives solid effort. This is what separates him from Nash, who barely tries on that end of the floor.
Still, if he's matched up against the game's best point guards, he'll be misused on defense. Here are a few examples:
In the game that launched Linsanity, Lin scored 25 points and dished out seven assists against the New Jersey Nets. However, Williams made the matchup nearly a wash with his 21 points and 11 assists.
Against the Washington Wizards, Lin again had a nice game with 23 points and 10 assists, but Wall gave it right back to him with 29 points and six dimes of his own.
In his rematch with Williams and the Nets, Lin couldn't stop Williams from putting up 38 points and six assists in a Nets win at Madison Square Garden. Lin did go off in this game for 29 points, but you see the trend of give and take.
That was just the first monster game Lin gave up to a counterpart in a span of a month. Rondo exploded for a ridiculous 18-point, 17-rebound and 20-assist performance on Lin in New York. This was another loss for the Knicks at home. Take a look at the highlights:
Rose and Tony Parker's 32-point performances against Lin also resulted in Knicks losses, and Lin averaged only 17.5 points per game in those two contests.
Am I saying Lin is a scrub? By no means.
Still, it's clear he isn't elite. Lin belongs in a category just beneath Stephen Curry and Wall. He's more comparable with Jrue Holiday from a production and overall quality standpoint. He isn't as quick as Holiday, and he doesn't shoot it as well.
However, his size, strength and playmaking make him equally as effective. We can talk about Lin's age (24) and say he has a ton of room for growth, but that concept can be misleading. Lin is as fast as he's going to get, so besides improving as a shooter, the improvements are mostly mental.
Even with improvement in practical areas, he will never be on the level of the best point guards in the league. He will be a decent point guard for the Rockets this season, but that won't be good enough to stop a barrage of criticism.
Lin signed a nice three-year, $25 million contract, and to say he's hyped is an understatement. The 15 points, six assists and four-plus turnovers he'll probably average per game this year won't cut him any slack.
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