The breakup of Lin and the Knicks was the most widely documented story of the past NBA offseason. New York was transitioning to a veteran-centric roster with eyes on an immediate championship. Lin wasn't a perfect fit for this mold, so off he went to the Houston Rockets.
At 20-8, Mike Woodson's Knicks don't have much to complain about. The team trots out a beautiful display of passing and scoring each night, and their 109.8 offensive efficiency is second in the Eastern Conference.
Lin's Rockets, on the other hand, have shown some growing pains early, as would be expected from a young team. They've enjoyed some success early on and experienced some turmoil as well. Houston is 15-12, currently sixth in the Western Conference.
But Lin's current situation as a Rocket isn't exactly what he envisioned when he pulled on the No. 7 jersey for the first time at his introductory press conference last July.
Just as Lin was getting set to be the focal point of the Rockets offense this season, Houston general manager Daryl Morey pulled the trigger on the blockbuster deal that brought over James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In the blink of an eye, reins to the offense were torn from the grip of Linsanity, just as they were by Carmelo Anthony when he returned to the lineup in March of last season.
It's clear that Lin is at his best when he's attacking with the ball in his hands. In Houston, the current offensive system isn't one that showcases Lin's ability to take control of a game. Mike Woodson's Knicks offense is one that has transformed players' identities in just a quarter of a season.
There's no question that it would've made Lin even better, too.
Mike Woodson's Emphasis on Ball Movement
Under Mike D'Antoni, Lin thrived as a point guard without Carmelo Anthony on the floor. When playing alongside 'Melo, however, Lin's abilities were sabotaged by D'Antoni's coaching deficiencies.
D'Antoni emphasized an approach that encouraged whoever had the first open look to shoot. This obviously didn't mesh with Anthony's offensive style, which is methodical and involves more isolations and post-ups.
Unlike D'Antoni's, Mike Woodson's offense brings out the best in both Anthony and his point guards. 'Melo is able to get his post-up looks, and when that option isn't there, the team does an excellent job of using all 24 seconds to make the extra pass and find the best possible look.
Instead of awkwardly forcing the ball to Carmelo Anthony, like he did under D'Antoni, Lin would be making smarter feeds and ending up with more open looks for himself.
It's not at all outrageous to envision Lin in Woodson's offense, flinging passes around the court and finding open shooters. As a Knick, Lin showed a knack for finding the open man, and New York's current offensive system would've set him up for even more success.
It's been widely documented that Lin needs the ball in his hands to be productive. In Woodson's offense, however, Lin would be made useful no matter who possesses the ball.
Woodson makes use of picks, even by guards who aren't accustomed to setting screens. As seen here, New York uses of a triple pick-and-roll. J.R. Smith, Steve Novak and a big man set picks for the ball-handler, which creates an array of open options:
Woodson also makes use of multi-point guard lineups, so it wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility that Lin would be setting a pick here.
Here, J.R. Smith sets a screen for the screener, Chandler. In New York's two-point guard lineups, Lin could've potentially been Smith in this scenario. Smith freed up space for Chandler in this pick-and-roll:
Integrating the 24-year-old point guard into an offense like Woodson's would only broaden Lin's skill set and make him that much better as a playmaker. (Videos via HoopChalk.)
Lin's involvement in plays like these would only help complete him as a player. At 24, learning the nuances of intricate plays like Woodson's would do wonders for his development.
Last season, Lin demonstrated his strength of finishing at the rim. Last year, 4.2 percent of his shot attempts resulted in an and-one opportunity, according to HoopData. As a Rocket, that number is down to just two percent.
This season, Knicks' point guard Raymond Felton occasionally suffers from temporary love affairs with his mediocre jump shot. Although a decent driver, Felton blows a staggering amount of layups when he does decide to drive and has posted an and-one percentage of just one percent.
This year, 43 percent of Jeremy Lin's shots have come at the rim, and he's a 58 percent shooter from there. Only 34 percent of Felton's shots have come at the rim this season, and he's netting layups at just a 47 percent clip this year.
Felton often opts for a mid-range jumper, but he has connected on only 51 of 135 attempts from that area of the floor.
Substitute Lin for Felton into the Knicks' current offense, and there would be more opportunities at the rim, and they'd be converted at a higher rate.
Jason Kidd's Veteran Presence
This one goes without saying, but it's worth a mention here. Jason Kidd's extraordinary performance this season would doubly benefit Jeremy Lin.
Aside from the 19 years of basketball knowledge he could've sent Lin's way, Kidd's playing great basketball at the 2-guard. A Lin-Kidd backcourt tandem would've brought out the best in both guards who, in 2012-13, are at opposite ends of the typical NBA career arc.
For Lin, Kidd would be able to stretch the floor and create enhanced opportunities for drives. Also, he would provide an insurance policy, as a hesitant Lin could kick the ball to the reliable Kidd as opposed to forcing the issue on offense.
This would result in better decision-making and far fewer turnovers on Lin's part, and it only helps that Kidd is knocking down threes at a career-high rate of 43.5 percent.
Carmelo Anthony's Olympic Experience
It seems like a stretch, but Carmelo Anthony's participation in the 2012 Olympic Games changed him as a basketball player.
While Anthony never seemed sold on deflecting the spotlight to Lin, even as recently as last July, the Olympic experience taught 'Melo the importance of trust and embracing surrounding talent.
He's always been a great passer, but this season Anthony has displayed a greater ability to pass out of the post. He's shown a great awareness of where his teammates are on the floor. Carmelo finding Lin would be yet another weapon that opposing defenses would've needed to worry about when facing New York.
For Lin to be surrounded by this sort of excellence would've only inspired him to develop tremendous leadership qualities that pay dividends later in his career.
Finally, let's sum up all these parts.
To be clear, this isn't an anti-Raymond Felton or pro-Jeremy Lin article. It's not an attempt to compare the two or pick one over the other in a schoolyard-style lineup.
It's a recognition of the potential that Jeremy Lin had in the blue and orange and how Mike D'Antoni failed at realizing the extent of that potential. The Houston Rockets have their man in James Harden, and as great as the bearded one is, Lin's importance diminishes with each minute they spend on the floor together.
It's impossible to deny that Lin, under Mike Woodson—and grouped with the new-look Knicks, led by their humble leader Carmelo Anthony—would've had New York City pleading Linsanity once again. Only this time, they would have been cured with a Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy.
In Houston, Lin could be voted an All-Star by the flawed fan-voting system. As far as what would have happened if he had stayed in the Big Apple? We can only speculate on the what if.
There is one certainty: His what-if career as a Knick packs worlds more potential than his real-life one in Houston. Lin's former team, on the other hand, is just fine without him.
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All stats are accurate as of games played through Dec. 25.
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