For roughly three weeks in 2012, Jeremy Lin was the most popular sports figure in our nation's largest media market. An undrafted free agent with a propensity for 10th-degree of difficulty layups and whirring passes off pick-and-rolls, Lin came with a Harvard education and a balls-to-the-wall style that captivated Madison Square Garden crowds.
Being the super original humans we are, the takeover was dubbed Linsanity. If you can forgive the pun on insanity—which should be stricken from all forms of writing heretoforth—it's easy to look back with fondness on Lin's overtaking of the NBA consciousness.
Remember, this was a time when many think-pieces were written wondering whether the New York Knicks were better off with Lin as the top offensive option than Carmelo Anthony. When Lin was given the crown left vacant by Yao Ming as the unofficial ambassador of the game for Asia—both stateside and abroad. When Forbes once estimated that the "value" of Lin, as translated in Madison Square Garden's stock prices, was $170 million.
One hundred. And seventy. Million. Dollars.
In the end, Lin's NBA worth wound up being $25.12 million—the precise amount the Houston Rockets paid to poach the then-restricted free agent from New York. In the end, Linsanity was a fleeting moment—he fell out of the top 15 in jersey sales and was surprisingly not buoyed into the All-Star game on the backing of overseas votes, though he did finish third among Western Conference guards.
In the end, Jeremy Lin was just another mediocre NBA point guard.
Lin finished his first season with the Rockets averaging 13.4 points and 6.1 assists per night, numbers that nearly mirrored his 2011-12 averages in New York but paled in comparison to the Linsane heights he'd reached. He made 44.1 percent of his shots and watched on as teammate James Harden ripped the superstar mantle away.
Harden, also acquired during the 2012 offseason, essentially rendered Lin's skill set redundant—and the results showed.
Brought in to reinvigorate Houston basketball, Lin actually did his team more harm than good on a statistical level. The Rockets were 3.1 points per 100 possessions better with Lin on the bench. They turned the ball over less often, grabbed a higher percentage of rebounds and became a markedly better defensive team almost across the board.
When Lin was injured during the postseason, the nadir of his 2012-13 campaign, Patrick Beverley's presence was a breath of smoked barbecue air.
Beverley did all the things Lin doesn't. He defended aggressively, played well without the ball and became an underrated gobbler of offensive rebounds.
It's just a six-game sample size—nowhere near enough to make any long-term assumptions. But it's a sign of the tenuous relationship Lin has with the Rockets and the fanbase at the moment that folks were A-OK with him sitting out playoff games in favor of Beverley.
Even the coaching staff had grown weary of its point guard. And Lin could sense it.
Appearing at the Dream Big, Be Yourself youth conference in Taiwan this past August, the 25-year-old guard opened up on how the expectations weighed on his mind last season.
"The coaches were losing faith in me; basketball fans were making fun of me...I was supposed to be joyful and free, but what I experienced was the opposite," Lin said. "I had no joy, and I felt no freedom."
Lin also spoke on how living up to those magical three weeks altered his sense of self. He used the word "obsessed" to describe the situation. It was a sentiment he echoed in an interview with ESPN's Ian O'Connor this week:
I don't have as much freedom or the usage rate that I had in New York. I have to learn how to play a little more off the ball, how to cut better, how to shoot better, how to defend better. There are a lot of holes in my game, and I'll be the first one to admit that...It's just a matter of trying to become better and repair and improve. Teams know what my strengths and weaknesses are now, and I don't have that element of surprise anymore.
You can pick any nut of that quote that you want. What sticks out to me, though, is the self-awareness from Lin. That he knows Linsanity was more fluke than the crowning of a superstar—something we all should have expected to begin with.
That's not to say Lin is a bad or unworthy player.
When B/R did our NBA Re-Draft project, I took Lin as my team's sixth man and walked away satisfied. In this theoretical context, Lin would have been able to function as a primary ball-handler for the second unit, while his defensive shortcomings wouldn't be as deadly.
If you haven't noticed, a vast majority of the league's "best" sixth men are offense-first players who have long since given up on the other side of the ball (Hi, Jamal Crawford!).
The problem is that these Rockets aren't playing in a fictional universe. The team that Lin was once brought in to "save" is now a full-fledged Western Conference contender. Harden was joined this summer by free-agent signing Dwight Howard, creating one of the best one-two punches in the league.
Howard left the Los Angeles Lakers to come to Houston. He's the first major free agent in the franchise's history to leave on his own volition (unless you count A.C. Green), and he took $30 million less to do so. NBA Finals contention wasn't something he hoped for when signing with the Rockets; it was something he was probably guaranteed.
Here is where a lot of pundits, myself included, worry about Lin's presence.
You can win a championship with Harden and Howard as your two best players; we've just learned time and again it's the tertiary players who so often serve as the swing vote.
Lin digging himself out of this post-Linsanity abyss may hold more cards than we realize. Unlike recent years, when general manager Daryl Morey has hoarded B- players like they're going extinct, the Rockets are conspicuously thin at a couple spots. Signing Howard meant declining options on players like Carlos Delfino, who was essential to their run-and-gun offense last season.
Instead, those minutes will go to the likes of Francisco Garcia and Reggie Williams. Houston will also rely on the decaying Marcus Camby. Odds are, a couple of these moves work and a couple don't, and it will all depend on the night.
What the Rockets need is a fourth reliable player behind Harden, Howard and Chandler Parsons. The onus will go to the point guard position, and for now we must assume that Lin will be starting in that spot.
Those holes in Lin's game? Yeah, those are in need of some fixing. And fast.
These deficiencies start on the defensive side (duh).
Throughout last season and even dating back to his days in New York, Lin has been abhorrent both as an on-ball defender and a team defender. He consistently gets beaten by backdoor cuts, which is inexcusable for someone just clawing to be a league-average defender. That's caused by his ball-watching, a habit many players have. But few are as bad as Lin.
Watching the film, there isn't too much positivity to be found. His fundamentals are jumpy. I've seen his feet get completely crossed up in transition multiple times. The effort isn't always there. Too often he lazily goes after a steal or makes a bad mental decision, only for his man to get left wide open.
Here's a quick example:
Lin does a half-decent job of containing E'Twaun Moore initially, giving him a little bump that didn't get called and staying through, doing a fine job of staying with the screener.
The problem comes directly afterward. Why in the blue hell is Lin leaving Moore when Houston has three men within a step of the paint ready to help?
Your guess is as good as mine.
Those types of plays were all over the place watching Lin film. No one expects him to become a great defender, but playing with understanding of time and space isn't too much to ask.
If he becomes even passable on the defensive end, the Rockets won't have to worry about pairing him with one of their floor-spacing three-point specialists. Every NBA team has a hider on the floor; Houston just had two or three at all times last season.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Lin needs to improve his jumper, work on making better decisions with the basketball and, along with Harden, help convince Howard that running the pick-and-roll is helpful for everyone. It's long been known that Howard is the best pick-and-roll big in the league when he wants to be. Convincing him of that fact has been vexing coaches and teammates for nearly a decade now.
Those are a ton of responsibilities to list off in succession. Each probably deserves its own column. If Lin even checks off two or three of those boxes, he'll emerge as a valuable asset for this Rockets team.
It's just time for him to put the superstar aspirations behind him.
Linsanity is dead. Now let's see what Jeremy Lin can do.
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