Linsanity is over.
In its wake roams Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin, the basketball player undoubtedly lesser than the hysteria that once surrounded him during one exciting winter jaunt with the New York Knicks.
But make no mistake: Lin is still darn good. In fact, he may even be an award-winning baller—and sooner than you think.
Lin is in the mix for Sixth Man of the Year honors this season, as the Rockets have favored Patrick Beverley as their starting point guard for most of the year. But both guards are typically around to finish games, especially close ones, and the two essentially average the same minutes. Lin is clocking 30.9 per game, while Beverley is at 31.8. The Rockets' best lineup is with Lin, Beverley, Terrence Jones, Dwight Howard and Chandler Parsons, holding a .875 winning percentage, good for ninth in the league.
More importantly, the Rockets have come to rely quite heavily on Lin. The team has been smart enough to identify what seems to be his lasting role in the NBA. He’s a microwave man, providing the necessary extra firepower just when the opposition think they’ve got a handle on Houston’s full-court attack.
With Lin, the Rockets transcend mere potency. They become relentless. While less powerful than superstar teammate James Harden, Lin’s slashing is similar enough to Harden’s to consistently give defenses fits. He’s often the straw that breaks the enemy's back.
But this is not the sole line of reasoning for why Lin will almost inevitably receive the award. Plenty of NBA reserve guards supply the same spark in similar quantity—J.R. Smith, Jarrett Jack, Mo Williams, Reggie Jackson, Marco Belinelli and even the resurgent D.J. Augustin are just some of the current equivalents to what Lin offers.
Rather, Lin’s narrative is one that’s all too compelling.
And like all awards, Sixth Man honors are highly driven by their stories. They’re selected by journalists who weave a sort of sociological afghan for a profession, not by stats-crashers and talent appraisers who scrutinize a player's every move.
Lin, in this light, is a prime candidate.
Whether it’s this year, next or in a later season, the media will not be able to resist the redemption tale implicit in giving him this trophy. There’s a readymade barrage of nostalgic treatises for when Lin is dubbed the very best reserve in basketball.
In other words: Linsanity may be over, but we haven't forgotten what it did to our hearts. Lin is unlikely to ever capture our attention the way he did in 2012, but his sudden Big Apple blaze was a system shock to the image of the league. It’s a coming-of-age piece unlike any we’ve seen in years—one fit for a retrospective.
Which is not to say that Lin’s singular circumstances (which really means his race, if we’re to look down the eyes of the elephant in the room) give him an unfair edge over the competition.
One day, there had never been an Asian-American in the NBA. The next, Lin was the king of the highlight reel. This twist carries weight, of course.
But Lin’s story is about more than that—I personally will never forget the image of him sleeping on a teammate’s couch mere hours after lighting Manhattan on fire, a rare rags-to-riches wrinkle that has nothing to do with ethnicity.
And he’s deserving of the award, anyway. If he’s already in the conversation for it, his glitzy biography is sure to help him receive it in time. Among the slew of worthy recipients, Lin is arguably the best right now, and he could very well remain so for seasons to come—provided he remains a reserve and not a starter.
It’s only a matter of when the lore of the league decides that Lin should be given another moment.