Even after his meteoric ascent through the public eye, Lin's reward has come in the form of dollar signs and notoriety rather than consistent, constant value. His career is still best defined by that captivating spate of dominance with the New York Knicks. Those moments—fleeting yet fulfilling—still hang over his head and professional reputation, the scourge to a should-be Cinderella story.
And that's where the Los Angeles Lakers, Lin's new team, come into play.
Where Lin was still a novelty with the Houston Rockets and Knicks, he has the opportunity to be something more in Los Angeles.
The stage isn't set for him to play savior or rival the expired flashes that put him on the map. Instead, for the first time ever, Lin finds himself in a situation that allows him to be him without regard for feats and fame of days past.
Back to the Basics
Pick-and-rolls helped fuel Lin's rise to on-court prominence.
Almost 43 percent of his total offensive possessions came within pick-and-rolls during his breakout 2011-12 campaign, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required). That was Mike D'Antoni's offensive system—pick-and-roll, pick-and-roll, pick-and-roll—and it was perfect for him.
Remaining in attack mode gave Lin more control. It played to his strengths as a penetration-proficient point guard while opening up the floor for those around him.
That's the Lin general manager Daryl Morey invested in that summer.
That's the Lin Houston killed.
Acquiring James Harden ahead of the 2012-13 crusade changed everything. Lin, despite being the point guard, was no longer that primary ball-bearer. Operating alongside Harden forced him off the rock, relegating him to more spot-up duty than he was suited to play.
"What got Jeremy Lin into the league and made Linsanity happen in the first place is that Lin is aggressive and successful attacking on the pick-and-roll, and he can finish around the rim," NBC Sports' Kurt Helin explains. "Last season he shot 57.8 percent on drives, second in the league only to LeBron James."
Nearly one-quarter of Lin's offensive possessions came as a standstill shooter in 2012-13. He shot just 38.7 percent in those situations.
Fast forward to last year and things changed even more. Lin attempted more field goals as a spot-up shooter (272) than pick-and-roll ball-handler (237).
Never mind that his conversion rate for the former began trending in the right direction. Or that his three-point shooting in such situations (38.4 percent) could be construed as impressive. Playing off the ball isn't where Lin is most comfortable. He's better off as a dual threat at the very least—someone who vacillates between dominating and sliding off the rock.
Finding that balance wasn't possible in Houston, beside Harden and even Dwight Howard.
It is in Los Angeles.
“I just got to by myself and play my game," Lin said while promoting his Adidas shoes in Culver City, per the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina. "Everything else will take care of itself."
So by that he means...
“Maybe I should just keep attacking the basket more,” he explained. “In the NBA, you have to be great at something. For me it’s attacking the basket. I’ll just continue to work on that and shore up other areas of my game.”
Regardless of whether he starts or comes off the bench, the Lakers offer more of an opportunity for Lin to do what he does best.
Aside from Kobe Bryant, the team doesn't employ any one player who requires a specific number of touches or who absolutely, positively, without exception, must control the ball.
Next season's Lakers—who aren't built to defend in the slightest—will look to score. Lin's ability to slither through the heart of opposing defenses will be a welcomed commodity and, inevitably, something that permits him to shoulder more responsibility in familiar fashion.
A Mentor He Never Had
Steve Nash will be of value to the Lakers in 2014-15. It doesn't matter if he plays, hitting shot after shot, dropping dime after dime, contributing without interruption from age or injury. He can help the Lakers by helping Lin.
Of all the things Lin's tumultuous journey has included, the guidance of a seasoned, All-Star, Hall of Fame-bound point guard isn't a luxury he's enjoyed. Guidance of any kind has been scarce. Neither Carmelo Anthony nor Harden or Howard were ever lauded for their acceptance and appreciation of Lin.
All that changes now, alongside Nash, who Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding describes as a willing mentor:
Nash has long been a strong supporter of Lin, who came to L.A. last summer to take part in Nash’s charity soccer game.
Now teammates, the two already have begun forging a partnership, both working out at the Lakers' training facility Monday and again Wednesday to get started. The first full-team training-camp workout isn’t until Tuesday.
There are so many things Nash can teach Lin as he enters his 19th—and likely final—NBA season.
Defense isn't one of them. But that's what Byron Scott and basketball books on tape are for in this case. Nash can help Lin just about everywhere else.
Shooting? Check. Nash is the only player in league history with more than two 50/40/90 seasons to his name. Of the 63 players to attempt at least 3,000 three-pointers over the course of their career, Nash—who has jacked up 3,939 to date—leads them all with a 42.8 percent knockdown rate.
Playmaking? Check times two. Nash ranks third all time in total assists (10,335), behind only Jason Kidd and John Stockton. As our own Adam Fromal unearthed during a lengthy study, Nash has also piloted six of the league's 12 best offenses ever. This is to say he's the face of offensive preeminence.
Leadership? Nash has that covered too. Winning two MVPs and finishing in the top 10 of win shares since 1996 counts for something.
And so, too, will his input. Lin isn't a complete point guard by any means. There are holes in his game on the offensive end—shooting, for starters—and Nash, whether he's playing alongside Lin or directing him from the sidelines, can help.
Opportunity Unlike Any Other
More than anything else, the Lakers are handing Lin a second chance.
Los Angeles isn't Houston. It's not New York. It's different.
Usually that difference increases the burden of expectations. The Lakers are typically expected to win more than most teams. Championships are the standard. Playoff berths and near-misses aren't consolations; they're frowned upon.
But not anymore.
Few expect the Lakers to be anything more than a lottery team flirting with respectability on the back of a surprisingly healthy and productive Bryant. Talent evaluation stands to take precedence over everything else. Scores of players will sport Lakers purple and gold, their contracts expiring, their future in Los Angeles tied to next season's performance.
Lin is among those playing for their next contract. And while uncertainty can be detrimental, it's a chance for Lin to redefine himself and his game.
No more Linsanity. No more adapting and adjusting to Harden and an offensive system built for the exact kind of point guard he is not. No more trying to establish himself as an integral part of a championship machine.
Most players are given grace periods; Lin was not.
Thrust into the spotlight two-plus years ago, Lin never left. The light never dimmed.
A 20-something-game sample size was used to idealize him. When the shock wore off and reality set in, Lin was left to fight a losing battle in Houston, never once getting a legitimate opportunity to find his niche and develop accordingly.
Now on a Lakers team promising that opportunity, Lin is finally where he belongs, a fad and novelty no more. The lights are still bright and the stage still big, but upon season's end—whether he's part of Los Angeles' long-term plans or not—he'll have found clarity that, for once, isn't attached to the unfair bar he's long been measured against.