5 Reasons Jeremy Lin Should Be Los Angeles Lakers' Starting Point Guard
Selecting a starting point guard figured to be an issue for the Los Angeles Lakers once upon a time.
But not anymore.
Jeremy Lin is the clear choice.
Mitigating circumstances—specifically Steve Nash's health—have razed any alternatives. Head coach Byron Scott has even conceded as much, noting that Lin could start in light of Los Angeles' current situation, according to the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan.
Still, nothing is certain. Scott's subtle endorsement comes after flagrantly implying Lin would be charged with manning the second unit.
"Those probably will be two of the first guys off the bench,” Scott said of Lin and Ed Davis following Los Angeles' first preseason contest, per Lakers.com.
So much for that.
Choosing a starting point guard isn't a source of conflict anymore. This shouldn't even be a decision. Lin needs to start.
Dearth of Options
Arguing in favor of Lin starting at point guard implies that the Lakers have other options.
Scott told the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina that Nash would start at point guard. But that was back in September, many moons ago, during simpler, more optimistic times.
Pessimism has since crept into the fold. Nash left the Lakers' most recent preseason massacre against the Golden State Warriors with what he says was a "little sciatica problem," per the Orange County Register's Janis Carr. Here's the cyclopean caveat: There is no such thing as a "little sciatica problem" in the NBA.
Sciatica is a symptom of another medical issue, according to the National Library of Medicine. Nash is now 40, with a history of nerve, leg and back issues. Purchasing the wrong oatmeal is a little problem. Anything pertaining to his body—specifically the leg or back regions—is an ominous omen.
"If the Lakers want any semblance of continuity in their starting lineup, Lin is the only choice to start," writes NBC Sports' Dan Feldman. "His injury [sprained ankle] seems minor, and he’s young enough to settle in once the regular season begins."
Fielding Nash over Lin promises nothing. He's not an everyday floor general anymore. The Lakers need someone they can count on. Consistently taking the floor would be a monstrous miracle for Nash at this point.
And if not him, then who? Jordan Clarkson? Ronnie Price? Keith Appling?
When healthy, Nash is Lin's only competition. Nash isn't healthy, so Lin should have no competition.
Suited for the Offense
What the Lakers are planning to do offensively won't be pretty. Starting Lin won't change that, but it will make the aesthetic appeal and results less ugly.
Rather than embrace progressive offensive models, Scott has elected to reject modern-day wisdom. Three-point attempts will be to the Lakers offense what electricity is to the Old Order Amish: foreign.
"Our game plan is really to get to that basket," Scott said after Los Angeles' preseason opener, per the Los Angeles Times' Eric Pincus. "I like the fact that we only shot 10 threes. If we shoot between 10 and 15, I think that's a good mixture of getting to that basket and shooting threes."
It most certainly isn't a good mixture—only one team attempted under 15 threes per game last year—but whatever. If the Lakers are going to abandon distance shooting, they need a point guard who can weave his way in and out of the paint. Three years ago, that would have been Nash. Right now, it's Lin.
Remember, Lin's rise from NBA beatnik to everyday player began within Mike D'Antoni's pick-and-roll-packed offense. Attacking the rim is his first instinct. Almost half of his total shot attempts came inside the paint and restricted area last season, according to NBA.com. His 171 makes within that same range represented nearly 58 percent of his total converted baskets.
Three-point-averse teams need aggressive, shoot-first point guards who can initiate pick-and-rolls. That's how the offense survives.
Backing Lin's return to prominence is the only chance Los Angeles' primitive offensive structure has at staving off bottom-10 status.
Suited to Save the Offense from Itself
Correct, Lin is both suited to run the Lakers offense and, out of necessity, sabotage it.
In a good way.
Bygone offensive ideals aren't solely the product of Scott's love for old-school basketball. The Lakers aren't teeming with deadly shooters, so his anti-three approach is also him catering to the strengths—or, rather, weaknesses—of his team.
At the same time, offenses seldom get by without shooting threes. We defer to CBS Sports' Zach Harper here:
However, you also have to create an environment and system in which there is room to attack the basket. That's typically created by 3-point shooting to spread the floor. Scott should be looking at a balance to 3-point shooting and not just having his team wildly chucking without any regard for a system, but simply not taking 3's doesn't solve the problem of the Lakers the last two seasons.
Pounding the rock also prohibits ball movement for squads outside San Antonio. Three-pointers—specifically catch-and-shoot three-pointers—help promote selflessness and off-rock strategy.
Lin's game, while incomplete, has evolved to include long-range and standstill shooting. He pumped in a career-high 35.8 percent of his three-point attempts last season, and his effective field-goal percentage—which takes into account two- and three-pointers—ranked 23rd among 221 qualified players who attempted at least one spot-up shot.
These Lakers will inevitably be forced to balance out their offense. Avoiding three-pointers and leaning on play styles that are disingenuous to ball movement isn't a long-term solution to their conundrum.
Once this quest for offensive symmetry begins, they'll need a well-rounded point guard to chart their course. No one floor general on the roster—not even Nash—has smoother edges than Lin.
Complimenting Lin's defense feels a lot like crawling buck naked across an active minefield while blindfolded. But that's the reality of commenting on the Lakers defense at all.
Last season, the Lakers ranked 28th in defensive efficiency, and they aren't built to fare much better this year. Wesley Johnson and Davis are easily their most valuable defenders, and only one of them (Johnson) is expected to start.
While Lin isn't known for his defense, he's better than anything else the team has at point guard. Nash hasn't posted a defensive rating under 110 since 2005-06. He's actually tied for the second-worst defensive rating (112) among players who have appeared in at least 200 games over the last nine years. Lin, meanwhile, has registered a sub-110 defensive rating in each of his first four seasons.
Opposing point men mustered only a 13.3 player efficiency rating against Lin last year as well, per 82games.com. He also finished seventh in opponent field-goal percentage at the rim among players who appeared in at least 25 games and averaged 28 or more minutes.
Rim protection isn't considered paramount for floor generals, but point-blank prevention does start on the perimeter. Rival ball-handlers entered the paint at will against the Lakers in 2013-14—the team ranked dead last in points allowed in the paint per game, according to TeamRankings.com—so having someone with the lateral quickness necessary to cut them off is a boon for an otherwise busted defense.
Consider that Lin allowed just 2.8 field-goal attempts at the rim in 29.1 minutes a night, the same number as touted defender Kawhi Leonard let up in 29.3 minutes. That doesn't make him a first-rate guardian or All-Defensive team candidate. It just makes him more valuable on the defensive end than most Lakers players.
Putting Stock in the Future
This year isn't about winning a championship for the Lakers. Nor is it about tanking their way to draft-pick retention.
It's about the future.
Most of the Lakers roster doesn't have a future in Los Angeles. Stopgaps and aging veterans on their last legs abound, while cornerstones wear thin.
Limiting the playing time of potential foundations, like Lin, in favor of twilight-aggrieved talent, like Nash, makes little sense. For the same reason a 25-year-old Davis and rookie Julius Randle need to see extensive playing time, Lin needs to start.
He could be the point guard of the future for a Lakers team without one. He could be one of the rentals they keep long term. He could be a project that pans out.
And if he's not, no big deal.
Talent evaluation must top the Lakers' list of priorities during a campaign that lacks purpose outside of Kobe Bryant's attempted reincarnation. Rolling with anyone else won't offer the same combination of protracted potential and immediate production.
Starting Lin is, in all actuality, one of the few no-brainer decisions the Lakers will have an opportunity to make this year.