As the Brooklyn Nets inked Jeremy Lin to a three-year, $36 million deal at the start of free agency, they reunited him with the city where he once put his name on the map. They also offered him the perfect situation to prove he can be an NBA starter.
The expectations of the team's performance are low, the support for Lin in New York City remains relatively high and the action in Barclays Center is scrutinized less keenly than Madison Square Garden's.
But most importantly, Lin's reuniting with Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson, one of the (former) New York Knicks assistants that made Linsanity possible. Atkinson, "the point guard whisperer," is celebrated for being a genius at player development, and if anyone can make Lin a true NBA starter, maybe it's him.
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To make space for Lin, the Nets waived last year's starting point guard, Jarrett Jack. Brooklyn also previously traded starting power forward Thaddeus Young to the Indiana Pacers for two draft picks, selecting Michigan Wolverines shooting guard Caris LeVert at No. 20 and Coney Island's own Isaiah Whitehead, a Seton Hall point guard, at No. 42.
Power forward Trevor Booker and center Justin Hamilton have been signed (the latter returns to the NBA after playing in Spain for a year). The Nets extended an offer sheet to combo guard Tyler Johnson, which the Miami Heat have until Sunday to match, and there are no moves yet to re-sign Wayne Ellington (who opted out) or Shane Larkin.
Thus, Lin is the biggest acquisition—in name and in game—but does he have enough to work with, both on the roster and in his own skill set?
X's and O's
One of the only constants in the Nets' recent history—the seven-foot pillar the franchise leans on—is Brook Lopez. BroLo has been, and will continue to be, the Nets' main offensive weapon.
So Lin must be able to feed the big man.
That shouldn't be a problem. Although he doesn't exactly have the ESP Chris Paul enjoys with DeAndre Jordan, Lin has efficiently spoon-fed Al Jefferson, Frank Kaminsky, Dwight Howard and Tyson Chandler during previous NBA stops.
Passes from Lin provided these teammates higher field goal percentages than passes from the team's starting point guard. For example, Kaminsky shot 45.4 percent after a pass from Lin, but only 33.6 from Kemba Walker last season; Howard shot 58.7 percent from Lin, but only 54.5 percent from Patrick Beverley in 2013-14.
Because the Nets have a largely young, developing squad, they will also need Lin to be a viable second scoring option. He averaged 11.7 points for the Charlotte Hornets last year, mostly by being a hellbent driver to the bucket.
Lin often moves downhill with a reckless dedication, drawing fouls, scoring at the rim and creating opportunities for teammates while the defenders are distracted, wondering why he has no human instinct for self-preservation. (Shane Larkin brought some of that to Brooklyn too, but Lin has more length as well.)
In a story for Nets Daily, one of Brooklyn's Summer League players, Yogi Ferrell, "revealed a bit about Atkinson's offense. 'We're gonna get out and run.'"
If Atkinson indeed plans on pushing the transition game more, then Lin should be able to integrate well. Although most of his work was done in the half-court with the Charlotte Hornets, Linsanity in New York was certainly peppered with thrilling fast breaks generated by his handiwork.
It could work, if he smooths out his jump shot and creates for everyone on the court, not just the seven-footer looming in the low post.
Fit and Finish
This was the right move both for Lin and Brooklyn.
The Nets' options were slim and they knew it. In May, Atkinson told WFAN's Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts (via CBS New York) that the team's management would have to "look under every rock" for new players.
"I think there’s a lot of different ways to acquire players — D-League, international, free agency,” he said. “So I’m excited. I think we can get it done, and I’m ready to get to work."
“We’re going to really have a great culture here. We’re going to bring in high-character players. We’re going to try to play the right way. And I think if we get lucky in free agency a little bit and we find some undiscovered guys internationally … we can turn this thing around.”
Far from under a rock, they've landed one of the NBA's best backup point guards to be their new starter. More than just bench relief, Lin gave the Hornets 27 minutes per game as either Walker's rest or the 2 to his 1. Although $12 million per year might have made your eyes bulge last week, by now you should be growing accustomed to the effects of cap increase inflation.
The Nets just got a new starting point guard for what now amounts to a back-up's salary.
During his past two seasons in Charlotte, Lin showed he can cause opponents real trouble. He seriously challenges pick-and-roll defenses, forcing opposing coaches to plan for him.
Left on his own, being sixth man on a playoff team might have been the best Lin could hope for. If he truly does have greater potential though, who better to help him reach it than Atkinson—someone who not only is a stellar player development coach, but someone who's worked with Lin and who experienced the joy and eventual frustration of the Linsanity craze from the inside?
Getting better seems to be Lin's primary objective, and one he's already working towards. In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Tianjin, China (via Nets Daily), Lin said:
And if you asked me what I want out of free agency, I want to see how good I can become. ...
I'm trying to be a great shooter because I can really drive to the basket and that's basically why I can play in the NBA. I can drive, but I feel if I can shoot at a more consistent and hit more types of shots, it will open up my driving game. So I'm shooting 700 to 1,000 jumpers every day while I'm not on this Asia trip.
Returning to New York to make his attempt at starterdom may seem dangerously high-profile, and some may think Lin is setting himself up for a spotlit crash-and-burn.
However, if the Knicks are Broadway, the Nets are off-Broadway—the spotlights don't shine quite as harshly upon failure at Barclays Center.
If Lin and this new Brooklyn squad somehow squeak into the playoffs (or even just play respectably), that will garner attention and sell tickets. This opportunity was tailor-made for Jeremy Lin. Now it's up to him to prove he deserves it.
All stats are from NBA.com/stats.