There’s the obvious slurping of sports’ elite figures, and then there’s the lionization of those who simply and solely show potential. Indiana Pacers power forward Tyler Hansbrough was a victim of this during his career at North Carolina. Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, who has won a few ballgames in spite of some pretty subpar play is at all-time great status in many of his fans’ eyes. And now we have New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin, a product of Ivy League “powerhouse” Harvard University.
A few NBA teams gave up on Lin before he caught on with the Knicks. Those teams most likely didn’t see much from him and felt they had better options at the position. It’s hard to even give the Knicks credit for discovering Lin; he’s only gotten substantial playing time over the last 5 games and that’s mainly due to the fact that lead point guard Baron Davis has been out with injury, as well as starting small forward Carmelo Anthony and starting power forward A’mare Stoudemire.
Before this recent 5-game flurry (and winning streak) with the Knicks, I saw Lin play. Once. In college. On the road against Connecticut, he scored 30 points and the Crimson lost. Lin appeared to have decent ball-handling skills and was surprisingly quick for an Ivy League point guard. After the game was over, I completely forgot about Lin. I didn’t even know he was in the NBA until seeing his name on the Knicks roster on NBA 2K12, as a matter of fact.
Getting to the (semblance of a) point, Lin has been very good in his past 5 games. He’s averaged close to 27 points, to go with a little over 4 rebounds and an even 8 assists per game. He’s shot 51% from the floor and even averaged barely over 2 steals per game. He’s scored in a variety of ways: jumper, layup, dunk, floater, runner and I’m pretty sure he hit a 3 while conversing with celebrities who were sitting courtside at the Garden. However, before anyone should crown Lin as the next great point guard, they should look at the surrounding circumstances.
Lin’s “debut” came against the awful New Jersey Nets, who are still without alleged center Brook Lopez. While point guard Deron Williams is an elite player, his talent can’t mask the ineptitude of the Nets. The Nets, one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, were carved up by Lin to the tune of 25 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists and the Knicks won, 99-92.
Next up were the overachieving Utah Jazz. Lin went for 28-2-8 in a 99-88 win. He shot 10-17 from the floor. He even hit a 3…but also had 8 turnovers against one of the weaker defenses in the league.
Another gift in the form of a matchup against arguably the worst team in the league, the John Wall-led Washington Wizards, was next for Lin and the Knicks. Despite having a solid collection of young talent, the Wizards are downright terrible and are in the NBA’s bottom five in offensive and defensive efficiency, and points and field goal percentage allowed per game. Some people used a Summer League game in which Lin outplayed Wall to support their awful claim that they saw Lin’s streak of exceptional play coming, and Lin once again outplayed Wall, if only barely. Lin’s 23-4-10 weren’t really the difference, but the Lin stans didn’t see it that way. Knicks in a blowout, 107-93.
Finally, Lin got his first real test against the Los Angeles Lakers. Primarily against point frauds Derek Fisher and Steve Blake. At home. This was the game that many of Lin’s detractors thought would finally burst his bubble and put a halt to ESPN’s infatuation with him. WRONG. Lin went off for 38 points in 39 minutes and chipped in 4 rebounds and 7 assists as the Knicks won by 7, 92-85.
Lin and the Knicks capped off a very good week against the sort of-maybe-almost there Minnesota Timberwolves, on the road. In what ESPN of course hailed as a matchup of future star point guards between Lin and rookie Wolf Ricky Rubio, the Knicks did just enough to eke out a 100-98 win. It was by far Lin’s worst game shooting-wise, as he shot 8-24 from the floor. Despite a 33% clip from the field, he managed to finish with 20 points, 6 rebounds and 8 assists.
As I wrote before, Lin has been very good so far in his newfound starting role, despite a shoot-first mentality that sometimes leaves his teammates standing idle and committing 4.6 turnovers per game. It’s not Lin’s fault that in the 5 games he’s started, the Knicks have gone up against 3 (possibly 4) of the worst teams in the NBA. Nor is it Lin’s fault that so many have chosen to hype him as the next great point guard.
However, I wish more people would stop and look at Lin’s work, and not how he came to give this premature answer. He’s started 5 games with little expectation. Volume shooter Carmelo Anthony and near-volume shooter A’mare Stoudemire haven’t been on the floor with Lin for one second during this winning streak. Knicks head coach Mike D’antoni’s “7 Seconds Or Less” offensive system is perfect for a point guard like Lin. In the Knicks last game, Lin started alongside Landry Fields, Bill Walker, Jared Jefferies and Tyson Chandler. None of those four are offensively gifted in any way, shape or form, making it even easier for Lin to put up rather gaudy offensive numbers.
I’m not trying to knock Lin. He doesn’t play for the Pistons, therefore I don’t wish embarrassing failure on him. If he stays with the Knicks and D’antoni isn’t fired, he would be a better option at the point than Baron Davis, but I don’t expect him to continue putting up 27 points and 8 assists per. He’d be lucky to average half that, especially if Melo and A’mare are still Knicks. Lin’s stans and nicknames irk the entire hell out of me, and so do all of the “Is he legit?” questions. IT’S BEEN FIVE GAMES. Can we let the kid start for more than a week before tagging him as some sort of basketball wunderkind? Or trying to figure out if he’s really as good as he’s been over the past five games?
There’s no question that Lin has been good since being named a starter, but level of competition does matter, regardless of what you think. It’s not a backhanded compliment to say that he’s been good against mostly bad competition. It’s simply fact. The same goes for his barely-average floormates during this stretch. Huh. Only the most sensitive of Lin’s (lame) lionizers would believe otherwise.