Jeremy Lin is in salvage mold, dragging his career out of the wreckage pile. What he remembers, he’ll try to build upon in North Carolina. He is on the Charlotte Hornets roster and that particular newsworthy event means Jeremy Lin will play for his fourth team in three years. It’s not easy to put behind him what happend in L.A. in 2014-15. Lin was demoted for journeyman Ronnie Price, benched by Byron Scott and outshined by second round draft pick Jordan Clarkson. Now, Lin will be the back-up for Kemba Walker.
By signing with Charlotte, Lin has accepted his NBA reality even as it crushes his Linsanity past clinging to a rock. The dream is over. (As is his $15 million dollar paycheck). Anyone who has watched Lin these past two years is aware he’s not a starting point guard. He’s not athletic enough to finish his drives consistently. He struggles with physical double teams often getting the ball stripped when the game is on the line. He’s not tough enough on defense to trust in multiple defensive sets. He turns the ball over way too much and in a variety of ways, on the dribble, on the pass, in the lane, forced and unforced. He lacks versatility once he drives to the rim, unable to change directions when a defender slides over.
Lin, a pick and roll point guard, has yet to thrive after leaving the Mike D’antoni offensive-guru system that catapulted Lin to international fame. In Houston, Lin was benched in favor of Patrick Beverly. In Los Angeles, the possibility of Lin wore off after three weeks of him as a starter.
It’s hard to think about Lin in the NBA without going back to his famous few weeks when he was the shining light in the NBA, when the undrafted point guard from Harvard ascended to unexpected heights only to come crashing down to reality because by then teams actually scouted him, planned for him, defended him and exposed him. Linsanity was a phenomenon and like all phenomenon’s they end pretty quietly. Now Jeremy Lin is just one more back-up guard in the Eastern Conference hoping to get some valuable minutes.
Lin has thrived best when he has had an athletic back to the basket big man like Tyson Chandler or Dwight Howard. Last year he played with an undersized center in Jordan Hill who was a mid-range shooter lacking explosion. On Charlotte’s second team there is Spencer Hawes and Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller, in other words, not the dominant athletes that can erase Lin’s mistakes in the lane. But in Steve Clifford, Lin will have a coach he can rely on as opposed to Byron Scott who LIn never had any rapport with and who many felt sabotaged Lin from the get-go.
Similar to Byron Scott, Steve Clifford is a tough, defensive minded coach. Even though Lin has worked on his defense, it is still “C” level. He doesn’t have lateral quickness. He struggles staying with his man and is often late on rotations. But he gives effort, for what it’s worth. In his favor, he’ll be guarding second tier guards.
Offense is why Lin is in Charlotte. The Hornets were 28th in scoring. They were 29th in field goal percentage. They were 27th in assists. They were 30th in three point percentage. The acquisition of Lin and Nic Batum and Jeremy Lamb is intended to bolster these numbers; it’s a miss or make league. 9 of the top 10 scoring offenses were all in the NBA playoffs and the Thunder would have been in the playoffs had Kevin Durant not been injured.
Lin’s offensive numbers last year were a mixed bag. He shot 33% from 3-10 feet. He shot 31% on long 2’s. He made 44% of his two point shots, nearly a career low. He shot 36% on three point shots, a career high. His assist percentage was 28.6%.
Lin has never been a physical or crafty player in the paint where he draws fouls on his jumper. Last year he only had 7 and-1’s. His career high is 26. He’s a catch and shoot or pull up scorer who can make uncontested shots with adequate floor spacing. He can finish at the rim in the absence of a rim protector. He can be a streaky shooter and go on a scoring binge. But his defense is too inconsistent to have him in the game more than 28 minutes.
In Lin’s past are the Laker critics who found multiple holes in his game. Gone too are the sold out crowds at Staples Center and the fans chasing players down hotel hallways and the obsessiveness that surrounds Los Angeles basketball. The Hornets are a regional market and Lin will find a quiet place to be under the radar and work on his game.
It’s hard to make sense of the fact that after three years Jeremy Lin is still a mystery. It’s hard to define his strengths as absolute nor excoriate his weaknesses as a reason he is overrated.. Inconsistency has been the one variable everyone can agree one, that and he can never live up to what he created with his Linsanity myth. But in his defense, Jeremy Lin has never been able to have the freedom to improve without the glare of the lights blinding him and comparing him to a fantasy. Not to overstate it, but this is his Charlotte reality. In North Carolina the truth about Jeremy Lin will come to light. Is he a random back up point guard, no better or no worse than Ramon Sessions? Or, will the Jeremy Lin critics finally discover he has a place in the league?
photos via somosnba.com