Jeremy Lin and Team Number Five (In Six Years)

While everyone was sleeping, Jeremy Lin was traded on Friday the 13th which makes all the sense in the world for the Lin career post Linsanity. He has repeatedly found himself on the glass is half empty wrong end of things. The latest version of Lin is in Atlanta, a team that has taken on water in the boat. The Hawks are rebuilding with a flourish and their fans prefer to stay home instead of showing up. Lin is expected to battle Trae Young for the starting spot. (Dennis Schroder is going to be moved). So it sounds easy for Lin to be a starter which is how he views himself.  But three years after the Hawks went to the Eastern Conference Finals, they are dreadful in multiple areas. They are starting from scratch. Jeremy Lin will be a leader on a very young team. Or, Jeremy Lin will be a disaster.

Lin tore his patella tendon last season and because he is not favored by the Basketball Gods, Spencer Dinwiddie took his place and is now the Nets starting point guard, making Lin expendable. The Nets like Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell as their combo guards which left Lin on the outside. It’s a familiar place.

When he was with the Lakers, Byron Scott demoted Lin in favor of journeyman Ronnie Price and after that experiment ran its course, second round pick rookie Jordan Clarkson was the Lin alternative. Before the Lakers, Houston snatched his starting job away from him, gift wrapping it for Pat Beverly. Before that it was Linsanity. But Linsanity is so far in the rear view mirror, it’s more a footnote than an epic three weeks for Jeremy Lin.

This season, Jeremy Lin will play for his fifth team in six years. (Houston, Los Angeles, Charlotte, Brooklyn, Atlanta). Lin has a certain NBA reality even as it crushes his Linsanity past clinging to a rock. The dream is over. Anyone who has watched Lin these past few years is aware he’s not a starting point guard on a playoff team. He struggles with physical double teams. He’s not tough enough on defense to trust in multiple defensive sets. He turns the ball over 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, although he had a good year in Charlotte three seasons ago. They decided not to pay him and he signed with Brooklyn. A Lin-Russell backcourt for 2017-18 seemed promising until his injury. Spencer Dinwiddie took advantage of the door that opened. Plus, he’s  ten million dollars cheaper.

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 point guard in the Eastern Conference hoping to beat out a rookie for the starting spot.

Lin has thrived best when he has had an athletic back to the basket big man. It’s slim pickings in the ATL. Miles Plumlee, Mike Muscala, and Dewayne Dedmon await his arrival. The Hawks may win 25 games if things go right.

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. The Hawks have a first time head coach in Lloyd Pierce, an assistant in Philly. In hiring him the Hawks talked about him being a “teacher.” Translation: the kids don’t know what they don’t know.

Last year, the Hawks were 25th in scoring. They were 25th in field goal percentage.  The drafting of Trae Young and the acquisition of Lin is intended to bolster those numbers and if not, put people in the seats as a low hanging fruit alternative. The Hawks are going to play fast and shoot threes and the stats say why. It’s a miss or make league. 7 of the top 10 scoring offenses were all in the NBA playoffs. (Denver, Clippers, Charlotte missed the cut).

Lin’s offensive numbers are a mixed bag. He is a 35% midrange jumpshot maker. His long twos aren’t much better, going in 38% of the time. He’s a decent three point shot maker and he can finish at the rim. He has had strong assist pecentages: 41% during his Linsanity wonder year. 35% his first year in Brooklyn. 29% his first year in Houston. With the exception of Los Angeles, he has very good first years.

Lin has never been a physical or crafty player in the paint where he draws fouls on his jumper. He only has 89 and-1’s in 406 NBA games. 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 critics who found multiple holes in his game. It’s hard to make sense of the fact that six years after Linsanity, Jeremy Lin is still a mystery. It’s hard to define his strengths as absolute nor excoriate his weaknesses as a reason he has had a slightly above average career, but nothing grand or special.  Inconsistency has been the one variable everyone can agree one, the Jeremy Lin calling card. 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 Atlanta reality once again.

We are way past the truth about Jeremy Lin coming to light, despite the questions. Is he a random back up point guard, no better or no worse than Tim Frazier? Or, will the Jeremy Lin critics finally discover he has a place in the league. And it’s in Atlanta.