Friday, July 20, 2012

Linsanity in Houston

Jeremy Lin was officially introduced by the Houston Rockets yesterday as their newest member and their starting point guard for at least the next three yearsLin has claimed dozens of times that his preference had been to remain a New York Knick, and based on the wins and money that Lin brought to their franchise during his short stint as their starting point guard, it seemed obvious enough that they wanted him to stay in New York too.  

However after Lin agreed to Houston’s three-year $25 million offer, a contract which Carmelo Anthony referred to as "ridiculous," the continuation of Linsanity in New York quickly wilted from guaranteed to doubtful during the three day period in which the Knicks could have match Houston’s offer to retain him.  The Knicks put the nail in the coffin by trading with the Trailblazers to re-acquire another former point guard Raymond Felton, and Lin now will become the face of the Houston Rockets, a team that has a lacked a definitive face since, well, Yao Ming.  But by offering Lin such a generous contract purely on the basis of the less-than-two-month period during which Linsanity dominated sports headlines, have the Rockets made a great move for their franchise or is Jeremy Lin just another flash in the pan?

Whether or not Lin lives up to his “ridiculous” contract in Houston, the Knicks should have done more to keep him in New York.   Not only was he incredibly exciting to watch, but the MSG stock has actually dropped $93 million since Lin signed with Houston.  The truth is that Lin did not only bring wins and money to the Knicks, but hope.  I am not a Knicks fan, but living in New York, I saw more people hyped up about last night’s Knicks game more often this past season than ever before.  By the time Lin had to be shut down for the season, I could not walk ten feet without seeing a Lin jersey.  The struggling franchise needed a boost, and Lin seemed to be the answer.  When Anthony and Amare Stoudemire were both injured, Lin took his newfound starting role in stride, put the Knicks on his back while making guys like JR Smith, Steve Novak, and Landry Fields look all-stars, and averaged just over 27 points in the first five games he started.  

The 23 year old surprise sensation from Harvard has shown the ability to be a legitimate playmaker, facilitator, crunch-time scorer, but yes, a turnover machine.  Lin’s style of play is incredibly raw, which was the leading reason for the Knicks to go acquire veteran point guard Jason Kidd this offseason.  The 39 year old Kidd is a ten time all-star and claims he is finally ready to take the backseat to a younger point guard while offering some mentoring.  The mentor was also charged with DWI after crashing his Escalade into a telephone pole around 2 AM last Sunday morning.  

Nevertheless he will not get the opportunity to help mold Lin’s raw playmaking ability into the refined facilitative point guard role which Kidd represents.  Lin is comparable to Derrick Rose in many ways, in the sense that he is flying all over the place while making erratic and sometimes spectacular plays, constantly risking his own health by barreling through defenders to attempt off-balance shots.  Despite all of that, during the first eight games which Lin started the Knicks were 7-1 and Lin averaged 25 points.  He also averaged 6.5 turnovers in those games.

Lin’s turnover numbers slightly improved going forward, which is a good sign for Houston fans, but by no means did the turnovers go away.  In Lin’s final game before he was shut down for the season, he turned the ball over seven times in less than 24 minutes on the court.  Despite being a point guard, he ranked 51st on last season’s assist-to-turnover ratio leaders with a 1.71, which falls below guys at other positions such as Boris Diaw and Gordon Hayward.  

That faulty defense is a cause for concern as well.  Lin is certainly a playmaker, but can also make opposing point guards look like playmakers too.  His defense is comparable to that of Steve Nash, as more athletic guards have no trouble blowing by him.  When the Knicks faced the Wizards last season in Lin’s second game as an NBA starter, John Wall had no trouble getting to the hoop and put up 29 points.  Against the Nets in the second game Lin ever lost as a starter, Lin put up a respectable 21 points and 9 assists, but the story of the game was Deron Williams who found himself wide open for jump shots time after time en route to 38 points.  

Lin will still have plenty of time to improve upon those weaknesses, and if Houston’s head coach Kevin McHale can teach him anything, it will be about the importance of commitment, composure, and consistency.  As of right now, it does not look like Lin will have much talent around him other than the sharp shooting Kevin Martin, and young guys like the freakish athlete Chandler Parsons and rookie guard Jeremy Lamb from UCONN.  Still I suspect that the Lin signing is not the last we will see from Houston this offseason, especially since they recently released Luis Scola, arguably their best player from last year.  Help is likely still coming for Linsanity.

Lin has shown a natural knack for playmaking and an ability to make lesser known teammates into household names, which are two very important traits for point guards.  He will attempt to keep doing this effectively as Linsanity takes Houston by storm.  As he gets older, he should improve and gain a greater sense of composure, therefore watching those turnovers as well as his own health a bit more.  My prediction is that Lin will help the 2012-2013 Rockets finish with a better record than the Knicks, before being ousted from the early stages of the playoffs.

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