For the past week, plenty around the league have wondered how so many teams could have missed out on Jeremy Lin. The answer to that is simple; they didn’t. Lin is still a young player with the some of the same flaws he had just a few short weeks ago. His meteoric rise to success didn’t come from some invisible skill that talent evaluators and league executives failed to notice. Instead, Lin has been given a chance few undrafted second year players ever get, the opportunity to succeed and the permission to fail. It’s David Thorpe’s proverbial “royal jelly”. So what is this jelly made of? Sprinkles and rainbows? Unicorn tears? Here’s a look at six key ingredients to Lin’s exemplary play and what questions are left regarding its staying power.
- Caffeine. The toll the brutal travel schedule has levied on the players is something that can’t be underscored. For the most part, Lin has been exempt from that grind. As Coach Thorpe previously mentioned, Lin coming in with stores of energy against guys already dragging from 30-plus minute nights during a compacted 15-20 game slate is a nice advantage to have, especially when you’re a player that loves to attack the rim. Once Lin is afflicted by the same nagging bumps, bruises, sore muscles and dead legs, will he be able to produce as efficiently?
- Cupcakes! During their seven game win streak, Lin has led the Knicks to victories over teams whose combined defensive efficiency rank is 20th. Three of those teams (the Nets, Wizards and Kings) all rank below 25th. Even the two top 15 teams they have played have flaws that have played into Lin’s favor. Both Minnesota and Los Angeles have non-mobile bigs that have consistently struggled in pick and roll coverage throughout their careers. While it’s great Lin is taking it to these teams, the mark of a true star (or even above average starter) is the ability to create against the top teams in the league. Of the next 11 games for the New York, eight come against teams inhabiting the top 10 of the defensive rankings. How will Lin’s turnover-prone, attacking ways fare against some of the most athletic, intelligent and disciplined teams in the league?
- Helping of Hot Hand. According to HoopData, Lin is shooting a scintillating 63% on long twos (16-23ft). If Lin’s ability to convert this shot holds up to anywhere near that rate, he’d make Steve Nash look like Ronnie Brewer. Simply put, this number will fall off at some point. When it does, how will it affect his game and the way defenses approach him?
- A clean kitchen. During Lin’s magnificient run, Carmelo Anthony has been around for one whole game and six minutes of another while Amar’e Stoudamire has missed four due to the tragic passing of his brother. Starting with the Jazz game, Lin had four games where he was able to control the ball and defer to absolutely no one. His usage rate currently stands at 31.1 (just a shade behind Melo) and in the Laker game alone it was 40.8. It was quite fortunate for Lin that there was no adjustment period. After that Nets game, Mike D’Antoni, or any other member of the Knicks staff for that matter, didn’t have to figure out how to work Lin’s game in with the two struggling stars because they simply weren’t there. Instead, the Knicks planned to “ride this horse” as long as they could. Even Kevin Durant, in his first year in Seattle, didn’t havethat chance. Lin, to his enormous credit, ran with the opportunity and helped the Knicks surge to an extended winning streak. Now instead of Lin deferring to Melo and Stoudamire, the feeling is that it has to be the other way around. When Melo returns, how big of an effect will it have on Lin’s production?
- The right cookware. This has been exhaustively covered so we won’t continue to beat a dead horse (or a live one…why is a dead one any better?). D’Antoni’s point guard friendly system that features multiple pick and rolls was tailor-made for a guy like Lin. A player that isn’t overly explosive, but smart with a good change of speeds to his game needs ball screens to create initial separation for dribble penetration. The one thing that Nash excelled at in this system is/was absolutely murdering teams bigs that dared switch out on him, primarily with his deadly mid-range jumper. If teams make this, or any other number of smart adjustments, does Lin have enough in his bag of tricks to continue to thrive?
- Special ingredient: Novakaine. Steve Novak is the ultimate designated hitter. He has neither the quickness to stay in front of forwards, the strength to battle in the post, or the rebounding chops to make up for any of those other deficiencies. What the dude can do, however, is shoot the hell out of the basketball. With a lightening quick release at 6’10”, Novak has drifted around the league, never getting regular playing time. If he were to consistently get minutes, we wouldn’t be talking about Novak as one of the better shooters in the league, we’d be debating whether or not he is the best. He didn’t play against New Jersey (as if teams need help carving the Nets up), but Novak has played in every game since due to the absence of Anthony and Stoudemire and the ability for New York to pair him with a great rebounder and defender like Tyson Chandler. His shooting numbers during this run: 27-55 FGs (49%) and 20-43 3FGs (46.5%). Not surprisingly, Lin’s production is drastically better with Novak on the court (and vice versa). Since Novak is a drive and kick point guard’s best friend, Lin’s free throw attempts (due to more space to attack the rim), assist rate (Novak could allow a casual fan to average four assists in an NBA game) and plus-minus all go way up. If Novak loses his minutes in the rotation upon the return of Anthony, will Lin’s performance be adversely affected?
The point here isn’t to attribute Lin’s success as a series of random events. Rather, it’s just to point out how much context, some of which is out of the control of the athletes themselves, matters in determining how well most NBA players do. Now that we know the ingredients behind Lin’s Royal Jelly, we can more accurately assess where Linsanity will go from here.