Now that the Carmelo led Knicks have been dumped in the first round of the playoffs yet again, I thought I’d reflect a bit on this big time up and down season we’ve gone through (if you didn’t catch the roller coaster, here’s the New York Post’s Knicks back page covers for then entire season). The Knicks finished 36 and 30, securing the 7th seed in the East and then promptly got dismantled in 5 games against the heavily favored Heat. While the play-off result was expected, the next few blog posts will look at the play of the Knicks ‘stars’ over the season to try to distinguish what led to their streaks of success and abysses of failure. If you couldn’t tell from the title, this post will focus on Jeremy Lin, or according to ESPN’s writing department, the only Asian who can drive.
I fortunately had the opportunity to watch four of Jeremy Lin’s games live at Madison Square Garden this year. Those games were his breakout game against the Nets, his huge game against the Lakers, the blow-out win against Sacramento, and the sensational Knicks bench led comeback against Cleveland. When watching him play, I was impressed with his ability to finish near the basket while drawing a lot of contact, and how great he plays the pick-n-roll. Yes, there were times he looked overmatched, like against Miami, Boston and the 2nd Nets game, but let’s be fair, there are a lot of 2nd year players that are overmatched by the likes of Wade, Lebron, Pierce, Rondo, Garnett and Deron Williams. Now, what really stood out to me was his decision making, and although the high TOs suggest something different, he seemed to never really force a really bad shot and had consistently found guys on the court where THEY are their ultimate best. We saw the best of this when he played with a scrub starting line-up, and this characteristic above all is why I feel he has a chance (not a guarantee) to be something special for many years to come.
Now I come from a pretty analytical background, and the first thing you learn when approaching measurements of anything is that eye witness testimony is the WORST type of evidence you can possibly present. It’s riddled with personal biases, and mood swings, and unfounded perceptions of demographics and one’s ability to access something. ‘Moneyball‘ proved that. Eye witness testimony in basketball are things like ‘explosiveness’ and ‘creativity’, which often account for impressive highlights (read as one-off events), but rarely correlate at all to long-term performance or success. We are going to try to do this by looking at the numbers, the data, the statistics that matter. And the question we’ll try to answer is “Is Jeremy Lin a Top 10 PG?”
I’m going to concede six PGs in this analysis because they have had a pretty good history of performing at a top 10 level and they have a chance to do the same over the next six years: Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose. That leaves about ten guys left to occupy the final four slots, whose 2012 numbers have been normalized to 35 minutes a game to show how they compare to each other, ignoring obvious things I don’t want to do the math to control for like the teams they play for or the types of offensive systems they run. I intentionally left out FT% because it is inherently reflected in Points, 3pt% because it is inherently reflected in FG%, and Turnovers because that would make it very easy to pick out Jeremy Lin.
I highlighted the top three performers in each category in green and the worst in red to make it easy to reference. The first thing that jumps out is that none of these guys are THAT statistically different from each other, which makes it very difficult to make a case one is better than the other. Player B scores the most and shoots it pretty well, but falls in the lower tier in assists and steals. Player J racks up the assists, but doesn’t shoot that well, score, or block shots. Player I isn’t in the top three in any category, but generally in the middle of pack of all the categories. Player E tops in shooting and 3s, and doesn’t hurt you anywhere. If you can make a clear cut case anyone here is better than anyone else, please do so in the comments.
Can you pick out Jeremy Lin? What if I told you the other players were John Wall, Brandon Jennings, Ricky Rubio, Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry, Ty Lawson, Kyrie Irving, Goran Dragic, and Stephen Curry? It’s not that easy is it. Seriously, get a piece of paper out, rank the stat lines, and assign a player to each one. I’ll wait. I need to get a beer anyway.
Okay, you good? Here is the list again identifying each player and adding Turnovers.
A bit surprising? How many of you had Player F as someone you thought was better than Lin? How many of you had Player F in your top 5?
To narrow this down further, if we remove the guys with more negatives than positives (Conley, Dragic, and Rubio), and put Steph Curry into the top 10 for not having any negatives (although he’s more a SG than a PG), then we are left with Jennings, Irving, Lawson, Wall, Lin, and Lowry for the last three spots. Note only two guys left have more positives than negatives, and Lin wins there at 4 – 2 to Irvings 4 – 3. So after some basic statistics, we have Lin in some contention for a top 10 PG, with the most glaring negative aspect of Lin’s game being the high turnover rate.
To look at this further, I thought I’d break down Lin’s 2012 season into three basic eras: The 12th Man, Linsanity, and Melodrama. The 12th Man era was basically the games he played in blow-outs, Linsanity was when he played all his games without Carmelo and only two with Amar’e, and Melodrama was the games played when both Melo and Amar’e were back. Here’s how those games broke down:
The Linsanity Era was tremendous. I mean, averaging 25 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds, 2.2 steals, and 1 three while shooting 51% from the field is in the stratosphere of Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Nash MVP years. None of the guys left on our list have ever had a stretch like that. The turnovers were atrocious, but remember this was a stretch where the Knicks starting line-up was Lin, Landry Fields, Bill Walker, Jarred Jefferies, and Tyson Chandler. This was a stretch where the bench was mainly Steve Novak, Iman Shumpert, and Mike Bibby (yes, this was before J.R. Smith and Baron Davis). Where are the ball handers in this line-up? It’s no wonder that his turnover rate was so high given how little possession guys were on the court. And the most important, ridiculous, impressive, lunatical (made-up word) part of this stretch was WITH this god awful team, the Knicks were 8 and 1! 8 and 1! Let that sink in. 8 and 1, beating play-off teams like the Hawks, Lakers, Jazz, and Mavericks. 8 and 1.
The next 15 games started with a dysfunctional, lack of effort, D’Antoni/Melo feuding shit show where the Knicks lost 6 straight which led to D’Antoni’s resignation. Assistant Coach Mike Woodson took over and the Knicks caught fire, winning 6 of the next 7 before Lin’s season ended due to knee surgery. During this time, Lin seemed to have done a pretty good job adjusting to an isolation system featuring Melo, and put up 15 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals in about eight less minutes of playing time a game. More importantly, with the ball in Melo’s hands more, we saw Lin’s TOs dropped by two (although some of this could be attributed to less minutes on the floor).
So is Lin a Top 10 PG? I’m not ready to put him there absolutely yet, in fact, of the guys left, I would probably put Ty Lawson in the Top 10 before anyone else. The point here is that while I can’t say for certain that Lin is a top 10 PG, he has made an equal case, if not stronger case, than the rest of the guys on the list. It’s not a clear cut thing that Lin can’t be a great PG. He’s put up elite stretches with limited talent and WON the bulk of those games, something guys like Lowry, Conley, and Jennings haven’t come close to in many more opportunities. Guys like Wall, Dragic, Rubio, and Irving, like Lin, have had limited opportunities to prove if they can be elite, but there’s no reason to automatically call them better because of ‘creativity’ or pedigree. Honestly, I don’t know what gives NBA players that winning edge, but for now, let’s just say Jeremy Lin’s superior Lintellect has made me a believer.
But speaking of pedigree:
Lin was First Team All State and Northern California Division II player of the year his senior year in high school while winning the national championship.
Lin’s Junior year at Harvard, he was the only NCAA Division I player to rank top 10 in his conference in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots, FG%, FT%, and 3Pt% while making All-Ivy League First Team. That year he had 27 pts, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds in a win over 17th ranked Boston College (who had knocked of No 1. North Carolina just three days earlier).
Lin’s Senior year at Harvard, he averaged 16.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.1 blocks, and was again a unanimous selection for All-Ivy League First Team. He had 30 points and 9 rebounds against the 12th ranked UConn Huskies.
In the NBA D-League Showcase, Lin averaged 21.5 points, 6 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 3.5 steals. In 20 games in the D-League, Lin averaged 18, 5.8 rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
During the NBA lock-out, Lin played in the ABA Club Championship in China where he won the MVP of the tournament.
During his season with the Knicks, Lin was sent to the D-League where he promptly put up a monster triple double of 28 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists.
A few days later, Linsanity started and really only one man saw it coming years before. Read his 2010 Draft Preview of Jeremy Lin and check out this great Linfographic for some of the records Lin has set in the NBA.