Then and now...One year after Jeremy Lin lit up Broadway with the New York Knicks during the "Linsanity" craze, how has Lin adjusted to life as a Houston Rocket? And more importantly, where does he go from here? (Photo : Reuters)
It's hard to believe that it was only a little more than a year ago when it happened.
Yet even the biggest things can have the most inconspicuous beginnings, as it did on February 4, 2012 on a cold night in New York City at historic Madison Square Garden.
Facing off against Deron Williams and the then-New Jersey Nets and desperate and needing production at the point guard position, Mike D'Antoni, who was the coach an injury-riddled, desperate and losing New York Knicks team at the time, turned to a little-known Asian American point guard named Jeremy Lin, who was just picked up off waivers after being cut by the Houston Rockets.
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What happened next shocked fans in attendance and watching at home as Lin sliced through the lane almost at will, thrashing the Nets' defense for 25 points and seven assists in 36 minutes off the bench as the powered the Knicks to a much-needed 99-92 victory over the Nets.
It was supposed to be only a one-time thing, a mirage that surely couldn't be sustained. Lin was just a guy who caught a lucky break, right? And yet it happened again on Feb. 6, when he dropped 23 points and 7 assists on the Jazz in a 99-88 win for the Knicks. And it kept on happening. For exactly 12 games, in fact.
For much of the month of February, the NBA and the Big Apple was stricken with a feverish case of "Linsanity," when the Palo Alto, Calif., native averaged 22.5 points and 8.7 assists in his first 12 NBA starts that season before the All-Star break as fans around the league were taken with this unlikely, and likeable, rising new star.
One year later from that fateful night at the Garden, much has changed in Lin's world.
Gone is the blue-and-orange uniform of the Knicks, which Lin traded away when he signed a three-year, $25 million deal with the Rockets during the offseason--a staggering figure considering that Lin had struggled in his first two years in the league, being cut from Golden State and Houston's roster.
No longer a sub, Lin is a full-fledged starting point guard now, now expected to produce well, when his offensive successes in the past were merely a pleasant, unexpected surprise.
However, with those expectations, there have also been disappointments.
Despite some flashes of brilliance and small streaks of offensive bursts peppered along the way, Lin has struggled for much of the season, averaging 12.5 points and 6.2 assists--decent numbers for a starting point guard, but not what was expected of him after coming back to Houston with so much hype and hoopla that followed him from New York post-Linsanity.
His offensive impact has been like a roller coaster, up-and-down and unpredictable. He averaged only 10.2 points and 6.4 assists in December, then his points rose to 13.8 points in December, but fell again to 12.4 points in January. He has also been deferring his shot all season, shooting only 10 times per game each month as compared to his other higher-scoring teammates James Harden (17.2 shot attempts from December through January) and Chandler Parsons (11.8 shots per game in that same time frame).
And much like last season, Lin has struggled on transition defense, as have the other Rockets, who are still one of the worst defending teams in the NBA (ranked 27th overall with 102.7 points allowed per game).
Much of this stems from growing pains as Lin tries to get acclimated with his young new teammates, who are high on energy and offensive production (No.2 in the NBA with 105.8 points per game, just a tenth of a point behind Western Conference champion Oklahoma City as of Tuesday) and low on veteran presence and experience.
The main question that faces Lin now--after he fell roughly 46,000 votes shy of beating Chris Paul for the starting point guard slot in the fan balloting for the NBA All-Star Game this season--is the matter of where he goes from here.
One one hand, some are already writing him off as a one-hit wonder, a guy who caught lightning in a bottle, but could recreate the same magic to make it last long term. However, it is those flashes of brilliance--the 38-point game against San Antonio on Dec. 12, the hot streak he rode after scoring 22 points against the Knicks in his return to New York on Dec. 17, the Monday game against Golden State where he scored 28 points against a formidable Warriors squad that featured Top 10 NBA scorer and point guard Stephen Curry--that have shown that Lin has the capacity to achieve more.
Realistically, it's unlikely that he'll ever recreate the sensational stats he had during "Linsanity". In an offense where you have another superstar like Harden in the mix, not to mention the success of Houston's offense predicating on having everyone share the ball and scoring at a fast-paced rate, it might not be feasible.
However, that's not to say that Lin can't eventually become a great player. He already has one part of it down, being the motivation--he said earlier this season that one day, he would be an NBA All-Star. That's the goal.
Can that happen realistically? Absolutely. Despite mediocre numbers this season, Lin came very close to nabbing the All-Star starting spot from Paul. If he had scored five or six more points a night, or had two or three more assists, maybe it would have been Lin starting in that spot instead of Paul.
The argument against that is that Lin doesn't play that way; he's too unselfish, has too much of a team-first mentality. That his biggest contributions to the team are to share the ball, run the point for one of the hottest offensive systems in the NBA and try and provide motivational support for his teammates. All of those are solid attributes.
They're just not enough to get Lin or the Rockets to where they ultimately want to go.
For this offense to succeed, they need a solid No.2 scoring threat after Harden to take control and step up alongside Harden when he's hot, or keep the Rockets in the game on nights when he's not so hot.
It might be too much to ask of Lin to be that guy now. After stints off the bench for Golden State and Houston, and being with New York for only half of last season, for all intents and purposes, this is basically his rookie year; definitely so as a starter.
But assuming the Rockets keep the same core intact for next season--and depending upon who they can land either in free agency or by the trade deadline--there's nothing that indicates that a Jeremy Lin one year older and wiser, with knowledge of the offensive system and his teammates, can't become more aggressive and take more shots on offense, shore up his defense and do all the little things that make a great point guard and a team leader.
So, let's call Jeremy Lin one year after Linsanity a "work in progress." Too much has changed too quickly for him to fully display whatever potential he has. But by this time next year, on the second anniversary of that magical February night in New York City, we might have a better indication of who Jeremy Lin the Starting Point Guard is...and, more importantly, who he might turn out to be.