Jeremy Lin's critics don't think he can play basketball at an elite level; history says otherwise. (Photo : Reuters)
Update: Houston Rockets beat Utah Jazz 124 - 116 on Saturday night. Parsons finishes with 19 pts, Patterson with 20 pts. Lin finishes with 19 pts, tallies 8 assists and 2 turnovers. Houston's record is now 8 - 8, tied with the Lakers.
That one name alone causes a very polarizing response among the most passionate NBA hoops fans and well-rounded pundits everywhere.
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You either think he's the real deal or he's a one-hit wonder. You either love him or feel indifference. There is not much middle ground.
Last season ex-New York Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni picked a little-known, fresh and undrafted Asian-American from Harvard to come off the bench and start when the Knicks were at their lowest point last season -- losing 11 of 17 games in January and sporting an 8-15 record. Lin came off the bench against the Nets and stunned Deron Williams for 25 points and 7 assists en route to a 99-92 Knicks win.
What followed next stunned the world, as he dominated over the course of 17 games, nine of the first games seeing the Palo Alto, Calif., native score 20 points or higher as the league saw the birth of a global phenomenon known as "Linsanity."
However, Lin's surge began to die down around mid-March as teams began to focus on guarding him and taking him out of his game. D'Antoni's departure and coach Mike Woodson's subsequent switch to making Carmelo Anthony the focus of the offense again did not help Lin, either, as his offensive numbers began declining before he eventually went down with a meniscus tear in his left knee to end his season.
Lin raised eyebrows again last season when he signed for three years and a cushy $25 million with the Houston Rockets, with some, including Anthony, calling the deal "ridiculous" and others questioning whether Houston paid too much for a player without a lengthy and proven track record.
It would have been sweet vindication for Lin and his fans to have seen the young 24-year-old point guard--who slept on a couch in New York while he rose to fame last season--thrive in November in his first month with the Rockets, being the player that everyone on Houston's top brass was expecting him to be.
Alas, this November has not been a good one for Lin, who finished up the month with an underwhelming 10.3 points per game, to go with 6.5 assists, 2.1 steals and 2.9 turnovers.
Needless to say, the critics have come out swinging.
Marc Lamont Hill, a blogger with the Huffington Post, gave a derisive review of Lin's play in his article titled "The Linsanity Sham: Why Jeremy Lin Really Can't Play."
(Yes, it is likely that as Lin fans read that statement, their blood pressure and hackles are already on the rise.)
Hill points out several "glaring" flaws in Lin's game, including his inability to handle the ball to his left side, his plummeting shooting average, which is currently at a career-low 37.7 percent, his lack of prowess on defense, and yes, his turnovers.
All of this is proof, Hill writes, that Lin should be "nowhere near anyone's starting lineup."
"In comparison to his peers, Jeremy Lin can't dribble, shoot, make plays, or guard anyone," Hill wrote. "His stat line (10.2 points, 6.1 assists, 4.6 rebounds on 35% shooting) accurately reflect what he is: a slightly below-average NBA point guard who, if he works extremely hard and squeezes out every drop of his ability, will become nothing more than a slightly above-average point guard."
"...The truth is that Jeremy Lin can't play. At least not at the highest levels. And no amount of "Linsanity" can change that," he concludes.
Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports also had a less-than-glowing review of Lin's performance, dismissing his success last season as Lin being the equivalent of NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, another little known player who got his start in Denver thanks to a few timely injuries and led the Broncos to the AFC West title and a playoff win last season.
Tebow has also struggled this season since he came to the New York Jets.
"I'll remember it as something that defies explanation, Tebow on hardwood, a guy overachieving not just for one afternoon but for game after game after game," Doyel writes of the "Linsanity" period.
Those reviews are harsh...but not completely unfounded.
Even diehard fans of Lin can't dispute that the numbers Lin has been putting up in Houston are simply not worthy of the $25 million that he signed for.
Offensively, Lin just hasn't been shooting well at 37.7 percent, hitting nearly seven percent less than the career-high 44.6 percent of field goals he was putting in with the Knicks last season.
Defensively, he still hasn't improved on making stops, although he is averaging 2.1 steals a night. Lin was benched by acting coach Kelvin Sampson in the fourth quarter of a 93-89 win against the Bulls last week because Lin couldn't give them a better match-up against Nate Robinson--a streaky scorer having a hot night with 21 points--on defense.
And on turnovers, he's coughed up the ball 44 times this season, for a woeful 2.9 turnovers a night. In fact, Lin ranks No. 399 in turnovers on the list of all 417 players in the league. Meaning only 17 other players turn the ball over more times than he does.
All of those facts are in, and yet this writer can comfortably stand behind this statement: Jeremy Lin's basketball hasn't been awe-inspiring, but it hasn't been bad either.
And given time he should be able to play great basketball since he has the time and the talent (more on this down below).
To say that Jeremy Lin shouldn't be a starter in the league is getting ahead of oneself. Although he has not been scoring to his contract's worth, he brings other intangibles into the equation.
Although still a long way to reach the level of Steve Nash, Lin's numbers suggest a growing mentality towards what a point guard is supposed to do: get the team involved, make plays and passes.
Lin's pass numbers weren't all that great for the first seven games in November, averaging a puny 5.8 assists a night. But seven games later, that stat actually jumped. Lin has dished 6.8 assists in the last seven games, book-ended by two consecutive nights where he had between 8 to 11 assists in back-to-back nights.
Currently, Lin is positioned no. 15 in the league in assists per game chasing after no. 14 -- LeBron James who climbs three positions relative to last season's assists leaders. Lin, with 97 assists, actually has six more assists than James has at 91. Granted, Lin has some catching up to do if he wants to crack the Top 10 list or catch the 13 other point guards ahead of him. But with his priority of passing to teammates first, it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise if Lin cracks the Top 10 list by the end of December.
Lin has taken fewer shots this season -- only 154 -- compared to the 242 shots he took in his first 15 games starting for the Knicks, where he was, for a time, the focal point of the offense. That's 88 less shots. Which means a few dozen less buckets that Lin might have been able to count into his column. When you take fewer shots, your average is going to drop which leads us to the following thought-provoking-question: Would taking more shots at this point really be benefitial for Lin?
With talented options on the floor to choose from such as Harden, the up-and-coming Chandler parsons, Patrick Patterson, and even Omer Asik, Lin at this point is distributing the ball since it also distributes the points throughout which in return builds confidence -- a smart thing to do for a young team.
It seems to be working just fine at the moment for Houston, who ranks No. 5 in the league in offense, scoring a whopping 102.2 points a night, thanks in part to Lin's and the team's pass-first mentality; the Rockets rank No. 9 in assists with 22.0 dishes per night.
"I'm not looking to recreate what happened in New York," Lin said after he scored 13 points with three assists in Houston's 131-103 blowout of the Knicks Nov. 23. "I want to be a consistent player. I want to get better. I don't know what my potential is. I don't know if I can play any better than I did during that stretch, but I'm going to find out to see how close I can get."
Lin aspires to be an NBA All-Star one day as Lin told ESPN recently.
"I definitely think I'll have that chance," he said and sure he does with such young age, talent and record.
Look back at his track record. He never received an athletic scholarship to Harvard, and yet he ended up being the first player in the history of the Ivy League to record at least 1,450 points (1,483), 450 rebounds (487), 400 assists (406) and 200 steals at the end of his college career-even making a fan of President Obama before his epic run in New York.