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2018-19 Player Review: Jeremy Lin

Jeremy Lin kicks off our player review series.
Kick back and experience the Linsanity circa 2019, which is much different than its previous iteration. We’ll cover his time with Atlanta, pre-trade atmosphere and expectations, his move to Toronto, reality kicking in, the champion that is Lin, and what’s next for Jeremy.

Time with Atlanta

The Hawks were projected by many to be the worst team in the league. When Lin started the season in Atlanta he knew there’d be very little in terms of team accomplishments that he could hang his hat on, and the best case scenario would be to perform well enough so someone would notice. Lin played well in Atlanta and as Chris Guest describes:

Lin has played extremely well for the Atlanta Hawks, and his per-game production has been steady all season. For a while, Linsanity was flirting with an elite 50/40/90 slash line, but he has cooled off since midseason, but his current slash line of 46/33/86 is nothing to sneeze at. Lin is second on the team in total assists (181) and assists per game (3.5), and earlier in the year (in the game in which Vince Carter notched his 25,000th career point) Lin torched the Raptors impressively.

Here’s his highlights from that game:

It’s hard to determine if this game is what caught Masai Ujiri’s eye, but overall the general trend was that he was relatively better than his Hawks teammates, and was able to put up good enough numbers to stand out. Standing out on a Hawks team isn’t hard to do, but someone had to do it and Lin made the best of a depressing situation.

Pre-trade feelings

The thought around Toronto was that the Raptors needed a scoring punch off the bench and some insurance at the point guard spot. There were slim pickings at the deadline but Lin remained available as there wasn’t much interest in the trade market. The Raptors probably knew he’d be available late enough that they could scan other options (maybe Wayne Ellington) before settling on whoever they had in their third tier of options.

The front office focus was more focused on getting Marc Gasol and there had to have been a general level of comfort and confidence that a third stringer could be picked up after the deadline.

Reports indicated that the buyout discussions were initiated by Jeremy Lin and not the Atlanta Hawks, as the Hawks team policy was to have players come to them, not the other way around:

“I have not talked to any of our guys about that or their representatives,” Schlenk said of potential buyout talks. “Like I mentioned, one of the things that went into this, we’re excited about the way the team has played over the last couple of months. So, certainly it wouldn’t come from us. Now, if they come to us and they feel like they are in a situation where they feel like they can go to a playoff team or they’re not happy… but we really are excited about the vibe we have and the way our locker room is. Those of you that are here a lot and see us, it’s like, it’s positive. So, I hope not, but we will work with guys if that’s what they want to do.”

Move to Toronto

And so it was that one day we saw this on his Instagram page:

https://www.instagram.com/p/BtwOF9ZDoBg/

And there you had it. Jeremy Lin was a Raptor. When Masai Ujiri was asked about where he saw Lin, he addressed some of the excitement from fans around the trade while tempering expectations:

He’s a steady guard that can really shoot and create. To have the opportunity to have him here as a third guard [is great]. When you hear these kind of signings the way it’s overblown it almost seems like he’s coming to be the starting point guard just because of the name. I think he fits in the role we’re bringing him in for, and that’s the most important aspect: you have a guy who has a unique experience to play third point guard.

It’s helpful to acknowledge how the league sees him as well. Kevin McHale coached Lin longer than anyone, and talked about his game a couple years go:

“He has high effort. He’s going to make mistakes, but they’re going to be mistakes of effort. You’ll never have to encourage him go full-blast, maybe to go a little slower. He’s very aggressive, that hasn’t changed. That was the way he was in Houston. I think you’ll see the same thing with the Nets.”

“He’s not afraid of the big shot, not afraid of moment. He plays very close to the reckless side. That’s what makes him a good player. He still plays hard. I don’t think a lot will change. But he’s a better player than when I saw him, and he’s become content being Jeremy Lin, not Jeremy Linsanity.”

“He’s a better shooter, a better defender. He’s more disciplined, a better decision-maker. He’s a better shooter, which sets up his ability to drive more. All those things he got better in. He’s much better in a lot of different ways.”

That analysis by McHale remains true today as well. Lin plays hard, tends to get out of control, has improved his overall shooting, and has come to terms with not experiencing Linsanity again. However, that didn’t stop people from expecting Linsanity, at least to some degree.

Around the same time I was on Sportsnet 590 talking about the trade and echoed caution and reminded everyone that this is more or less a nothing trade. The interview was a good indication of how many saw this trade: Linsanity comes to Toronto! However, the reality was and is quite different.

Lin also came on Danny Green’s podcast and spoke at length about how he could help the Raptors achieve their goals, what words of advice from Vince Carter have him and a lot more. He genuinely felt like he could play a rotational role on the team. Though he knew he wouldn’t get the same minutes as Atlanta and wasn’t going to put up the same numbers, he seemed to have felt that he’d make a tangible impact on things.

There was also talk of Lin’s marketing impact, how his background broke stereotypes, inspired people, and how it would be a good fit in a multicultural city like Toronto. As some experts mused:

“The Asian-American experience is so much about seeing yourself in people who look nothing like you,” says Torre. “And I think about it in terms of the immigrant experience. You, as the Asian-American, especially first generation and second generation, you must see yourself in others. In order to really survive, in order to feel any sense of connection to the culture, you must be able to see past race and find elements of someone — celebrity, athlete, whatever — that you can connect to and find important.

“And what I didn’t appreciate until years later, really until Linsanity, was that all of that circuitry that had sort of been numbed to the idea of visual, racial, cultural, ethnic similarities, that circuitry that never really got activated. When it got activated, it was like being set on fire.”

This was the backdrop of Jeremy Lin’s future in Toronto.

Reality kicks in

It became evident early on that Lin’s game was easy to defend. Lacking the ability to dribble effectively with his left hand or go left in general, anticipating what Lin would do became easy.

His playmaking was never there, and at best he occasionally ran a good pick ‘n pop with Serge Ibaka. Unable to use his quickness to penetrate while not having an outside shot is death for a point guard, and that’s what Lin experienced: a slow, painful death to the deep end of the bench.

Statistically, he shot a dismal 20% from three in February, 17.4% in March and when garbage time became more abundant, 26.8% in April. When on the court, his usage rate remained the same as in Atlanta but his TS% took a huge dive going from 59.4% to 46.4%. His points/40 dipped from 21.8 to 14.9 and his assist percentage also took a dive.

In short, he got enough playing time to steal minutes at the backup point guard and didn’t make the most of it. This didn’t help reverse the now solid theory that the league has adapted to Jeremy Lin and he’s yet to figure out a countermove.

Lin ended up settling into the default third string point guard role and played only in brief spells when someone else needed a breather, not because he brought something specific to the game which would make an impact.  He was pain relief, not a performance boost.

FVV struggles but Lin remains unplayable

Fred VanVleet’s struggles in the first three rounds of the post-season had everyone searching for alternate options. VanVleet was below average against, Orlando, struggled mightily against Philadelphia and a write-off for the first three games against Milwaukee. This gave rise to questions on whether Jeremy Lin could bring anything because VanVleet was giving the Raptors nothing while being abused defensively. Could this be Lin’s chance of proving his mettle on a big stage?

No, it wasn’t. Though Nick Nurse never truly experimented with Lin as the backup point guard, we have to assume that his practice play was so far behind (or that Nurse’s trust in VanVleet so high) that he was deemed unplayable as a backup point guard. Lin continued to exclusively play garbage time minutes even when there was a need for guard help. When Nurse did need an option, he opted for Jodi Meeks or Patrick McCaw, both known more for their defense than scoring.

Lin is not a bad defender and yet was unable to crack any sort of meaningful lineup which makes you wonder just how things went behind the scenes for him. Not good I assume.

Lin did manage to make the news in the Milwaukee series, but it was for something completely off the court. It was when he got asked for identification when boarding the team bus. As he explains:

“After Game 2 in Milwaukee, I was trying to get to the team bus and one of the dudes in the Milwaukee arena just screams at me. He’s like, “Where do you think you’re going?!” And I’m like, “Uh, I’m trying to get to the team bus.” He’s like, “What?! Where’s your pass?” I was like, “I don’t have a pass. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have a pass.”

“This happens in a lot of arenas, so I just kind of go with the flow.”

Other than that, the greatest on-court “moment” for him in the post-season had to be something much more surreal. It was coming on in garbage time so someone could make this highlight reel:

Jeremy Lin – The Champion

If you scan his Instagram below he definitely reads as someone who overcame the odds to be where he is. He may have grown up in a privileged environment with a Harvard education, but that doesn’t make winning a championship much easier. He’s been bounced around and written off enough in the NBA that winning a title, despite not being in the rotation, means a lot to him. And it should.

Sometimes we underplay how important those one-on-one moments are between players. Moments where a player picks another one up after a rough stretch. Or notices something about the game and advises someone. It could be something small that makes a difference: like telling your teammate that the opposition is swiping at the ball every time they switch hands, or that the last three times they’ve sent a double when he’s at the sideline, and so many more.

Where I’m going with this is that we shouldn’t discount the impact of a player only because he isn’t getting rotation minutes.

What’s next for Jeremy Lin?

I have no insider information here but would think that Lin might look for a situation where he gets to play more. Even if the Raptors offer him a deal it’ll be a small one which would slot him as the third or fourth guard on the team. Lin may feel he has more to offer than ride the pine, especially now that he’s got his ring. This is also a position where the Raptors can look to upgrade by finding some three-point shooting and defense.

Point guards in his tier that are available on the market include Patrick Beverley, Ricky Rubio, Darren Collison, Terry Rozier and Elfrid Payton. That’s his competition for rotation minutes in the league and he has to rely on his Atlanta playing experience more than his Toronto one to convince GMs. It’s conceivable that his championship experience could give him an edge with GMs favoring a sensible voice in the locker room.

Jeremy Lin doesn’t like talking about Linsansity because he knows that’s not what’s going to get him his next deal. His brief stint in Toronto where he got exposed to a championship team just might.

You can keep up with all of our player reviews here.

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