On and off the court, Jeremy Lin is the right leader for the Nets

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

On and off the court, Jeremy Lin is the right leader for the Nets

The Brooklyn Nets are 4-5. Four wins. Five losses. In their five defeats, the margin has been by five points or less in three of them — including a buzzer-beating loss against the Milwaukee Bucks on the second night of a back-to-back without Brook Lopez.

Before the season started, Vegas oddsmakers punted the Nets to the lowest over/under in the entire league at 20.5 and everybody assumed that sending the Boston Celtics another top three draft pick was, more or less, confirmed. In 2015-2016, it took the Nets seventeen games before they won their fourth game and, even with a rookie head coach, the franchise looks fresher and fuller than ever.

So, then, what has changed?


The Player

The Nets are a little less than one-ninth into their new season, but, both on and off the court, the presence of Jeremy Lin has meant everything to this young, growing team. Of course, the Nets are 2-3 in games in which Lin has participated in — his 21/9/9 effort against the Indiana Pacers stands out — but his absence has noticeably changed the way this team plays.

Kenny Atkinson’s motion offense not only relies on a point guard like Lin, but it actually depends on it. Accounting for the injuries of Greivis Vasquez and Isaiah Whitehead are impossible, and a bit unfair, but the motion offense has suffered for both the starters and the bench unit. Without Lin, Sean Kilpatrick has been forced into the role and, as a shooter, he’s always been better off being set up instead of doing the table setting.

From there, the domino effect continues into the bench as the Nets needed to cut Vasquez and sign D-Leaguer Yogi Ferrell just to ensure that the second unit had a ball handler at all. In fact, as of today, the Nets’ bench unit sports a -4.6 NetRtg, good for 18th-worst in the NBA. All things considered, that would be respectable — particularly so given the circumstances — but when the starters rank 7th (!) even without Lin over the last 3.5 games, you’ll start to see what the Nets are really missing.

Even if you compare the advanced numbers of Lin and Whitehead — which again, has it’s advantages and disadvantages — you’ll see this:

Source: NBA

Source: NBA

Sure, the net rating, assist ratio, and rebound percentage are almost identical, but the differences between the veteran and the rookie is a game-changer. Lin’s eFG% is nearly 10% higher than Whitehead’s, but the PIE — Player Impact Estimate — is a blowout. PIE aims to measure a player’s contributions to a team’s success, or, in simpler terms, the percentage of events that they participated in.

Although Whitehead had filled in admirably, the Nets still opted to filter their offense through others like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson or Bojan Bogdanovic more often than not. Even Brook Lopez, who is, in all likelihood, the Nets’ best player, tallies a PIE rating of 12.7. Hollis-Jefferson? 7.9. Bogdanovic? 7.5. Small sample size, yes, but the Nets just simply don’t execute as well without Lin on the court and the point guard had his hands over everything.

In fact, Lin’s never averaged more than 1.6 steals a game — the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul currently leads the league with 2.7 — but he did help anchor a Nets’ defense that ran on the little-known hustle statistics. Currently, the Nets’ still rank highly in some of these measurables, but the Nets suffer a discernable difference in the eye test without Lin motoring around on both ends. The Nets rank 29th in screen assists, 14th in deflections, 9th in loose balls recovered, and 1st in contested shots, and while Lin is no Kawhi Leonard on defense, he’s still the best option the Nets have had at the position defensively in years.

The Nets will obviously be cautious with Lin’s rehab and return from a nagging hamstring injury, but this surprisingly sufficent team will want him back on the court sooner rather than later. If not, the Nets will be left to rely on two rookie point guards and a second unit that won’t have Kilpatrick’s microwave shooting.

Simply put, the Nets create a better on-court product with Lin in nearly every way.


The Coach/Cheerleader/Friend

If you’re reading this, you’re likely well-connected to this transcendent culture that Atkinson and Sean Marks have implemented in Brooklyn. Between players that were late to practice, didn’t like Lionel Hollins’ rotations, or straight-up quit on the franchise over the last few years, the Nets set off on finding those that wanted to take part of the growing franchise and embrace it. Certainly, the additions of Luis Scola, Justin Hamilton, and Randy Foye have contributed to the turnaround, but there’s been no bigger piece to that puzzle than Lin.

Although the kinship between Lin and Atkinson is well-documented, Lin has made fans feel like he’s been a staple in Brooklyn for years. Just run a quick search on Twitter and you’ll find example after example of Lin not only working towards to a better on-court product, but truly investing in the humans that make up this #PeskyNets team. Here, like this, from their win against the Phoenix Suns, Coach Lin with a clipboard has been a huge hit on the bench:

Or this. Or that.

Or what about Kilpatrick calling Lin his big brother?

Over the years, the Nets have been called soft and quitters, they’ve had no heart and lost their spirit — but with Lin (and minus some other key detractors), it feels like the franchise has turned the corner, wins and losses be damned.

Would Deron Williams have traveled on a week-long road trip with little chance to feature? This is the same once-franchise point guard that “forgot” his suit after joining the Dallas Mavericks last season so that he wouldn’t have to take the jeers from Nets fans while he was injured. But with Lin, it was never a question; instead, it was simply a new opportunity to design some plays and root for his teammate’s evolved roles.

Truthfully, there are few starting point guards that would be openly pleased with a teammate thriving in their position — Lin is the exception, not the rule.

You merely only have to listen to Lin’s raw, honest interviews to get an understanding of his presence in Brooklyn already. From speaking candidly about Colin Kaepernick, protests, and Black Lives Matter, to owning up and swiftly diagnosing the team’s largest issues during the immediate post game, Lin knows that his words have power in not only the locker room, but with a franchise that feels jaded and broken, desperately searching for something worth rooting for.

Thanks to Kenny Atkinson’s attention to detail, the fans have something to root for. Thanks to Sean Marks’ committed vision and search for the right roster, the fans have something to root for. Thanks to Brook Lopez’s ever-reliable contributions and sharp wit, the fans have something to root for. Thanks to Trevor Booker, these Nets truly embody that phrase Brooklyn Grit, and those fans have something else to root for, too.

But Jeremy Lin?

Well, Lin may just be the glue that’ll hold it all together, both on and off the court.