Jeremy Lin, Point Guard
2016-17: 24.5 MPG, 14.5 PPG, 43.8 FG%, 37.2 3P%, 81.6 FT%, 3.8 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.2 SPG, 36 GP
Who is Jeremy Lin?
Jeremy Lin was the Nets’ big free agent acquisition a year ago. Remember that offseason? That was the one where the cap spiked and teams were signing players to comically horrendous deals. I seem to remember one team signing a dude named Timofey Mozgov to $64 million over four years. Whoops. The reason why I bring this up is that I was confused as to how a guy like Mozgov could get $64 million the same year the Nets got for $36 million. It was a legitimately confusing steal and still is.
Nets fans had a complicated relationship with Lin before he arrived in Brooklyn. Linsanity, as we all know, was probably the biggest story of that 2012 NBA season. It began (and ended, I’ll add) against the Nets, while Lin was playing for the team’s biggest rival, the Knicks. As a Nets fan, I found Linsanity hard to root for, kind of. I mean, on one hand, watching Lin, this Asain player I had literally never heard of before, school Kobe Bryant and hit game winners in Toronto was amazing. I just wished he played for pretty much any other team.
After Linsanity, a lot of us basketball fans wondered if Lin was here to stay, or this story was simply an awesome lucky streak. It ended up going both ways. Lin never reached the heights he reached during Linsanity, but let’s be honest, he was never going to. Linsanity was a perfect storm of a hot hand happening to the unlikeliest of players in the biggest city in the world. Lin became a fine player in the seasons that followed, but it would be unreasonable to expect him to reach those heights again.
Lin has been a consistent player since Linsanity, averaging around 11 points and four assists per game before signing with Brooklyn. He came into his own that second season in Houston when he started coming off the bench instead of being a go-to scoring option. That role changed when he got to the Nets last year, but I’ll get into that in the next section.
But if we’re asking the question “Who is Jeremy Lin?” in 2017, I think Lin has carved out an identity for himself in ways that go past that two-week stretch where he was all anyone talked about. This past week, in fact, has really opened up my eyes to the kind of man Lin is. It seems silly to discuss hair in a section about a player’s individual identity, but we have to when we talk about Lin. Over the last couple of seasons, we all know that Lin has pulled off some truly ridiculous hairstyles. But none seemed more, well, interesting than the dreadlocks he started since training camp.
In fact, former Nets big man Kenyon Martin thought so too and made some comments about Lin’s hair in correlation with his race. Martin stated that Lin was trying to be “black” and that one cannot have hair like that with the last name “Lin.”
I did not expect Lin to get into the dirt with Martin, but the story that did unfold was not the one I expected. Lin completely flipped it, even changing the tone of what was said in the first place. Of course, the racial issue had to be addressed in any response to Martin’s comments, but what I took away from Lin was that he took it as his own responsibility to heal racial divides and for players to work together to ultimately work past petty arguments and unite. Right now, we live in a time period where there is a great deal of political uncertainty and division. Martin trying to attack Lin because he wore his hair a certain way is not one that creates unity, but Lin handled the situation in a way where he never once attacked or blamed Martin for the way he framed his comments. It was truly an amazing, level-headed response.
I suppose I should not be that surprised that Lin spoke in the way he did about this issue. After all, the guy went to Harvard and is clearly an intelligent human being. But it is rare for an athlete to speak as thoughtfully as Lin did this last week. It’s been an interesting story to follow and one that makes me think of Lin differently than I did in the past. I did not see him in a negative light, but I did not think he was the kind of person to speak up like he did. Lin is a talented basketball player, but more importantly, an accepting, open-minded and thoughtful man. Lin stated in an interview that Martin was “extremely apologetic” after dissing his hair, and I cannot imagine why he would not be. There is no doubt that Jeremy Lin gave a lot of people a new perspective this week. Pretty cool. Okay, now let’s get onto some basketball…
Lin’s 2016-17 season was exciting and frustrating at the same time. When he signed to Brooklyn, I was really excited to see what he would do with head coach Kenny Atkinson, an assistant for the Knicks during Linsanity who supposedly bonded with Lin and aided in his development as a player. But Lin’s season was extremely limited due to injury, and we never really got to see the pick and roll with Brook Lopez fully develop.
No question, the Nets were a better team with Lin on the floor. Despite only playing in 36 games, the team put up 13 of its 20 wins with him in the lineup. Lin played on a much more consistent basis starting in March after he finally came back from injury. In that stretch, he averaged 15.4 points and 4.8 assists per game. The team also doubled its win total in that five weeks when he was fully healthy and contributing.
Talking about Lin’s overall performance last season is tough for these reasons. The best argument I can make for Lin staying on the Nets is how the team looked when he was not on the court compared to when he was. The Nets were a far better team when he played, but the sample size is so small that it is tough to know just how far his return alone carried it.
One thing I do think is a good sign for Lin’s return to this Nets roster is due to the style of play Atkinson may be looking to this season. Last year, the Nets took a ton of threes (with Lopez leading the pack). In that style of offense, Lin shot a career-high 37.2 percent from behind the arc. That is not Steph Curry levels of greatness, but it shows that he is capable of taking those shots on a semi-consistent basis if the offense continues to call for it.
So, what does Jeremy Lin bring to the table?
Other than seeing how D’Angelo Russell, Allen Crabbe and DeMarre Carroll will fit into this roster, Lin’s role on this team may be the biggest question mark heading into the season. I do not know if we will see Lin as a consistent starter this season, especially since he took more of a bench role in seasons past when his team added a superior guard to the lineup like the Nets did with Russell. Lin has experience playing in a two-point guard set (Houston with James Harden and Charlotte with Kemba Walker), but he was never the feature guard in those situations.
Still, I am really excited to see where Lin will fit in this newly loaded backcourt. I could imagine a scenario where he is leading the second team unit with LeVert, and I could also see him playing in crunch time alongside Russell in a smaller lineup. Lin, like Russell, is a quick player and having both of them in the lineup at once could be difficult for opposing defenses.
Here’s his best game of last season, a 32-point performance against the Magic on April 6:
The Bottom Line
I do not expect Lin to have that kind of production that he had in the last 22 games on a consistent basis this season. Part of the reason for his success was having a big man in Lopez down low and outside the arc. The pick and roll, while never really coming alive the way the Nets hoped, was still a feature of that last month with Lin and Lopez. The Nets also have a crowded set of guards, all fighting for minutes. It’ll be fascinating to see where Lin fits in with Russell, LeVert, Crabbe and Sean Kilpatrick, all of whom should be major contributors in the scoring department.
This team will be far different than last season with the loss of Lopez. The majority of the offense will still come from behind and around the arc, but Brooklyn will not have the spacing that having a guy like Lopez allows one to have. Lopez was never a great defender, but he was still a presence in the paint, which will put more pressure on the guards to perform on that end of the floor. No question, at least one of these guards will see their minutes dip from last season, and you could make the case that it will be Lin simply due to his inexperience and inconsistency in this system, as well as the desire to play and feature Russell who just stole Lin’s starting job. But on the other hand, I could see Lin’s role be more valuable this season because he has experience coming off the bench in a supporting role. Maybe a decrease in minutes will be better for him on this roster.
Regardless, I hope we see a strong showing from Lin this season. There is a chance this is his last year in Brooklyn, with the team trending younger, but one would hope that after his success in limited play last season and his familiarity with Atkinson’s offense, he could flourish in 2017-18.
The Brooklyn Game Player Previews: