Behind the “Linsanity”: What’s Real and What’s Not

(Crosspost with Modi’s PopSspot — check it out)

As a passionate die-hard Knicks fan starving for a few crumbs ever since Patrick left the Garden, I am way too close to Linsanity to go deep into the multitude of powerful socio-cultural narratives sweeping sports nation. For that, please see Jay Caspian Kang’s The Lives of Others (from 2010), Jamilah King’s “The Subtle Bigotry…”, Andrew Leonard’s Social Media Fast Break, Dave Zirin’s Feel the Linsanity, Timothy Dalrymple’s The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations, and David Leonard’s Tebow, Lin, and The Religiosity of Sportsand The Persistence of Racial Stereotypes (hat tip on links).

The impact of Lin’s inspiration and stereotype-breaking also cannot be overstated: For Bryan Chu “Jeremy is One of Us”; for Michael Luo, Lin embodies “a surreal Jackie Robinson-like moment”; and Danny Chau was “overwhelmed with pride and unfiltered elation”.

Somewhere amidst this international discussion lies a 23 year-old basketball player, and when an ESPN poll seriously asks :“Is Jeremy Lin the Best Point Guard in the NBA?”, then it’s time to call time-out.

For hardcore Knick fans, it’s time to extract the sane from Linsanity. What’s hoops, what’s hype, and why some of us are going crazy. Let’s start with six questions:

 

1)  Q: IS JEREMY LIN FOR REAL?

A: REAL!

Forget “Asian-American’, “Harvard”, and “undrafted”. Forget that it has only been five games… or that they were against mostly bad teams… or that they were mostly home games (note: Wizards game counts as a home game – trust me, I was there)…

Skill is skill.

Here is a nice summary of Lin’s skills:

“Jeremy Lin… is sweet, sweet, sweet.  … Lin was [John] Wall’s equal if not better…  Lin has a very nice handle… and he is able to split defenders and get into the paint with great quickness.  Not only can Lin finish, but his vision and ability to pass in traffic is pure… . Nice, nice, nice… This undrafted kid better get a contract. HEY D’Antoni.  Oh never-mind.”

This plea for Mike D’Antoni to pick up Lin was written back in 2010 by “LIVESINEWJERSEY” at the excellent Knicks Fanatics Blog. To go back even further, “Poor Man’s Commish” from the great blog Golden State of Mind was repeatedly touting Lin’s skills back in 2009:

“I’m unequivocally confident that [Lin] will not only make it, but be an impact player.” [And in new post]…

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Jeremy Lin is a bonafide First Round NBA draft pick…  The detractors will either be discounting him because he is Asian and they have never seen an Asian as good as him, because they haven’t seen him play, and because of the most basic human element: fear of the unknown.”

What did these unpaid “bloggers” see that well-paid scouts and GM’s could not?

They only saw his skill.

And skill is skill.

2) Q: ARE LIN’S STATS FOR REAL?

A: 80% REAL; 20% “The Mike Spike”

Any penetrating point guard playing in coach Mike D’Antoni’s system gets a 20-25% stat inflation: “the Mike Spike”. It happened to Steve Nash after he left Dallas [1], and it also happened last year with Raymond Felton who was suddenly being  touted as a Knicks all-star.  The key word is “penetrating” point guard. Under D’Antoni’s sytem, Felton becomes more valuable than a superior Chauncey Billups.

In Mike’s “seven seconds or less” offense, Felton goes from “solid” to borderline all-star, Nash goes from borderline all-star to Hall-of-Famer, and a guy like Chris Paul would rule planet earth.

In this excellent analysis, “O&B” from Knicks Fanatics explains D’Antoni’s system and the limitations of his coaching “one-trick pony” when his players don’t fit.

3) Q: ARE LIN’s NBA COMPARISONS REAL?

A: SOME COULD ONE DAY BE REAL, BUT PLEASE STOP!

More than two years ago, Poor Man’s Commish called Lin “The New Steve Nash”, and that has been the most popular NBA comparison in the last week. Similarities include the D’Antoni connection, Lin’s penchant for going in the paint while holding his dribble, and Lin’s ability to get bumped and knock down off-balance shots at angles that kinda, sorta, look like Nash.

After crunching Lin’s early numbers, early stat comparisons produced “the next Isiah Thomas” and even “Lebron James territory” while the Knicks Lakers match-up was billed as “Lin vs. Kobe“!

Ready, set, breathe!

If we are going to unfairly entertain hall-of-fame point guards, Lin is more Isiah than Nash. When his team need it most, Lin won’t hesitate to take over the game as an aggressive scorer. That’s just not Nash.

In my dreams I see Isiah, and on the low end I see Devin Harris. But put a gun to my head, and I see Tony Parker, but a better passer. While that is also terribly unfair, it’s tame in the great wide world of Linsanity.

4) Q: IS LINSANITY THE NEW TEBOWMANIA?

A: NOT REAL.

The off-court parallels, similar storylines , and winning streaks against bad teams make the connection irresistible. Just one problem:

Lin is legit, and Tim is not.

Tebowmania lacks a foundation for long-term success (read: 46.5% completion rate).  That may be because Tebow became an NFL starter due to his privileges – the exact opposite of Lin’s story.

Tim is disco, Lin is hip-hop, and three years from now expect only Lin to remain a starter at his current position.

5) Q: DOES  JEREMY REPRESENT A “LINDERELLA STORY”?

A: NOT REAL.

Players don’t come out of nowhere” – Kobe Bryant.

“If he can play, then he can play” — Lebron James

Kobe is right. Basketball is not baseball.  Lin has greater or equal size (6’3”, 200) for a point guard than all-stars Chris Paul (6’0, 175), Rajon Rondo, Steve Nash, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and Tony Parker. And if he is quick enough to blow by the speedy John Wall, then few tests remain [2].

In reality, Lin represents the denial of opportunity based on subconscious stereotyping and discrimination at every level since high school. But that storyline is a tad less romantic than the “Linderella” myth. Lin’s stereotype-breaking is something everyone could love, but if you strictly want a basketball underdog, then cheer for Nate Robinson.


6)  Q: SO JUST HOW REAL IS LINSANITY FOR KNICK FANS?

50%  REAL
50%  STEAK TO A STARVING FAN.

Before fan Linsanity came coach insanity.

This might be impossible for other fans  to comprehend, but the Knicks have played without a point guard all season [3]. This is simply unheard of for an NBA team. It’s not only that Knick fans haven’t seen dazzling spin moves, killer cross-overs, or alley-oops…

we haven’t seen a pick and roll!

Please keep this in mind the next time you see some of us hugging and slobbering in the stands over Lin’s next well-timed bounce pass.

As a regular at Knicks Fanatics Blog live game chats, most of us  have been pleading with D’Antoni to “give the kid a chance” since a few days after Lin was signed (note: except Peaceman!). No, not because anyone was predicting “Linsanity”, but because he was our only true point guard! [4]

In absence of a penetrating point guard, D’Antoni is simply a terrible coach. “Dump it into Melo” was the only play being called, but that’s not Carmelo Anthony’s fault [5]. Melo led the Knicks in assists (4.2), and was the only reason the Knicks won as many games as they did.

Sure it was ugly, but the only thing more unwatchable was when Melo wasn’t on the floor.  But that’s not Toney Douglass and Iman Shumpert’s fault that their coach asked them to play a brand new position. That is all on Mike D’Antoni.

After more than a month of this madness, Chris Duhon flashbacks were morphing into Chris Paul highlights… And keep in mind that all this came after Knick fans haven’t won a playoff series since the criminally underappreciated Patrick Ewing advanced the Knicks in the playoffs for eight consecutive years. A 1990′s sense of entitlement followed by 12 years of misery followed by 24 games without any real set plays.

And that’s right when Jeremy Lin walked through that door. 

And the rest is Linsanity.



[1] After Nash left The Dallas Mavericks for The Phoenix Suns “Seven Seconds or Less” system, his stats shot up. After D’Antoni left and Phoenix’s system was replaced by Terry Porter’s half-court system to accommodate Shaquille O’neal, Nash’s stats temporarily. The next year nash’s stats returned as new coach Alvin Gentry reinstituted the up-tempo system of years past. Rinse and repeat for Raymond Felton. Phoenix’s system was replaced by Terry Porter’s half-court system to accommodate Shaquille O’neal, Nash’s stats temporarily. The next year Nash’s stats returned as new coach Alvin Gentry reinstituted the up-tempo system of years past. Rinse and repeat for Raymond Felton.

[2] Judging from the long-armed Ricky Rubio’s defensive success Saturday against Lin, the guess here is that Rajon Rondo will give Lin the most trouble.

[3] No, the fossil formerly known as Mike Bibby does not count as a point guard.

[4] After playing only seven minutes in the first half in the February 3rd loss to the Celtics, it was clear that the offense fundamentally changed with Lin (despite 0-3 shooting), that few at Knicks Fanatics Blog could understand why D’Antoni benched him in the second half. There were calls to “Free Jeremy Lin” and even Knick announcer Mike Breen was perplexed.

[5] Despite Melo’s effusive sideline cheering for Lin, a troubling media narrative is already emerging casting Lin as “good guy” and Melo as “the villain” which will undoubtedly remain a storyline driven by the New York tabloids. But that’s for another article.