Published: Monday, February 20, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 01:02
No Lin puns. No racist headlines. Nothing about his background in Taiwan or Harvard education or his failure to be previously noticed as a talent. This is about Jeremy Lin, right now, as a basketball player. In the midst of all the talk off the court, I want to give some analysis to his game on the court.
With a quick look at the stat sheet, the turnovers obviously jump out. He's averaged 6.1 turnovers per game as a starter. That's pretty terrible out of a starting point guard, who should be relied upon to take care of the ball, but Lin makes up for it in other ways.
His 9.4 assists per game over his nine games as a starter is a place to begin when looking to make up for those turnovers. That gives him a 2.3 assist to turnover ratio, below assist-god Steve Nash's, which is almost three, but higher than All-Star-reserve Russell Westbrook's 1.3 by a significant margin.
Lin makes up for his turnovers on the defensive end as well. His 2.4 steals per game are better than Westbrook's 1.9. Lin's quick hands also allow him to reach in to poke the ball away, yet still avoid a lot of the thoughtless fouls that haunt Westbrook and send him to Oklahoma City's bench with foul trouble quite often.
You may look at this assessment and say comparing him to Westbrook is just looking at one guy, but Westbrook is widely regarded as one of the best point guards in the game. He's not quite in the class of Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Derrick Rose, but he's about on par with Rajon Rondo, and a little above the current, aging Nash. If Lin can be in the same conversation with these guys he's got some skill. And so the conversation begins—who would you take?
To be honest, I would take both Westbrook and Lin as my starting point guard, but given the choice, I'd actually take Lin. Westbrook and Lin play completely different games.
Westbrook is, first and foremost, an athlete. He's going to streak down the court, take off from more than halfway up the lane and throw down an acrobatic dunk. He's also going to take a lot of shots that he shouldn't because he tends to get impatient. His field goal percentage isn't great, but it's not terrible.
Lin doesn't have the luxury of being able to cruise past defenders with his speed. He relies on a quick first-step, some shifty moves and what has gone largely unnoticed by those television analysts is how extremely well he uses his body when going to the basket. He finishes with defenders around him, which shows a nice touch around the hoop, but also he shields off shot blockers. He knows what he can and can't do most of the time, and for two players of the same age, Lin's mature decision-making gives him a more efficient offensive game than Westbrook.
Except for Monday night's 100-92 loss to the Nets, in the nine games Lin has started for the Knicks, they haven't allowed 100 points. Westbrook's Thunder have allowed 100 or more in five of their last nine games. Heading into this season, if someone tried to convince me the Knicks would hold their opponents to fewer points per game than the Thunder, I'd probably have walked away from the conversation.
It isn't as though the Knicks have played vastly worse teams—they actually share one opponent over the stretch. The Knicks gave up 85 to Sacramento in a win, while the Thunder allowed 106 in a loss. Of course, this has to do with team defense, matchups, coaching and all the other miniscule details of the game of basketball, not just the way two point guards play.
Overall, the stretch Lin is having is incredible. You might see someone come out of the woodwork once in a while and have a game or two in which some heads get turned, but nine games in a row with impressive performances just doesn't happen from somebody this off the radar.
Put the popular concern with Lin, his turnovers, into the perspective that he's still getting used to playing starters minutes and the turnovers will drop. He's got too big a basketball IQ, and regular IQ for that matter. The New Jersey game may show where he's headed (he only had three turnovers).
All I'm trying to say is, I like Lin's game. I think he's got a bright future and after people get over the shock that he's brought to the NBA, I think he'll continue to perform at a high level.
Dan Moberger is a managing sports editor at The Review. Please send questions, comments and some youthful talent for the Celtics to firstname.lastname@example.org.