At this point, there have been forests of digital trees hewn in praise of all that is Jeremy Lin. Such is the effect of an out-of-nowhere star in basketball’s biggest market on a team that was circling the drain. Lin’s meteoric rise from anonymity to global stardom -- unwanted out of high school so he went to Harvard, undrafted out of Harvard so he toiled in the D-League -- is captivating in multiple ways, so on the eve of the Mavs first touch with Linsanity, lets take a look at all of the facets that give Lin’s story so much gravity and enjoy a quick preview of Sunday’s matchup.
It’s not supposed to work like this in basketball. In a sport where pure talent determines one’s ability to achieve stardom, greatness rarely sneaks up on us. Somehow, Lin broke the mold.
All around the league, fans, executives, and players wonder how this guy slipped through all the cracks. For goshsakes, he was cut from two teams this year and was nearly cut from the Knicks before saving their season with a seven-game winning streak that was snapped against New Orleans! Furthermore, he’s achieved this streak mostly without the two supposed pillars of the Knicks offense, Melo and Amare.
It's the stuff of legend that in our time lends itself to technological, media and social-media hyperbole.
This isn’t supposed to happen. Talents like Lin don’t get missed, and they don’t beat quality opponents, like the Lakers, with their team depleted of stars.
The Perfect Situation for his Talents
As mentioned, Jeremy Lin was cut from two teams (and snatched from the Mavericks – which we will get to in a moment) because he was deemed expendable. There is no other reason to cut a player with a salary as small as his. In New York, of all places, he landed in the situation perfectly arranged for his talents. The New York Knicks season was crumbling, the Melo/Amare/Chandler triumvirate was not leading the Knicks where they needed to be. The former two are ball-stoppers on offense and oscillate between ineptitude and indifference on defense. Chandler, to be effective on the offensive end, requires a pass-first point guard to create shots and lobs for him, often off the pick and roll.
The Knicks lacked such a playmaker, in a Mike D’Antoni offense, a recipe for the disaster the Knicks were facing before Lin’s arrival. Indeed, as the career arc of Steve Nash makes clear, D’Antoni’s offense is a point guard’s dream and nearly any above-average decision maker can succeed in D’Antoni’s system that will place the ball in a PG’s hands time and again.
That wasn’t happening in NY and the team was floundering and desperate. Turning to Lin at such a moment was a low-risk move as the Knicks were all but out of options.
Contrary to legend, Lin is flawed. His shot has developed. But he turns the ball over far too much and he can’t go left. Yet, right now, in this system, it’s working and it’s captivating.
The Maverick Connection
DB.com has gotten more than a few questions on asking: How Dallas could let a guy like this go?!
First of all, that’s a bit of a misconception. The Mavericks, more than any other team in the league, knew what Jeremy Lin was (as opposed to what he is). They wanted to keep him, but lets remember the context.
Yes, he was a Mavericks 2010 summer league player, and back then, we extolled his virtues around here at DB.com. Back then however, Dallas was coming off Roddy B’s electric rookie campaign and Jason Kidd and JJB already occupied spots on this roster.
The Mavericks offered a one-year deal -- a pretty impressive little commitment to a Summer League flash.
"We knew he was good,'' Mavs owner Mark Cuban says. "That's why we offered the guaranteed contract.''
Golden State, his hometown team -- seeing both talent and marketing opportunities -- offered two guaranteed years.
How foolish would it have been for the Dallas Mavericks to carry four (or five in you include Jet) guys who could play PG? How much of a commitment should Dallas have made to win him? Three years guaranteed? Four? Had he been stashed here, when would he have blossomed and skyrocketed past Kidd, Barea, Beaubois, Jet, DoJo and this year, West?
Really, its not the Mavericks with egg on their faces for not keeping Lin. That dishonor falls on Warriors GM Riley and Rockets GM Morey. The Mavs had a connection to him in his first months out of college. Both of those teams cut Lin loose this season, when he was so much closer to being the more developed player we've seen averaging 24 points per game.
The Faith Issue
Based on the clear influence of the young man’s faith, the easy analogy to make is to Tim Tebow. Further, these two are also similar in the larger-than-life manner they are covered by the national media. The faith angle invites an entirely new demographic to weigh in on Lin and thus, grows his legend even more.
The fact that he’s taken a stand on this issue will invite some people to view him as a hero while it will cause others to view him negatively. Most importantly, it will cause people to care about Lin, but not as much as another issue.
The Race Thing
We are going to tiptoe here. Perhaps it’s inherent in our humanity that we grasp on to the easiest solutions first and ascribe obvious differences greater significance than we ought. His race is something that gives the Lin story some weight, and undoubtedly he is an inspiration for many youths who dream of making it in the NBA. However, the power of his narrative lies less in his biology, but more in the way he has burst onto the scene.
It’s not about race, but about the democratization of the most oligarchic of America’s major sports. Indeed, NBA-level talents are often identified in middle school AAU games and approached by agents and similar ilk seeking to catch a ride on a young-man’s talents. NBA rosters are small, only 15 men make any team, and there are only 30 franchises, resulting in the smallest aggregate player pool among the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL. Individuals rarely stumble into this pool, especially ones making the same impact as Lin. That’s why his story is so stunning, because somehow, out of nowhere, he has arrived on the biggest basketball stage, and is flourishing like few before him.
His race -- he's an American-born 23-year-old with Taiwanese parents -- shouldn’t be the primary driver of the story, but many are trying to make it that way, from ESPN on down.
It happened again this weekend. "Chink in the Armor'' as a headline is ignorant, bigoted, racist ... a lot of things short of funny or clever.
The kid doesn't seem phased and hasn't been sucked in by such things. However, Lin’s biggest test yet lies ahead of him.
The Biggest Test
Beating the Lakers aside, Lin’s run of greatness has largely come against also-rans. That changes Sunday. Depending on whether or not Melo returns, Lin will likely see significant time being guarded by Marion, who is on a streak of shutting down opponent’s point guards. JR Smith will also likely make his Knicks debut Sunday, and Lin will have more mouths than ever to feed on offense. Such a balance would be difficult to strike in its own right, but on Sunday, Lin will face one of the premier defenses in the league.
Interestingly, his narrative is so strong that we haven’t mentioned how Dallas will be facing a familiar face, one credited with being the missing piece to a championship, in Tyson Chandler. It will be difficult, facing off against a player that so endeared himself to teammates and fans during his brief stint as a Maverick. However, the lessons Chandler brought to Dallas have lingered. Somehow, the defense is still elite despite his departure, and Haywood, Mahinmi and Brandan Wright have each stepped up to nearly fill his considerable shoes. With the emergence of Lin, they will now face the task of defending a Chandler pick-and-roll with a competent point guard. On the other end, expect a decreased offensive output from the big men as an inspired Chandler attempts to display what the Mavs passed on by not offering a multi-year contract to retain him.
Come what may, there will be plenty of storylines on Sunday afternoon, and the country will be watching as the game will be broadcast on ABC. Will "Linsanity'' reign again, or in the words of Marion, will be turned back into "just Jeremy?''